Unearth: The March

[21 January 2009]

By Rajith Savanadasa

On “My Will Be Done,” the first track off The March, Unearth cut straight to the frills with streaming swaths of double-tapped guitar melody. As impressive a display of lightspeed fretwork there is, it brings to mind a few other albums that burst out of its plastic packaging in similar vein—records by Shadows Fall, God Forbid, Between the Buried and Me—pretty much any of the acts that began in the late 90’s and thrashed around in the once-fertile ground of the ‘metalcore’ portmanteau (to which Unearth themselves belong). Of course the precursors of this particular overture were a generation of new wave of British heavy metal bands led by the evergreen Iron Maiden. The Maiden worship remains as apparent on The March, as with any of the previous Unearth records. Buz McGrath and Ken Susi’s dual-guitar harmonies and anthemic leads reek of a Steve Harris/Dave Murray complex.

The song then moves onto a piston-pumping neo-hardcore/thrash (thashcore anyone?) riff that also sounds suspiciously familiar. Shadows Fall, Trivium, God Forbid, Bullet For my Valentine et al literally owe their daily meal to such frenetic hardcore-metal crossover riffage that consists of equal parts steamrolling Black-Flag chug and At the Gates-style churn. 

Trevor Phipps then proceeds to bust a spleen, growling and screaming through the remaining three and a half minutes of this track. There’s no chance of the fanboys squawking “sellout” at this one, as the slightest modicum of melody gets buried beneath the guttural venting and spitting. The lyrics remain po-facedly serious: “A system of panic enslaves / The binding obtainment brings darker days / A stand must be taken to save / No cries for us / The war is waged / It`s done.” Filled with prognostications of doom and slogans of inspiration, the lyrics seem custom made for the disaffected teenager to mosh to in a fit of testosterone-sparked ire.

Can anyone guess what comes next? If you hollered, “Breakdown!” you would be absolutely correct. (If you screamed it like a feisty hobgoblin and braced yourself for some slamdancing, you’re not going to like the rest of the review). The same precisely timed dumbbell-drop of a single palm-muted chord—heard from innumerable late 90’s metalcore bands countless times—repeats steadily. Drums pound it down; cymbal crashes nail it to the ground. In between the hammering, Phipps yells, “My will be done!”

Over the course of the next ten tracks, these elements resurface over and over again. Sure, sometimes the breakdowns come earlier than expected. Guitar solos appear in the middle of a song instead of at the beginning or the end. A“raining blood”-like midsection appears to the otherwise old-school hardcore-punk tinged “The Chosen.” “Letting go” slows things to a crawl (and is quite a drag with its maudlin guitars and sore-thumb cookie-monster vocals). Prolonged silence and white noise drops smack in the middle of [Untitled], the album closer (another misguided attempt at experimentation adding nothing but snores to the atmosphere).

Apart from those anomalies, the formula remains the same: Out of a total 11 songs, six contain fret-punishing guitar medleys within the first ten seconds; a breakdown of some form appears on every single track; and Phipps’ gruff admonitions continue endlessly at the same pitch and tone.

Though good for what it is: high-quality melodic metalcore. It’‘s also slick as grease, polished to a blinding sheen by Adam Dutkiewicz’s production. But familiarity often breeds contempt and almost every ingredient of The March sounds routine.

Unearth need not introduce Beatles melodies and synth (Lord no!) in order to stay relevant. Take a leaf out of the Disfear songbook. The band’s latest (“Live the Storm”) makes use of an utterly simple d-beat backbone but infuses a freshness and flow, an urgency and sense of freedom to a well-worn formula. Thus, one suspects it is a palliative and not a surgery required to ease the suffering of an ailing genre. However, as flag bearers of the movement, Unearth exhibit all the unchanging symptoms of a plague that finds metalcore quarantined within its confines.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/67353-unearth-the-march/