Unearth - III: In The Eyes Of Fire - Metal Blade Records 2006
Running Time: 43:59
The rigors of the road have given Phipps' voice a rawness born of hardship and sacrifice, which is something Unearth has come to know well in the past few years, and lends a bite to leadoff track "This Glorious Nightmare". Also noticeable is the shift in producers to the legendary Terry Date. Getting an "outside the circle of Massachusetts bands" producer for In The Eyes Of Fire has done wonders for the band, but it's hard to credit Date wholly with the expanded sense of dynamics present here. Sure, the sound crafted by Unearth is undeniably metalcore related, but more emphasis has surely been placed on the "metal" this time around. Arching guitar trills flail over head-pounding riffs in "Giles", the Maggard/Justian rhythm section gelling like they haven't before. Maggard's performance is especially noteworthy, bass notes punching a hole in the low end of the song, causing the bottom to drop out near the culmination of the final breakdown. I'll go on record now as saying that Ken Susi and Buz McGrath are damn near the only guitar duo to crop up in the past five years to be worthy of comparison to the Hammett/Hetfield glory days. The tandem leadwork that begins "March Of The Mutes" establishes this briefly, Unearth soon injecting some hardcharging Bostoncore for the first verse. The chorus of "March…", though, comes across as a tad predictable despite it fitting the structure, but it's a small complaint, and bears nothing against the song's credit. Someone must've told the boys that The Oncoming Storm was more treble-heavy than needed (or Date's nearly impeccable ear showed this), because there's a pretty gnarly basement to the sound of In The Eyes Of Fire, much like last year's eponymous Chimaira opus. It's all for the better to these ears, as more bands of this ilk need to learn that the uses of a bass guitar exceed breakdowns.
Beginning with swiftly played staccato arpeggios, "Sanctity Of Brothers" sees Susi/McGrath working those early In Flames harmonies for all they're worth to great effect, the hammering riff from 2:11-2:39 further alluding to the early Metallica comparison. For awhile there the aforementioned duo were the ultimate, and Unearth haven't forgotten the band that gave us the midpaced meisterwerks of "Escape" and "For Whom The Bell Tolls". "The Devil Has Risen" moves from blistering speed to heartfelt, emotive lead runs, clearing the path for "This Time Was Mine" and the destructive as fuck skinsmanship of Justian. Off-kilter rhythms collide with ballistic double kick work until the anticlimactic breakdown. While I understand that the hardcore kids go nucking futs for them, there's no need to toss one into every song, especially when the rest of "This Time..." - and much of the album as a whole - is such a classically written metal beast in its own right. Jagged riffs slash at the throat of "Unstoppable", the odd pinch harmonic bleating out near the end and before a surprisingly melodic passage, yet another example of the dynamic turn for the better Unearth has taken. When Phipps bellows "Can't stop this heart!" above a bed of dense layering, you can't help but feel the conviction searing through his veins. "So It Goes" comes across as so-so; not one of my faves by any stretch, but a nice dip in the energy level. Near the ending, understated dual leads nearly pull the song from Blahsville, winning me over at least to the second half of "So It Goes". As glowing as this review has been thus far, it's nothing compared to "Impostors Kingdom", which is Unearth at their most flammable. Get into those HazMat suits, there's some dangerous musical chemistry at work here. Apparently the guys waited until the last few songs to really light the place up, "Bled Dry" unleashing some of the most classy Swede-influenced American metal so far this year, although the riff near the finale could've carried on a bit longer in my opinion. "Big Bear And The Hour Of Chaos" ends the album by subtly name-checking Public Enemy in the title, and crawling from your speakers in a slow, instrumental finale that works when it wouldn't for most bands in this subgenre of metal.
Back when The Oncoming Storm hit, I summed up the album as a "...good first showing in the major label arena". Looking at In The Eyes Of Fire, it's clear that Unearth have learned from their errors, gained wisdom from their musical ancestors, and have on their hands a high caliber tour-de-force of metal that looks to the future with a raised fist.