Unearth are the Slayer of Metalcore
Unearth’s continued existence as an active band seems pretty unlikely in 2014. So many of their NWOAHM peers of roughly the same size and means have dropped by the wayside (Shadows Fall, Chimaira, God Forbid) and Unearth’s own star has certainly fallen.
But Unearth are probably the most consistent of any of those bands, both in terms of music and the way they’ve handled their career. Whereas God Forbid got all experimental on Earthsblood, Shadows Fall jumped to a major label on Threads of Life and Chimaira suffered from constant lineup shuffling, Unearth have stayed the course with a consistent lineup core, the same record label (until now), and more or less the same musical formula.
On the other side of that spectrum are bands like In Flames and All That Remains, peers of Unearth’s that have actively changed their sound more towards metal’s mainstream and have had plenty of success with it. Unearth haven’t done that either.
Call them the Slayer of metalcore. Releasing pretty much the same album over and over again. Oh, Unearth might feel differently about themselves, and sure, the band has grown and evolved a bit — but let’s call a spade a spade: Unearth haven’t really shaken it up, ever.
And there is something to be said for that. Unearth know what they do well, and they’ve stuck to it, unwavering. Unearth fans know what they’re getting with a new album, just us Unearth dismissers know what they’ll be needing to avoid. No boats are rocked and no minds are blown: it goes both ways.
I don’t think it’d be a stretch to imagine a future, say, five years from now, where Unearth are heralded as heroes, pioneers, true metal warriors that never caved in to changing trends. Metal history is littered with examples of bands that have survived a long stretch of down years to emerge victorious and bigger than ever on the other side: Slayer, of course, but also Iron Maiden (the Blaze Bayley era), Black Sabbath, Gwar (the entire ’00s), Anthrax, Testament, Carcass and At the Gates. While some of those bands had the benefit of hype-generating reunions after long break-ups, some didn’t, and plenty of reunited bands are met with the collective applause equivalent to a fart in a windstorm (see: Snot, Sanctuary).
This feels weird to say, but in five years a teenager just getting into Unearth will not have been born when their first album came out (!!!!!!), a detachment that will only help their legend grow. Just as today’s urban 20-somethings have no recollection of a time when the high-waisted jeans or cut-off shorts they’re wearing were cool the first time around, even the 30-somethings that currently roam around the parking lots at America’s metal shows yelling “SLAAAAAYEERRRRRR!!!!” at the top of their lungs weren’t born when Slayer were getting their start. Sometimes it’s easier to revere something or someone that was entirely before your time.
Unearth could be that band. They’re active. They have a solid body of work. They never “sold out” with tons of clean vocals, so they’ve got the cred. They’re heavy enough. They’ve got the chops. They’ve got a known personality in Ken Susi. They’re not even the best band from their era/scene (just as Slayer aren’t the best from theirs), which seems to be another prerequisite for “hero” status — that inability to break through in the shadows of Killswitch Engage, Mastodon and Lamb of God makes them more endearing to those bequeathed of bestowing hero status.
So, will Unearth be the Slayer of metalcore? I’m calling it. Let’s talk again in 2019.