Unearth

Darkness In The Light

01. Watch It Burn
02. Ruination of the Lost
03. Shadows in the Light
04. Eyes of Black
05. Last Wish
06. Arise The War Cry
07. Equinox
08. Coming of the Dark
09. The Fallen
10. Overcome
11. Disillusion

[Metal Blade Records]
[7/5/2011]

I can honestly say that the first time I heard Unearth, it was a life changing experience for me. I can still remember driving home after picking up The Oncoming Storm on a whim, having not heard a single lick of the band’s music, and just going (in Chris Farley voice) “SWEET MOTHER OF MERCY! WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE!?” Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite like that, but suffice it to say it was absolutely jaw dropping for me. It was so huge, sounded so good, and the songs made me want to walk through walls.

I’m pretty sure that was also the first time I heard proper breakdowns, which I absolutely loved at the time.  I’ve been a fan ever since. Unearth have been the soundtrack to a million workouts, one-man mosh pits, and great drunken times for me, and The Oncoming Storm is still a top five ‘desert island disc’ for me, without question. Hell, the guitar playing and guitar tone on the album are a huge part of why I decided to switch to 7-string guitars.

So it’s interesting that in 2011 we find Unearth playing an outdated, if not completely antiquated, genre of heavy music. Sure, they helped invent metalcore as we know it today, and they are definitely one of the best at it – but let’s face it, playing any type of melodic metal mixed with breakdowns is really a tired way to go about making music these days. I definitely have mixed feelings about their latest album, Darkness In The Light for exactly this reason. It’s Unearth doing what they do best, and if you are an Unearth fan you will not be let down in the slightest – but it also feels like a bit of a retread at the same time.

Since we’re already headed down this path, I’ll start with what I don’t like about the album. It is most similar in sound to The Oncoming Storm, which should obviously be great news for a guy like me, but somehow it’s not. I really enjoyed the raw, next level heaviness they displayed on Storm’s follow-up  III:In The Eyes of Fire, and I equally loved the experimentation and slower tempos of 2008′s The MarchDarkness In The Light ditches both of these aspects for more straightforward, melodic material.  There’s still plenty of skull-crushing riffs and shred, and it’s not as though the songs are entirely predictable, but it feels like a bit of a regression in some ways.

I also can’t help but feel that producer (and Killswitch Engage guitarist) Adam Dutkiewicz has completely sunk his hooks into the Unearth sound. He’s a great producer, but he’s almost completely Killswitch-ized Unearth. It’s one thing to put your mark on a band’s album and bring out the best in them, and another thing altogether to put your fingerprints all over their sound, which is what I feel Adam D. has done here. Unearth have admitted that he is like a sixth member of the band, and have recorded all but one album with Dutkiewicz, so I can presume they are happy with his work, but man, there are times on Darkness In The Light where Unearth sounds just like a more technically proficient Killswitch. The production is too glossy and perfect for me, and there are even clean vocals on about a third of the album’s songs – by far the most on any Unearth album ever. I hate to say it, but I think they could definitely benefit by working with a different producer in the future.

However, there is still plenty to love about this album. They make up for lack of experimentation and variety by delivering these new songs with the utmost intensity. It is a very focused, uptempo, and direct effort, and the songs, whilst straightforward, are very well crafted and memorable. Ken Susi’s clean vocals are not album ruiners by any stretch of the imagination, and are done tastefully enough to provide a nice counterpoint to Trevor Phipps’ trademark screams, which are sounding great as ever. Fill-in drummer Justin Foley (also of, you guessed it – Killswitch Engage) does a damn fine job hammering the skins as well. John ‘Slo’ Maggard’s bass is one of my favorite things about the album. He has a great bass tone that you can actually hear most of the time, which is awesome (check out the breakdown in “Ruination of The Lost” to get a great taste).

And then we have the mighty Buz Mcgrath, who lays down an absolute lead guitar clinic over the top of Susi’s excellent rhythm playing. Dig the insane sweep intro to “Arise The War Cry” for a carpal tunnel inducing example. This is a trend that continues throughout the album, Buz shreds the place to pieces all over Darkness In The Light.  He’s definitely become one of the best lead guitarists in the business.

Criticisms aside, this is another fine Unearth record. They have never failed to deliver the goods, even as the genre they helped create slowly died around them.  They are still a very viable force in heavy music, and still very much worth your time. I have a few problems with it, sure, but if you’re a fan I guarantee you I’ll be blasting Darkness In The Light all summer.

Unearth’s Darkness In The Light gets:

3.5/5

- JB