Latest release: Watchers of Rule (3Wise)

Massachusetts metalcore mob Unearth resides among heavy music’s most reliable performers. Having unleashed bruising new disc Watchers of Rule and just prior to heading out on a US tour with Crowbar, guitarist Buz McGrath (who, while hopeful the band will make it to Australia during this album cycle, admitted that there were no plans in place yet) spoke to Loud about the latest material, his favourite death metal acts and being dubbed “the Slayer of metalcore”.

Q: Tell me about this new record – did you approach the songwriting process any differently?

A: I think we wanted to make it just a bit more aggressive. Well, not a bit; the record is insanely over-the-top for us. I think a lot of that has to do with our new drummer Nick Pierce, who can pretty much do anything on the drums. So that really opened a door for us creatively to go as far as we wanted with stuff, and we weren’t limited by the drummer’s ability. So we really let loose with that, and I think that kinda contributes to the music being so over-the-top – for us anyways. It’s not the most extreme metal out there, but for us, it’s a step in that direction.

Q: There definitely is a heavier vibe, and for instance you’ve also largely eschewed the clean vocals. Was that a conscious move?

A: I think so. Just because of the way the record is, it didn’t really have any of those bright, shiny parts that would have benefited from a clean vocal. It seems like we do that every other record; we’ll like switch from, we’ll do some clean, and the next record will probably have it again. I guess it just depends on the song, if it calls for it or not.

Q: At one point, that element seemed like something many metalcore bands were just shoehorning into arrangements, as it was more or less expected.

A: Yeah, you’d see a band who would have, they would be playing pretty much the same music as you, and then they would kind of slip in that cleanly sung chorus, and next thing you know there’s way more people showing up to their shows and buying more records. And then you’re like, ‘hey, we should probably try that’ (laughs). And if it works, it works. I mean, if you’re kinda going for that; I know for me, it’s always been like, let’s just make the best music possible, regardless of whatever’s cool at the time, or not.

Q: Many bands did it, but in my view, unless you can deliver with the skill of conviction of a band like Killswitch Engage, perhaps you’d be better off not doing it (laughs).

A: Yeah, exactly. And dudes who can’t pull it off live either, which is always sad.

Q: What fuelled the heavier direction on Watchers of Rule? Were you listening to more extreme stuff at the time it was written?

A: Probably listening to more heavier stuff, and more death metal-y stuff, on my end anyways. But again, it was just for me having Nick there, knowing he could do pretty much anything. He would take an idea that I’d sent him, and he would create his own parts out of it, like just through a music editing program he would take a guitar riff that I’d played, send it back with a beat, beat or two, and he would then even maybe even cut it up and make his own rhythm patterns. There’s a few of those on the record too, which is kinda cool.

Q: What death metal acts inspire you these days?

A: I like the classics – talking about Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, Obituary and Suffocation. But some of the more modern ones; Whitechapel of course, I think is probably the best modern death metal band right now. Carnifex is another one that I’m really into.

Q: Perhaps pursuing a heavier direction also opens up possibilities for touring with some more brutal bands too.

A: Yeah, we’ll tour with anybody. If you know anybody, tell them to call us (laughs). We need some tours.

Q: (Laughs) Will do. Other than the more aggressive ethos, did you have any other goals in mind for this album?

A: In addition to making the best music we could, I think we wanted to get, just try to get people to talk about it. That was another reason that the record is, we wanted to do something a little bit different. We made it as heavy as we could make it, and that’s kind of the gimmick that it has, rather than adding keyboard parts, or getting a cool haircut or something weird to get people talking. We were like, why don’t we just make it heavy as hell? Then people can be like, ‘hey dude, did you hear the new Unearth? It’s heavy’. Or, you know, we could have put out the same record that we always put out, and people would be like, ‘hey, the new Unearth’s good’. If you’re into Unearth you’re gonna like it, but with this record I want people to really talk about it, and say, ‘hey, you gotta to listen to this’.

Q: It might not land you too many magazine covers, but it builds that interest on more of a grassroots level.

A: Yeah. All we have left is the diehard fans. There’s no fad, we’re not cool; just the diehards are left, and they’re the ones keeping us going.

Q: Do you believe there ever was a period where Unearth were considered “cool”?

A: I think a lot bands go through it, where it’s like, you were the ‘it’ band for the minute. We were lucky enough that we had a couple of years where it was that for us, but we’ve been around a long time and people… Fairweather fans move on. They might be into it for one summer, and then next year they’re into indie-rock or whatever. Along the way we made new fans, and you kinda keep recycling them. But yeah, I think there was a minute there where we were the cool band. ‘Cause you could tell; it’s like, people buy the T-Shirts because it’s cool to have that T-Shirt.

Q: What you’re left with is a loyal following who will stick around, regardless of what’s hip that week. It must be reassuring that they’ve retained an interest in the band.

A: Yeah, that’s cool. There’s a lot of bands that just kinda come and go. I was just looking at an old magazine that I had in my closet, and there was full-page ads for all these bands that I remember coming up and everyone being like, ‘did you hear this band? They’re gonna be the next big thing’. And then I’m like, ‘whatever happened to that band?’ And they’re gone. Every other page was, like, one of those bands.

Q: A few blogs have been wondering if you’ll be the next “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” band to call it quits, seeing as a handful of your peers have done so recently. How do you feel about reading that?

A: Yeah, I’m wondering that myself, ‘cause it’s like, those bands, Shadows Fall’s taking an extended break. They’re done, for all intents and purposes, and God Forbid.

Q: Bleeding Through was another one.

A: Chimaira. Those are all bands that we came up with, and it just wasn’t in their best interests to keep going, for whatever reason. And for us, we can still make it work. We’re not any bigger than those bands were, so we’re kind of in the same… We could go away very easily. But I think we don’t have any reason to, so we’re still here. Like a bad penny, we keep showing up, you know?

Q: (Laughs) The MetalSucks writers – and I’m a huge fan of that site – recently pondered whether Unearth was “the Slayer of metalcore’. Do you view that as a compliment?

A: I will take it, yes. I did read that article and MetalSucks, they’re very creative at like, disguising compliments, or disguising like jabs with a compliment. Which is cool, I always like their site and I like their honesty about they don’t really suck anybody’s dick. So it was cool that they said that, and in the article they were like, ‘well, they kinda never really do anything different, but that’s okay’… But that’s cool. I think people just see the headline, and that’s all they remember. So, for anybody just passing through (it’s) like, ‘oh, Unearth, the Slayer of metalcore. Okay’. So I’ll take it (laughs).

Q: What band achievement are you most proud of, or do you not view your career that way?

A: You know what, I really don’t, because I think the only thing we wanted to do when we started this band was play a show with All Out War. At the time that was like, everything we wanted to do. Maybe go on tour, we’ve done that. ‘Cause I never thought I’d even go on tour, ever. So everything beyond that is pretty insane. We did Ozzfest a couple years, and just having fans, anywhere in the world that we go is really I think the achievement for us.

Q: Any famous last words?

A: Just check out our new record Watchers of Rule, out on 3Wise Records.