The Metal Minute Awarded 2009 Best Personal Blog By Metal Hammer Magazine

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Album Review: Unearth - Darkness in the Light

Unearth - Darkness in the Light
2011 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



After heaving a steady blast of albums at the metal world, it's been about three years since we've last heard from Unearth. Their last record from 2008 The March showed this band in the stages of evolution beyond their roles as metalcore kings. Unearth also found themselves in transition on the drum kit with the changeover from Mike Justian to former Seemless skin smasher Derek Kerswill.

The March had a refurbished, monkeys-off-the-back freshness about it but push comes to shove, what Unearth has made a name for itself by employing stack 'n smash transitions between velocity and breakdown chugs will, unfortunately for them, begin to lose gradual favor in metal. At the moment, they still have the chance to strike while their name counts for something.

With their newest album Darkness in the Light, Unearth does what they do better than most, still in league with Devildriver, All That Remains and Lamb of God as the ambassadors of American metalcore. In order for Unearth to stay relevant, however, they would have to--by attrition--turn a few new tricks. The March showed a number of spots where Unearth was willing to experiment and broaden themselves. On Darkness in the Light, one almost thinks Unearth decided to skip the formality of extension and just go for broke with their bread and butter sound. As it turns, one would be correct. For their dedicated fans, this near back-up to 2004's The Oncoming Storm will be a joy, assuredly.

Nevertheless, it's sad to say that Unearth is in peril of sounding dated as metal as a whole sniffs around for the next great tactic to exploit. Even sadder, that tactic is starting to lean towards the routes of safe 'n easy commercial AOR. There's no reason Darkness in the Light shouldn't be thought of as an album to hand the asses of most of its competition over to them. Still, a momentum-slashing breakdown sequence on the opening number "Watch it Burn" wears an old hat and for the most part, Darkness in the Light itself does likewise.

Admirably contained to 38 minutes, Darkness in the Light is as polished and professional as Unearth has ever been, perhaps even more so now that they're quantified veterans. Trevor Phipps still brings a righteous pentameter to his barking and per usual, Ken Susi and Buz McGrath peel everything off the walls within their luminous reach. Their solos are still gorgeous and their notes and chords are like brushstrokes amidst the savage tempos on songs such as "Ruination of the Lost," "Last Wish," "Disillusion," "Overcome" and "Eyes of Black."

The shredding and soloing on the intro "Arise the War Cry" is truly exuberant, while the blazing few bars thereafter surrender to mid tempo pulverizing for much of the track. While the song spins in a few series of killer melody and a mind-melding solo section, the fact it simply had to have a mammoth breakdown in the middle shows both a confidence in Trevor Phipps and Unearth's songwriting as well as an unwillingness to break tradition.

That is, until the downright progressive "Equinox" arrives and finally, this album relishes in its moment of redemption. Not to slag on Unearth whatsoever because Darkness in the Light is as heavy as anything they've ever done, but "Equinox" speaks louder than everything else with its haunted piano laces (think Nine Inch Nails) and an abbreviated explosion which serves the well-deserved climax.

Unearth picks back up where it left off on the thrashy "Coming of the Dark," which is a natural headbanging jam with a few stretches of swooning cadence amidst the hammering beat keeping this song on an even stride. Phipps' elongated and punctuated roaring on "Coming of the Dark" keeps it interesting even during a jivey breakdown. Stay tuned as well for a pair volcanic guitar solos here.

Darkness in the Light is by means a slouching album. If you still believe in metalcore, then you have every right to believe in this album. "The Fallen" will probably be your anthem track for its predictable shift between speed and chugging. That's really the only bitter pill about this album. It's heavier than most, well-lavished, occasionally thinking outside the box, from the heart, but in the end, grossly predictable.

Having spent many times in the company of both Mike Justian and Trevor Phipps and once joke-threatened by the rest of the group to have my Beatles shirt hauled right off my back, I personally have nothing but love for Unearth. These guys are downhome goofballs offstage and pure powerhouses on. Darkness in the Light is a damned good album for 2006 and even 2008, but for Unearth to keep their crusade pounding into the future, there will need to be more chances taken like "Equinox" before their core fan base grows up and out of them.

Rating: ***1/2

No comments: