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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CD Review: Unearth - The March

Unearth - The March
2008 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Everyone wants to be Unearth in today's metal scene, and with good reason. This band bears an unbreakable flock of followers who make up everyone from 16-year-old teens bouncing angrily in their four corners to people twice their age slinging 9-5 (and in many cases casting the same odes of disaffection from the unemployment lines). Unearth enjoys a rare universal respect from their peers, the press and especially their fans. In turn, Unearth reciprocates to their listeners (I can attest having personally spent an hour on the band's tour bus) and frequently when you poll the audience on a large bill who they've come to see, Unearth's name is uttered from well over half of the contingency.

It doesn't hurt Unearth is talented beyond all words, so much that metalcore is legitimzed by their presence alone, even if there were no Trivium and Bullet For My Valentine to speak of. Together, this triumvirate does for metalcore what Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motorhead have collectively done for power metal as the indisputed lions of their classic heavy metal. Of course, you can't discount Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall from the legion of metalcore superheroes, and Lamb of God are in their own class they can be looked upon as the crown jewel of popular American metal today.

Though Unearth lost drummer Mike Justian after the band's furious third album III: In the Eyes of Fire, they now have in their possession Derek Kerswill of Seemless (a hell of a band in their own right) and there's no denying his presence has changed this band. Justian was an animal on the kit but Kerswill's leaner approach has an adverse effect on Unearth's songwriting for The March, which is what the doctor ordered.

What can you say about The March? This thing at times is so breathtaking it's hard not to be affected by the band's gleeful enthusiasm. Whereas III: In the Eyes of Fire is perhaps reflective of the inner turmoil swirling in the band preluding Mike Justian's departure, The March is a blaring sigh of relief from the band as extolled through Trevor Phipp's passionate barking (turning in his best vocal performance to-date), while Ken Susi and Buz McGrath are to this band what Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu are to Trivium. Listening to their magnificently winding note loops on "We Are Not Anonymous," it's evident Unearth with Kerswill at their backs have been inspired to drop the chains and cut loose. Check out that ridiclous solo on "Anonymous" that spills into the monstrously chugging shredfest thereafter. If that doesn't get those horns up, you might have arthritis.

If Unearth has stepped anything up on The March, it's the fact they have opted to play more to the metal side as opposed to the hardcore end of things. For this writer's purposes, a complete abandonment of the band's breakdowns is thus perfectly warranted. Unearth has far too much going for them to simply play into skidded breakdown sequences just because that's what the kids wanna hear today. Unearth can't resist tossing them in there, however, the further the album plays, the more risks they're willing to take in moving away from those breakdowns that are unfortunately a part of their identity. A song like "The March" is far heavier because it rides the base of the song on the primary riffs, which sound almost cybernetic, even if the tune drifts home on a breakdown fadeout.

Still, "The Chosen" goes right to old school textbooks and Unearth pounds out a kickass straightforward jam with terrific riffs and a perfectly harmonious pair of solos, while "Letting Go" might be Unearth's diciest move to-date, one that pays off big-time at its creeping tempo and and piercing six string shrieks, which chirp like metal sonar. Even the slow breakdown at the end works advantageously because it serves the main melody, as do the varied breakdowns on the 11:12 "Truth Or Consequence," a bestial track creatively spliced in half by an extensive slosh of white noise.

Unearth still thrashes and crashes on "Hail the Shrine" and "Grave of Opportunity," the latter of which is so powerful on its speedy duckets there's hardly reason to dally with breakdowns, particularly when the acoustic interlude and the steadily increasing bridge are all the song needs to be articulate.

While it may sound like dart-throwing on the band's breakdowns with The March, the only reason for it is because Unearth simply do not need them. Point blank, they have evolved on their own merits as songwriters and executioners. The March has a spiritual grace to it with messages of hope (a direct antithesis to the dank gloominess of their previous album) and it even takes on the story of pioneer Jeremiah Johnson and his bloody revenge upon the Crow nation on "Crow Killer." For the record, Jeremiah Johnson the film is probably Robert Redford's best picture after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid if you really want to get into Unearth's mindframe on that song.

All quibbles aside, Unearth has come into their own as a genuine leader for their sheer guts on this album, and in the grand scheme if they continue to evolve in this direction, consider them upper echelon material from here on out.

Rating: ****1/2

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