Battleaxes are way fucking metal
There’s something truly primally satisfying about Unearth‘s complete lack of affect. On the surface, the Boston metal band isn’t all that different from, say, Mastodon: big, chunky riffs, raspy throat-roar vocals, baterram drums. Unearth’s new album, III: In the Eyes of Fire, swings just as hard as Mastodon’s new one, but its pummel is much more single-minded. There are no jazzy time-changes or strained emo choruses or D&D magical-creature fantasies, and I’m not even sure if there’s a single guitar solo on the record. Instead, we get an instinctive jud-jud growl. There’s a complete lack of wank or pretension; these guys are working completely within an unyielding set of genre guidelines and trying to make something as heavy as possible within those boundaries. The fast parts sound a bit like better-produced 80s skateboard-thrash except with incomprehensible thuggin’-out vocals, and the slow parts sound like someone is repeatedly punching you in the ear. It’s pretty great.
The differences from metal and hardcore in 2006 are semantic anyway, so it’s not saying much that Unearth manages to bridge both worlds; they’re metal, I guess, because more than half the band members have long hair. But it bears mentioning that the crowd at last night’s Nokia Theatre show looked more like the shirtless aggro children in the stock footage from American Hardcore than any crowd I’ve seen lately. The crowd is young, and they’re all decked out in Hot Topic clothes and shorts and skate-shoes; I’m briefly terrified by the distinct possibility that I’m the oldest person in the crowd. And maybe that’s why the show started so early; it’s practically an after-school activity. I didn’t check the show time before heading up to the venue, figuring that there were five bands on the bill so I could show up a bit late and not miss much. But I arrived at 9:15, just in time to catch the last couple of songs from Bleeding Through, the second-highest band on the bill, a quintet whose metalcore is an undifferentiated blur with triumphalist emo chorus-vocals and a female keyboard player whose work remains completely inaudible the whole time I’m there. By 9:20, four bands had already gotten done playing, and I’m a bit annoyed that I missed Terror, mostly because they’re selling shirts with pictures of a mohawked Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver. Between bands, packs of kids prowl the venue’s hallway sharing moshpit war stories while virtually no one lines up by the bar.
The median age might not be too much higher than it was at the “Chicken Noodle Soup” record-release party, but most of these kids came to fight, and more than a few of them are built like fire hydrants. Thirty seconds after Unearth takes the stage, the entire floor is a seething warzone, kids rushing out to try their hand at berserk ninja gymnastics and jump-kicking each other in the eye. One kid sees my notebook, and we have this conversation:
Him: “Are you writing about this for a magazine?”
Me: “Yeah, sort of.”
Him: “Make sure you mention how many fucking posers are in the pit.”
Him: “You know what I’m talking about.”
I don’t, actually. I’m not getting anywhere near that fucking thing. The band, for its part, does everything it can to encourage the chaos; Trevor Phipps’ stage patter is pretty much limited to “let’s get this fucking pit opened up for real!” It’s hard to pay a lot of attention to the band when you’re constantly worried about sweaty fat kids punching you, but an Unearth show isn’t just a soundtrack to moshing. They have an innate sense for the theatrical, and that’s probably how they’ve ascended their scene’s ranks high enough to headline a show at a venue the size of the Nokia Theatre. They like using strobe lights a lot, and the stage has all these steel risers distributed throughout, all of which seem to be there so the dudes in the band can jump up on them and then jump off. There’s a roadie who’s only job appears to be to hold up a skull-shaped beer bong so the band’s members can chug between songs. Mid-song, one of the guitarists gestures for a girl in the crowd to come up onstage. She comes up, makes out with him for about two seconds while he’s still playing, and then dives back into the crowd. If this is the sort of thing that you get to see if you’re willing to risk being the oldest person in a crowd, I need to do this shit more often.