Unearth Unleashed: Frontman Trevor Phipps Talks New Album Before Their Ballistic Show in Joliet, IL (Video Interview + Live Report)
Unearth, nearly two decades on, have fallen in and out of vogue at points along their journey, but there's really nothing wrong with that. With long-ish gaps between albums, the band certainly doesn't oversaturate their market or make total showmen of themselves; besides, the metalcore market is super-saturated and noisy to begin with. This is a band interested in the long-game, the professional game, the meaningful game. Relatedly, Unearth is a band with a simple but profound message behind it: connect with others, be positive, and celebrate our love for metal, and that will in turn reduce conflict and bring us closer together as fellow humans all looking to make something out of this life. Instead of preaching, though, this is a band which does. They're so successful at bringing folks together, in fact, that they've taken the most primal and sometimes controversial metal tool of them all -- the breakdown -- and made it their own. And they turned it into sheer brilliance. It's the breakdown which structurally defines Unearth: it's their message's hammer, it's the fuel for the moshing fires, it's the reason they're so goddamn heavy to begin with.
Unearth comes, crushes you, leaves that visceral imprint on your memory forever, and then fades away until a later opportune day when you need metal just so profoundly heavy it hurts.
Heavy as goddamn hell they were on Saturday night in Joliet, Illinois -- right outside of Chicago -- a mid-tour stop celebrating the release of their new album Extinction(s). While The Oncoming Storm may be the preference of long-time fans (though their debut album The Stings of Conscience is, arguably, even heavier), this new album shows a band who've not forgotten their past. In fact, Extinction(s) totally showcases Unearth's original immense energy, to the extent that this feels almost like a brand-new debut. They've not rewritten themselves entirely; rather, they've reimagined their past through a modern lens. The songs of Extinction(s) definitely champion in their levels of complexity and the perfection of their execution, but they also drive home the all-important message perhaps better than any Unearth album before. Indeed, this sort of music must be witnessed live for the full effect; that's the power of this band anyway, to bring folks to the floor to have one hell of a time.
And one hell of a time this writer did have.
I haven't moshed in years, probably because I've gotten older, lazier, and more lost inside my head. Moshing requires you to exit and empty your mind, and I have a hard time doing that…. sometimes, it just takes the right music. Unearth's breakdowns help, for sure (and I'm a sucker like anyone else), but it's so much more than that. From the insane sweep-picking solos to the bombastic drumming and complex song structures, Unearth intermix savage brutality with technical flair and suave. They're both a sight to behold and absorb (and for me, this was one of my first metal bands of them all). This combination lends itself to the most perfect high-energy environment for, basically, play-beating the shit out of each other. On Saturday night, the pit was wild indeed: bodies flying into the photo pit, hardcore dancers breaking out into the middle of the mosh with their arms swinging like turbines, circles forming in perfect timing with the fastest parts of the songs, and me bouncing like a human ping-pong ball between dudes twice my size but just as friendly.
Of course, what ruled (and this is usually true for metal shows) is that everyone followed the proper mosh etiquette: don't fuck anyone up, and pick up those who fall. The real point isn't to hurt each other, duh. The point is to have a blast and release every negative emotion you have. It actually requires extreme presence of mind, and you have to be quick. Where else, outside of sport, can you engage in such a thing? Knowing every Unearth song back-to-front, apparently like everyone else in the pit, we knew exactly when to build up and ram each other: right at the most opportune moments, right as the downs break. And they broke hard, with the sheer weight of Unearth's seven-string assault as incomprehensible as ever. When The Oncoming Storm was first handed to me in high school, it was described to me as "just the heaviest shit ever." I stand by it today.
Surely, there are a variety of ways to define "heavy" -- it's a multifaceted concept for sure. But this particular brand of heaviness is owned by Unearth, and you just have to see it to feel it. Combined with their message of togetherness and positivity, this band is a tour de force of the real metal spirit. I went a step further than just taking pictures and moshing: I went to Trevor Phipps himself, founding frontman of the band, to talk about the new album, the band's history, and why they do what they do.
Extinction(s) releases Friday via Century Media. Unearth will be finishing their tour soon, so don't miss out. Remaining dates below.
Unearth w/ Fit For An Autopsy and The Agony Scene
11/19: Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club
11/20: Springfield, MO @ The Complex
11/21: Merriam, KS @ Aftershock
Unearth w/ Fit For An Autopsy, The Agony Scene and I AM
11/23: Denver, CO @ Oriental Theater
11/24: Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
11/26: Seattle, WA @ El Corazon
11/27: Portland, OR @ Dante's
11/28: Sacramento, CA @ Holy Diver
11/29: San Diego, CA @ Brick By Brick
11/30: Los Angeles, CA @ Union
12/1: Mesa, AZ @ Club Red
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