“A lot of our friends who used to be in kick-ass metal and hardcore bands are adding these pop choruses now for no reason,” grumbles frontman Trevor Phipps. “I think they’re making the same mistakes that all the bands in the early ‘90s made when metal turned to complete horseshit. They’re totally watering down their tunes to sell more records. We’re just trying to prove that bands can still sell records and tour and have a career by making a heavy fucking record.”
III: In the Eyes of Fire isn’t just heavy, it’s downright brutal – a menacing combination of speed, precision and intensity that grips and shakes like a shark tearing apart its prey. Taking its cue from the most destructive offerings of Slayer, Pantera, Earth Crisis and Iron Maiden, the music is structurally complex, and emotionally furious. Album opener “This Glorious Nightmare” hits the ground running, stomping its vapid peers with razor-sharp cleats as unforgettable riffs meld with tumbling beats and voracious howls. After opening with a classical-style guitar harmony, “March of the mutes” plows into a series of menacing guitar rhythms and “Sanctity in Brothers” slays with angular licks and galloping drums that coalesce in a vortex of aggression and contempt.
“We tried to take our sound and move it one step forward,” says guitarist Ken Susi. “We’ve always wanted to be the heaviest band out there and we’re ready to tear people’s heads off.”
In addition to being fast and heavy, III: In the Eyes of Fire is also strikingly musical and surprisingly memorable. The songs are filled with rib-sticking riffs, colossal breakdowns and enticing guitar harmonies that never detract from the overall intensity of the songs. “We love Iron Maiden and we’ve always integrated those kinds of guitar harmonies,” Susi says. “But when we did it before it was a little overwhelming and now it’s just a subtlety. Now, we’re just heavy, heavy metal and within that brutality, we have those touches.”
One reason the record sounds so brutal is because it was recorded in an organic style without a click track. To help Unearth achieve the kind of raw ferocity they create in concert the band worked closely with producer Terry Date, who has previously worked with Pantera, Deftones and Soundgarden. “He was a fan of the band already, so it just worked and was a very happy marriage,” Phipps says. “We flew to Seattle to record at Studio X, which was a different experience for us. We were used to recording with Adam D (Killswitch Engage) in Massachusetts, where we’re from. This time, we were out of our home element and thrown into this whole new life, and I think that contributed to the feel of the record.”
Unearth titled the album III: In The Eyes of Fire because they thought the name best reflected the challenges and obstacles that human beings confront on a daily basis. As with The Oncoming Storm, some of the tracks discuss global and domestic politics, but this time Phipps wanted to delve more deeply into the battles that rage in the mind and soul. “We all have problems as we walk through life, and I’m no exception,” he explains. “So, this is more a personal reflection of myself and people in general that I think more listeners will be able to relate to.”
One of the most powerful songs, “This Time Was Mine,” is about a family member with a terminal illness. In addition to addressing Phipps’ rage and frustration about the unfair situation, the song conveys his feelings of hopelessness and despair. “It’s the most personal song I’ve ever written,” he says. “I actually had some tears when I wrote and performed it because it really hit home and brought back a lot of powerful feelings.”
Another track, “This Glorious Nightmare” is about the vices and dependencies that drag people down and thwart their potential. “It’s about everything -- alcohol, drugs, coffee, gambling – any real addiction,” Phipps says. “I think most people have an addiction. I have demons and I’m real close to some people who have been battling demons their entire life, and some have just lost that battle in the last year. So, it was a really heavy song for me to write.”
One number that’s not quite as personal is “Giles,” the first single from the album. The song, for which the band recently shot a video with Darren Doane, is about Corey Giles, a Salem farmer who was accused of being a witch in 1692. Instead of admitting his evil ways and suffering a quick death, he refused to answer the court’s questions and was sentenced to have heavy stones stacked on his chest.
“That was the heaviest lesson I ever learned in school,” Phipps says. “If the guy had pleaded guilty, the city would have gotten his land, and he had two sons that he wanted to will his property to. So, as Giles was suffering, the sheriff went up to him and asked him if he would plea guilty so he could get the easy way out, which was to be hung, and the only thing Giles would say was, ‘More weight.’ I thought that was the most brutal story of pure defiance I’ve ever heard.”
As fleshed out and complete as III: In the Eyes of Fire sounds, its entire creation was rushed. Since they toured for two years to support their last album, The Oncoming Storm, and needed to have the new disc out in time for Ozzfest, Unearth were left with just four months to write III: In the Eyes of Fire.
“We had written bits and pieces over the past two years, but we didn’t actually put this album together until after we got home from the Slipknot tour in mid November,” Phipps says. “And then we had to hit the studio in early March. So, we just locked ourselves in our practice space five times a week for six hours at a time to put these songs together. And then when we got into the studio, we only had seven weeks to finish everything.”
Naturally, the tension took its toll. The Oncoming Storm had been so well received that Unearth sometimes thought there was no way to surpass it. At various points in the process, they questioned their songwriting, playing ability, confidence and even their sanity.
“I stressed out day and night,” admits Susi. “I gained lot of weight just sitting in my studio for four months constantly writing. At one point last Christmas Eve, I called my manager freaking out and going, “‘Dude, I don’t know what to do. The record’s just not heavy.’ And of course he laughed in my face. But in the end we felt really good because we like challenges and it pushed us a little harder to be more creative.”
In the end III: In the Eyes of Fire is both a testament to Unearth’s endurance and a showcase of their immeasurable skill. From the double bass clamor and jagged rhythms of “Unstoppable to the flailing dual guitar leads of “So it Goes” to the cinematic, piano-embellished instrumental “Big Bear and the Hour of Chaos,” Unearth have proven that pain, anger and brute force aren’t just elements for good metal, they’re essential tools for survival -- ones that enable both the members and their fans to persevere with their daily struggles without completely losing hope.
“I’m just lucky that I have this as an outlet for any kind of aggression and feelings I have,” Phipps says. “This really helps me stay sane.” “It’s like that for all of us,” adds Susi. “For this record, every dude in the band put his nails in the dirt and just screamed, and when we were done, we were like, ‘Whoa, this is all the frustration and all the pain and all the hurt.’ We just wanted to bleed, and we want our fans to bleed the same blood when they listen to it.”
|John 'Slo' Maggard||bass|