Seeing Mass-hole metalcore mainstays Unearth live earlier this year after nearly a decade’s gap between Australian tours, this scribe walked away with a few conclusions. One was that the group’s considerable energy on record is surpassed by their performances.
Another was the band has very much stuck to their guns creatively throughout more than 20 years in the game. And finally, the modest attendance at the show – albeit one populated by real devotees – reiterated that the quintet deserve points for perseverance and consistency, even when trends haven’t been in their favor and audiences have found something else to latch onto. Therefore, on album number eight The Wretched; The Ruinous, Unearth aren’t about to do a u-turn into jazz fusion.
As the furious-yet-hooky title track that opens the record reinforces, it’s thrashy, Swedish melodic death metal-infused fare bustling with twin leads, riffs more scathing than the reviews of the Winnie the Pooh horror flick, and a healthy amount of seismic-shifting breakdowns. So all in all, there are few if any surprises to be found (“Mother Betrayal’s black metal flourishes aside). These are cuts for the already initiated, sans the desire to concentrate on winning too many new converts to the cause.
It’s a cause, however, that the band execute with conviction and laced with social commentary, rooted in themes of environmental crisis. Frontman Trevor Phipps roaring “witness the apocalypse!” as a foundation for a thunderous beatdown on “Invictus” isn’t just a pit catch-cry; it’s about relaying a crucial message, too. This is their first album recorded without guitarist Ken Susi, who left the band in 2022. His interplay with axeman Buz McGrath had the chemistry of a periodic table, and while his unique approach’s absence is apparent at times, overall the crew haven’t missed a (two) step.
The LP is less than 40 minutes in length, and the relative brevity heightens the impact. Led by the tireless and perennially pissed off Phipps, it may be their heaviest record yet. The aforementioned, moody “Mother Betrayal” also has a touch of At the Gates about it, while harmony-drenched “Into the Abyss” is akin to the In Flames worship of moments from 2004’s The Oncoming Storm, without feeling like a retread. Speaking of their past, “Dawn of the Militant” more prominently infuses elements of the crew’s hardcore roots to strong effect. Not that they’ve eschewed accessibility amid the sonic gut-punches; “Eradicator’s bruising delivery and changes in pace are tempered by its well-placed dollops of melody, without seeming like a mere concession to wider audiences.
Is there anything here that will shock the seasoned Unearth fan? No. But there’s been something eminently endearing about the workmanlike ethos they’ve exhibited throughout a lengthy career, as they’ve tweaked their recognisable sound with each subsequent release. There are acts playing more fashionable strains of metal that will yield greater commercial rewards, but these lads don’t seem fazed by that. While Unearth don’t reinvent themselves here – and that surely wasn’t the goal – there’s something to be said for satisfying your existing, loyal audience.
(released May 5, 2023 on Century Media Records)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Watch Unearth – “Into The Abyss” Video