Frustration. It’s a word not commonly used when reviewing an album. To use it demonstrates a bias, gives the feeling that the reviewer was not objective when considering the merits of an album. Still, it’s the word I’m using. It’s all I can come up with for an album that sounds perfect one minute, and then sounds like amateur night at the Double Deuce the next.
“The March” is the newest album out from Massachusetts-born metalheads Unearth. I’ve mentioned this album in bits and pieces here in this very blog, and I awaited it with much anticipation. I first found Unearth when they opened for Slayer, and I admit I was a little late to the game discovering them. My opinion of them then was that they had mountains of potential, they just had to focus. Unfortunately, that’s still my opinion of them now.
The album starts out promising enough, as “My Will Be Done” is a great song for getting into the mood to hear what comes after. The problem is the songs following don’t carry the momentum.
Unearth’s greatest asset is their pair of phenomenal guitar players, who play inside and outside of each other, technical and free-form, to create a thoroughly detailed and yet easy to understand sound. However, it always seems like just as they start to really spread their wings, a giant chain is cast around their neck and the two of them are brought crashing back to earth. Sounds melodramatic, but that’s the impression I get.
Stubborn is another word that comes to mind when I consider “The March.” The band almost refuses to play to its strengths, like they’re bound and determined to carry the mantle of those that came before, no matter if that’s the best course for them or not. You remember that scene in Major League where the coaches try to convince Willie Mays Hayes that he needs to stop swinging for the fences and use the talents he has? (Mets fans see also: Rey Ordonez.) “The March” comes off a little bit like that. It’s like the band wants to be too many things at once, and they get stuck out of gear at the intersection between Slayer, Hatebreed and Children of Bodom.
The vocals, I have to mention, are awful. Trevor Phipps sounds too much like every third-rate-opening-act-discount-screamer for my liking. His voice, in parts, makes great songs good and average songs mediocre. His bellowing is certainly passionate; he’s not faking anything. But it’s too unrefined, too undisciplined, and too abrasive to add to the songs in any meaningful way.
Before I go too far, let me get back to my point at the beginning about being frustrated. The reason why I can’t let this album go is because there are a few amazing needles in this collective haystack. It’s a glimmer of what Unearth could, and should, be. Their talent is largely undeniable; their execution doesn’t pay proper heed to that. Songs like “My Will Be Done,” “We Are Not Anonymous,” and “The Chosen,” are what this should have been from beginning to end. Worth noting that “The Chosen,” is the only song where Phipps’ singing actually works.
In the middle are some average songs (“The March,”) and some real clunkers (“Hail the Shrine” is just plain bad,) that mar any kind of flow the album could have hoped for. There are too many instances where it seems like the band is just trying to cater to the mosh pit, in the form of deep dirges of pounding but momentum breaking riffs. This is then capped by the yelling of Phipps, who I have far too easy a time picturing live calling out: “I want everyone in this place to get up! I wanna see the biggest circle pit ever! Ready?! RAAAAHHHHhhhhhhhh,” and so on.
Frustration. “The March” is decent, but could have been so much more. I admit that I wasn’t totally objective when I heard this album. I wanted to hear some great American metal. I wanted to find a gem. I wanted to be able to tell you to run out and add this to your collection. I can only say I got any of those things in pieces and parts. If you listen, listen for the guitars.