Review Summary: Unearth's most relentless, crushing LP to-date is just what the metalcore genre needed to return to relevancy.
The past couple of years have not been kind to the forefathers of metalcore. God Forbid, Chimaira and Bleeding Through have all disbanded within in the past 18 months and Shadows Fall is about to go on an indefinite hiatus after one last world tour in 2015. In an age where most bands from the era have either broken up or are just a hollow shell of their former selves, Unearth is a notable exception. The Massachusetts quintet's sixth-full length, Watchers of Rule, confirms that they will be not following in the path of their peers anytime soon.
Watchers of Rule is easily the most relentlessly heavy release Unearth has ever put out. Unearth has never been a particularity cheerful band, but their past records have had sporadic clean vocal lines and moments of melody to break up the heavier sections. Watchers of Rule is a 35-minute blast of pure sonic fury that doesn't let up for even a second. There's an almost death metal level of intensity that runs through that this record and makes Unearth's trademark onslaught of crushing riffs and breakdowns that much more satisfying. There are a few tracks on this record ("To the Ground", "Trail of Fire", "Lifetime in Ruins") that go way above and beyond what I thought they were capable of from a heaviness standpoint. Even as a longtime fan of the band, the sheer force of this album blew me away. You would have to look long and hard to find another 2014 album that's as packed to the brim with pure, unadulterated rage as Watchers of Rule.
What always gets lost in the shuffle with Unearth is just how skilled they are as musicians and that proficiency has never been stronger than it is on this record. Guitarist Buz McGrath once again manages to exceed his previous performances and step his playing up to the next level. The leads on Watchers of Rule are easily the most dynamic and technical he's ever written. The sheer speed of the solos on the title track, "From the Tombs of Five Below" and "Never Cease" in particular make them outright bonkers to listen to. McGrath has long been one of the most underrated guitarists in the metal community and hopefully the barrage of blistering solos he lays down on Watchers of Rule finally gets him the respect he deserves.
New drummer Nick Pierce is also a beyond welcome addition to the fold. Pierce- who joined the band shortly after Darkness in the Light was released in 2011- has an explosive playing style that perfectly fits the fierce tone of this album. Unearth has had a lot of great drummers in their ranks since their inception, but Pierce could very well be the most well-rounded and flat-out skilled player to ever play in the band.
Watchers of Rule is a beast of a record that simply can't be ignored by the metal masses. It's evident that the band had a serious chip on their shoulder during the writing process for this record and that fire led them to craft a collection of songs that hits harder than any of their previous material. Even for a band with a remarkably consistent discography like Unearth has, Watchers of Rule is a hell of an accomplishment, especially at this point in their career. Watchers of Rule is exactly the shot to the heart that metalcore needed to be revived.