Unearth – Darkness In The Light (2011)

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Music

As we turned our calendars towards the new millennium a few years back, metalcore was ruling the metal scene, with home base being the New England region of the United States. Bands were sprouting up left and right, and the core of the scene involved a handful of powerful, enigmatic, talented bands in the form of All That Remains, Shadows Fall, Seemless, Killswitch Engage, and the band we are reviewing here, Unearth. Like it or not, the sound changed modern metal as we know it, and we can blame New England.

Much has happened in metalcore since then – hundreds of new bands have formed from all over the globe (most of who were inspired by the aforementioned), festivals have been built around the “sound,” and the scene has grown to probably the most widely-accepted form of metal going today.

But it hasn’t all been handshakes and bags of money for these originators. Killswitch Engage is currently in a state of flux that has this author questioning whether they’ll ever put out another album. Seemless broke up two years ago. All That Remains have shifted styles away from true metalcore, and Shadows Fall have become a bit too smart for their own good, and haven’t released anything new in a few years. Currently, the last man standing is Unearth.

But they aren’t without their own challenges. The band has battled both critics and fans since their seminal release – 2004’s The Oncoming Storm – with a few underachieving releases and a sound that frankly found its way towards staleness. Also worth mentioning is the bands constant struggle to keep a steady drummer aboard. As the “Spinal Tap” of metalcore, the band has had three different drummers in their four album career – and are actually without a full-time time-keeper for this album. The band has, however, recruited Killswitch drummer Justin Foley who tracked the drums for their latest release, Darkness In The Light, and will (assumedly) tour with the band through this summer’s Mayhem Festival.

Whether it was Foley’s presence on the kit, or the production touch of Adam Dutkiewicz (also from Kilswitch Engage, for those unaware), Darkness finds the band returning to the raw, energetic sound that thrust them to the forefront of the metalcore scene many years ago.

Where the last two albums hinted at some new bells and whistles for the band, this album is stripped of all the bullshit and experimentation and is presented in a more brutal, aggressive fashion that turns back the clock.

And why not? The band was at its best during the early part of their career, and a return to that form is exactly what fans, and this writer, were waiting for. When a band is known for their technical prowess and smart, socio-political messages, they should stick with it – and that’s exactly the formula that makes this album such a breath of fresh air – albeit a recognizable one.

If your looking for love songs and airy vocals, you caught the wrong bus, as the opening track storms through the door with an angst-ridden assault of harmonic guitars, growls and blast beats that let you know immediately what’s in store for the next 48 minutes. “Watch It Burn” is so ferocious, you barely notice the clean vocal interlude interrupting the madness.

The enthusiasm continues over the next track, “Ruination of the Lost.” Vocalist Trevor Phipps is as forward as ever here, and Foley’s drums are absolutely relentless. But I’m not going to mention Foley again until he is a full-fledged member of this band (which may or may not happen.) Lets just say he killed it through the entire album and leave it at that.

After two tracks of drum and vocal excellence, “Shadows In The Light” give the guitar tandem of Buz McGrath and Ken Susi a chance to shine. The precision and harmonics are true to task here, and the duo finger-bleed their way through heavy rhythms, blazing fretwork and crisp harmonies. Adam D’s influence here was obvious, and the track shines because of it.

“Eyes of Black” offers up a ton of a shifting time-signatures throughout, both vocally and musically, which somehow gets brought together with a cohesive, stomping chorus. The shifts add depth and substance to this track, which features an amazing solo and infectious breakdown to close. This isn’t only the best track on the album, it’s the best track the band has ever unleashed.

Not letting up, “Last Wish” has Phipps as angry as ever. The lyrical content is proud and forthright, declaring “This life will soon come to an end – I’ll leave with my convictions.” Not sure if he’s tired of the critics, or tired of things in general, but his point hits hard and directly on target. This band has always done things “their” way and plan on continuing that path, regardless of outside influence.

An interesting guitar riff both opens and closes “Arise The War Cry,” and between the two we find the band battling between sheer brutality and melodic metal. When the song wants to get all clean and pretty, the vocals fight against the unholiness with unabashed strength. In the end, as it should be – brutality wins.

The interlude of “Equinox” gives the listener a short break in the frenzy of this album with some nice piano parts and delicate guitar work, but the chains break after the first minute, and the heaviness returns to close the short track, which was a good time to catch our breath during the album.

Even the best albums have that one track that is a bit of a letdown, and “Coming of the Dark” was this CDs black sheep. First of all, the song title is so similar to the album title that I was immediately put off. Secondly, the song was a little tame in comparison to the rest of the tracklist. It did have a decent solo in the middle, but it honestly didn’t have the same vibe the rest of the album had so far. It wasn’t a “bad” offering, but it paled in comparison to the rest of the album.

If there was an obvious choice for a “single” from this collection, it’s “The Fallen.” It screams of mainstream, but not in a detractable way. What makes it so, is that the rage is quelled a bit, the guitars are toned down a touch, and the vocals are a bit more accessible, lending itself to radio play. Had they gone the “clean vocal” route here, it would have been the best All That Remains song not done by All That Remains. The guitars are a bit predictable throughout, and the chorus will have high schoolers everywhere pounding their fists. What keeps the song true is the blast beat heavy breakdown at the end, but I still see a video in our future…

We do get a little more clean vocals with “Overcome,” but it’s still secondary to the growls of Phipps and the bass of John Maggard, which by the “better-late-than-never” rule gets an opportunity to pound all over this track. The guitars missed an opportunity here to steal this song, but I think it was with intent, as Maggard is the most overlooked strength this band has.

The closer “Disillusion” brings a riotous roar to finish off this behemoth. The chorus of “Lies! Lies! You fucking fail me!” is apt only as a slap in the face to those who thought this band was washed up and without any spirit. Commercially, there is no way this doesn’t end up being a top album of 2011. Critically, it will do even better. With support coming from the Mayhem tour, and the most charismatic release to date from these Massachussetts metallers, Unearth is set to recapture old fans, and make some new ones along the way.

9/10

http://www.amazon.com/Darkness-Light-Unearth/dp/B0051DSAC6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308776609&sr=8-1

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Editor’s note: The awesome folks at Alternative Press Magazine are streaming the new album in its entirety up until the July 5th release date. Give it a listen here.

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