From a certain point of view, Unearth have always been the N.W.O.A.H.M. (New Wave Of American Heavy Metal) bridesmaids, never the bride. Perhaps, because they don’t indulge in huge, melodic, cleanly sung choruses. Maybe because the Metalcore tag has never really been a proper fit. More and more over the years, they have embraced their calling as a full on, but modern, Heavy Metal band. Sure, they have pretty much, thee most incredible, and for the most part, original, breakdowns this side of Lamb of God, but, essentially, they are a Metal band, heavily influenced by Thrash, as well as Maiden and Pantera. To further reinforce this point, they usually seem far more comfortable on bills supporting the likes of Slayer and Machine Head, than on bills with the likes of Norma Jean and Every Time I Die. You really only need to look to guitarists, Buz McGrath and Ken Susi, as more evidence. They are both incredibly dexterous, wildly talented, very different in playing styles, yet the duo perfectly compliment each other. Some of their solo trade offs are pretty wild. They are, in this reviewers eyes, the KK Downing and Glenn Tipton of modern Metal. Yes, Seriously!
So, to album number six then, “Watchers of Rule”, and I am going to just go straight to the elephant in the room right now! This IS the best record since the, genuinely classic, second record, “The Oncoming Storm”. There, for all you existing Unearth fans, I’ve said it. You have the knowledge that you wanted. With that out the way, we can all relax and actually enjoy the record for the awesome, muscular and rather sophisticated slab of punishment this is.
We have all heard lead single, the rather spiffing, ‘The Swarm’, and, trust me, the rest of the album keeps up that standard, if not excels it in the case of soon-to-be-live-favorite, ‘Guards of Contagion’. This is one of those, unmistakably Unearth songs that has a guitar melody that strikes you in the chest and makes you show everyone you know, to see if they get the goosebumps too.
The bands performance is audibly, the hungriest it has been in many years, you can actually feel it lunging at you. Trevor Phipps has never sounded fiercer, and that is saying something. He manages to deliver his most varied vocals in the bands whole catalog. Also, check out a rather cool Phil Anselmo-like spoken word part in ‘Lifetime in Ruins’. Susi and McGrath, of course, do not disappoint, but, let’s be honest, do they ever? They, somehow, manage to sound like they get better and better at both songwriting AND technical exhibitionism as time goes on. Not an easy feat, as one, more often than not, means the detriment of the other, unless you’re Dave Mustaine. A highlight is the main riff in ‘Never Cease’, that is the best riff that Death Metal legends, Carcass, never wrote. I’d bet money that at least half the band would enjoy that comparison. Perhaps the band have had a fire lit under them by new tub-thumper, Nick Pierce. He is the best fit, behind the kit, since Mike Justian departed and the band had a Spinal Tap period of a revolving door – drummer situation.
The man responsible for the excellent mix on the band’s last outing, “Darkness in the Light”, Mark Lewis, was tasked this time with the job lot. Producer, engineer and mixer, hell, he even mastered the thing, so the project was obviously very close to his heart. The result is a very clear and easily digestible sound, but it still sounds very alive and human, at its core. In my opinion, the band should not work with anyone else. Lewis seems to have done for Unearth what even the likes of Adam D, Terry Date and Andy Sneap could not, and that is capture the energy and vibe of one of their seen-to-be-believed, live shows.
The only negative that stops this achieving a slightly higher score is that some of the later tracks don’t quite hit the highs the rest of the record does, and for any lesser band, that might not be that big a deal, but this is Unearth, and keeping up the quality that they often obtain, is a pretty tall order. With that said, the closing, and title track, is a beast!
If anything, “Watchers of Rule” should allow Unearth to be finally recognized as what they are – A unique and relevant heavy band. No longer should they be spoken about as part of a moribund sub-genre, after all, isn’t Metal about fucking off trends and scenes and standing up for awesome and timeless music. These lads have delivered proof that they are not going anywhere, except on-wards and upwards.