Unearth Watchers of the Rule 01Unearth are among the last of their kind. The New Wave of American Heavy Metal – if there ever was such a thing – has crashed, receded, and carried away a flotsam of recycled Gothenburg riffs, open string drop-D breakdowns, and post-Pantera toughguy groove. Bands not dissolved in the fizz of waning popularity and ill-conceived murder-for-hire plots have either distilled themselves into Top 40 radio rock (Avenged Sevenfold) or continue struggling to recreate the glory of their heyday (Killswitch Engage). Unearth stand alone, a testament to dogged consistency and an antithesis to the failed pop-chorus commercial pandering that doomed so many of their peers. From The Oncoming Storm to Darkness in the Light, there isn’t a weak spot in their catalog [I disagree. – AMG], and while they never achieved the popularity of, say, Trivium, that means nothing when they’re one of the only bands in this style that still matters.

Watchers of Rule doesn’t just affirm this; it drives the fact home like a nailgun to the head. Take the opening: just when the intro’s echoing leads start to wane after 45 seconds, “The Swarm” bursts in mid-note, trampling the tranquil instrumental opener beneath a stampede of blastbeats and fretboard-scorching harmonies. The guitars are lightning-quick and complex, the transitions natural and fluid – have these guys always been so technical? Aside from Trevor Phipps’ throat-shredding yells (delivered with irate, clenched-fist conviction) this could pass for modern death metal. It’s terrific, and the adept musicianship doesn’t end here: the main sweeping lick on “From The Tombs of Five Below” sounds like something from The Human Abstract’s first record, while the soaring solos on “Lifetime in Ruins” and “Birth of a Legion” are some of the most impressive the band have ever recorded.

Yet memorability is never sacrificed for the sake of technicality. Early highlight “Guards of Contagion” cruises with an infectious reverb-laced groove and gripping shout-along chorus, sure to become a live staple alongside old favorites like “Giles.” “Trail to Fire” and “Burial Lines” follow suit, the former streaming glorious guitar lines over a horn-raising refrain, the latter building off a twirling Amon Amarth-ian motif. Highlights abound – but unfortunately, these moments do make the straightforward romp of “To The Ground” and the breakdown-laden title track feel somewhat flaccid by comparison.

Speaking of breakdowns – whatever your opinion (is it still cool to hate them?), there’s no denying the smooth songwriting greatly augments their potency. Most notably, after two hurried verses on “The Swarm,” the bridge collapses as a simple melodic riff summons an explosive rhythmic barrage in one of the album’s finest moments. Suddenly it feels like 2006 all over again – cue the Warped Tour walls-of-death. “Never Cease” is another great example, its epic final minute propelled by a synthy melody, a bout of restrained clean vocals, and skull-shattering drumming.

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Moments like this demand in-your-face production, and that’s exactly what’s provided. Is the mix compressed to shit? Admittedly, yes. But the treble is clear with forceful punchiness, the drums strike with a satisfying thunk, and somehow, even with the layered guitars weaving into each other and the dexterous spitfire drumming (courtesy of relative newcomer Nick Pierce) inundating the low end, the sound is never exhausting. The shallow dynamic range does make the intricacies easy to miss – but in an odd plus, this begets a record that affords something new with each listen.

Watchers of Rule isn’t a perfect album – there are a few flat moments, and the tempo seldom varies – but it is a damn fine one. Young hopefuls, take note: this is when metalcore is at its best, when skilled instrumentation accompanies stellar songwriting, when bands actually write wholly enjoyable pieces instead of littering 35 minutes with as many breakdowns as possible. Ten years ago this might have been a modern classic; today, it’s a life-affirming triumph, a reminder that even after music scenes wither, bands can continue without limping on the crutches of done-to-death tropes and stale rehashes of the past. Relentless as a starving pitbull, with more hooks than a Hellraiser film, Watchers of Rule may be 2014’s best metalcore record. The New Wave has indeed passed – but Unearth, looking firmly onward, don’t seem the least bit fazed.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: eOne Music
Website: UnearthOfficialFacebook.com/Unearth
Release Dates: EU: 2014.11.03 | NA: 10.27.2014

  • So, I really liked that debut album, but when they kind of went more metal and less hardcore, I sort of fell off the bandwagon. I’ve never really been able to get into their stuff once they got onto Metal Blade. And part of it was that I thought that their breakdowns got boring. Also Metalcore got so, so big and boring.

    But I’d probably give this record a 3 or 3.5. I think it’s really quite solid. Some of their best material in years, imho. A long break did them good.

    • lacsativ

      What is your opinion on Negura Bunget? It’s the only metal Romanian artist famous abroad so far, and your opinion about them would really interest me.

      • They’re too atmospheric for me, but I know a lot of people who love them. Lots of respect, not much love.

      • basenjibrian

        Negura Bunget is awesome. Even if the band is today only a “remnant” of the original Om-era band!

        • lacsativ

          While not as good as Om, Pamint was quite interesting. It was actually the album that got me into Negura Bunget. Now I am eagerly awaiting their new album “TAU”, which is going to be released in early 2015.

          • basenjibrian

            There is also Dordeduh! (I assume you are familiar with them as well!) They are the other half od N.B. after the post-Om split up.

          • lacsativ

            Yes I am. Their self entitled album is on my list. There’s also Bucovina, a somewhat famous Folk Metal band from our country. I don’t feel like they are as good as Negura, but a lot of my “less hipsterish” friends disagree with me. I should really check their last album too, haha :D.

    • AndySynn

      I’m still a big fan of the band, but generally consider their output akin to the original Star Trek movies, it’s every-other album that’s great, the rest are just… solid but unremarkable.

      “The Oncoming Storm” remains a classic (I’ll stand by that statement), “The March” recaptured much of the same fire (after “III” was a let down), and now “Watchers of Rule” continues the trend of kicking righteous amounts of ass after a relatively disappointing release (“Darkness In The Light” was… not so great).

      • That’s fair. The Oncoming Storm wasn’t terrible by any stretch. These guys just had a really remarkable debut record, in my opinion, and have never quite lived up to it. But they were also the first metalcore band I even liked a little, so it might just be that it I’m super biased.

        • AndySynn

          Ha, funny, I’m the exact opposite. I think TOS is remarkable, and the debut is only “good”.

        • Hammersmith

          I agree, Oncoming Storm was really good, but Stings of Conscience was where it was at. It’s still their best. The new one is somewhat of a return to form for them though, IMO. Everything after Oncoming Storm has been Ok, but pretty forgettable.

    • Kronos

      This is the best metalcore I’ve heard since “The Fall of Ideals” and I agree with the score. Core isn’t really my thing anymore, but this brought back good memories.

  • Robert Turnbull

    I enjoyed The Oncoming Storm and really took to III (although it holds sway in my memory as I was nearly killed by a truck pushing my car sideways at 65mph on the M25 while listening to it). Sort of lost interest since then but this sounds like a return to form so will give it a spin.

  • Our Fortress Is Burning

    One of the few Metalcore bands that I actually like. Although, I do prefer their earlier stuff. I probably won’t pick this album up. Metalcore has gotten quite stale, and the clean vocals on their last album really turned me off. I’m very picky about clean vocals. I’ll continue to listen to their first 3 albums from time-to-time, but for now, I’m not considering this new album as a possible purchase.