Unearth - III: In The Eyes of Fire Review
by Mark Hensch
I have a deep confession to make; no matter how hard I try to silence it, there is a tiny but vital part of me that desperately wants to hate Unearth. I think I speak for tons of heavy music critics when I say the metalcore cash-cow is starting to get very old VERY fast. Here you have a culture that (perhaps like none other in heavy music history) seems to be tailor made for large numbers of dedicated fans; it has that level of "edge" to it that wannabe rebels are drawn to Hot Topics everywhere, and for everyone else the fact that metalcore is all at once catchy, heavy, melodic, or even technical snares all comers. The end result, when coupled with the fact that this style isn't the hardest to dive into once you're decent at an instrument, and the fact the internet has made for greater exposure of virtually everything in society, equals a genre that is literally sagging under its own weight there are so many bands playing it right now. In fact, if I had a nickel for every metalcore band out there, I'm pretty sure that I could not only drop out of school but buy myself a job and spend a couple of kickass years in semi-retirement before having to get a real job to support myself. Simply put, the scene is that flooded right now, and because of this, resent starts to build.
Unearth are the unfair focus of a lot of this resentment simply because the represent everything the genre has become. Right at the forefront of the initial metalcore boom a few years back, Unearth's brand of blazing melody coupled with massive breakdowns and crunchy chugga-chugga riffs endeared them to many and catapulted them to the head of the then-blossoming scene. Years later, bands playing melodic metalcore are so common that not even the best of them sound original anymore, and the end result is a band like Unearth getting a lack of respect in some circles despite the fact they are very talented.
Thank the stars for III: In The Eyes of Fire then. In an age where most of their initial contemporaries have taken their music to even poppier levels, Unearth have returned with a furious onslaught of music that actually (and this isn't hyperbole for the label or the CD here folks, we do these reviews for free) sounds heavier than its ancestor The Oncoming Storm. Whereas the former album had clean guitar passages and some rough crooning, this sick puppy sticks to blazing guns and nitro explosions. There is little ear-candy on this album, and it is very stark seeing just how strong Unearth are as a musical entity; in the hullabaloo over the scene and some of its newer stalwarts, it is very easy to forget who the reigning champs are. In case it isn't clear yet, Unearth has reclaimed their crown.
"This Glorious Nightmare" alone will convince detractors of this fact. Attacking like a mountain lion on the prowl, the song is tight, lean, and muscular, featuring exquisite riffing with tons of razor-thin melody to the guitar tones. The vocals have really been stepped up; fiery roars and massive bellows seem to be the order of the day. As a rock-solid melody riff-fest ensues, the band eventually goes into a swift, punishing lead and then drops an atom bomb of a breakdown right into your laps. I am so sick of breakdowns in music at this point I had basically forgotten just how visceral and awe-inspiring the truly great ones can be.
"Giles" keeps the momentum up with more melo-riffing and blistering twin guitars that have actual depth to them. You get the feeling that twin guitar virtuosos Ken Susi and Buz McGrath have some secret wellspring of melodic metal riffs to draw from, and wherever it is, it is a motherlode of impressive fretwork indeed.
The excellent "March of the Mutes" soars in on some great harmonic progressions, all before a soft drumbeat sneaks its way in there and the song proceeds into some of the best melodic, galloping riffage this side of At the Gates. I know that by now At the Gates have been raped and pillaged so much it is almost a cliche unto itself, but Unearth really do sound like the originals and do their style justice.
"Sanctity of Brothers" has some jackhammer grooves and thrashing harmonics. With radiant, fist-pumping choruses that never feel mainstream or contrived, this one not only undermines the previous standard set by Unearth, but also makes other high standards such as As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage look like they've been left in the dust. "Sanctity" is simply a majestic, powerful, and vicious slice of Heaven.
The sinister malice that is "The Devil Has Risen" not only has some chugging Meshuggah-esque grooves to it, but is also one of the most claustrophobic, frightening tracks the band has ever penned. It even gives the album its title from some of the lyrics! When the band dares to enter into noisy hardcore terrirtory and then back into their more versatile approach, you can almost hear genius in the making.
I'm about 100% sure that "This Time Was Mine" will be an Unearth hallmark forever. With an unholy guitar lead and some excellent riffs, there really isn't any other song of this calibre in the Unearth back catalog and is definitely the best indicator the band is progressing further into the wilds that they first discovered. The fretwork is basically jaw-dropping, and the only other band of similar nature that is as good at stringwork (in my opinion anyways) is the mighty Shadows Fall.
"Unstoppable" is just that, a brisk asskicking that sounds like Hatebreed putting Meshuggah and At the Gates in a double-headlock....and then getting getting a swift kick to the back of the head as the rogue element known as surprising conviction comes in. The band play their hearts out on this (not to mention the rest of the album) to the point where it is alright little innovation is given out to listeners like you or me; it is simply so ferocious you can't help but like it.
"So It Goes" is this album's "Zombie Autopilot," albeit much heavier. Starting off with a set of dueling guitars that would make Iron Maiden proud, the song switches gears and attacks with manic, furious, and fluid chords; the drifting melodies to some of them will really weigh you down and put you in a unique headspace.
"Imposter's Kingdom" is probably my favorite track. In a nutshell, this is meant to kill people with sheer heavy metal headbanging, and this one is definitely a real monster in that department. Never once do the band relent with their brand of (shockingly) intense, lacerating metalcore.
"Bled Dry" has a pit-stomping Slayer drumbeat to its intro, and then the band comes in with some utterly mind-blowing instrumentation; this one is the second part of the knockout that is the album's last few tracks. Guitar fans will find this one especially fun, as there is tons of high-notes and impossibly fast fret runs. Basically, if you dig blink-of-the-eye guitar wankings, you'll love this.
The cool and collected "Big Bear and the Hour of Chaos" is a laid-back, thick tune drenched in catchy melodies and definitely a bit more relaxed in comparison with the album. Entirely instrumental, you'll even get some chilly, psychedelic clean passages and an unexpected piano serenade. Brilliantly resplendent, the song has a twinkling sheen in everything it does and works wonders as the album's oddly cathartic closing song.
In closing, you have to hear the master to understand the inferiority of those not in control. I used to really enjoy Unearth but with the mass volume of clones and copycats stealing their moves, I started listening to them less-and-less as there are only so many melodic leads in the metalcore world. Thankfully, I'm the sellout here, not them, and III: In The Eyes of Fire sounds so fresh simply because it is. Just when you thought metalcore couldn't get anymore stale, along comes a band who started the whole blasted affair and has now made every one of their brothers-in-arms look like watered down crap. Unearth slay and this is their new gold standard. Four-and-a-half stars.
1. This Glorious Nightmare
3. The March of the Mutes
4. Sanctity of Brothers
5. The Devil Has Risen
6. This Time Was Mine
8. So It Goes
9. Imposter's Kingdom
10. Bled Dry
11. Big Bear and the Hour of Chaos
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