Unearth
The Oncoming Storm

Arguably the most anticipated metalcore album of the year and sophomore album from one of the genre’s most revered acts, The Oncoming Storm is the album that floppy black-haired, hip hugging jeans wearing kids have been salivating for, for over 3 years now. So is it worth the wait? Well yes and no. Yes, because it’s a fine album in its own right and contains oodles of brilliant harmonies, sumptuous leads and thunderous breakdowns. No, because it’s a victim of the debut’s timing and the evolution and growth of the metalcore genre.

When The Stings of Conscience was released in 2001, the new generation of Swedish infused metalcore spearheaded by the likes of Poison The Well and Prayer For Cleansing, was still relatively young. Now only a few short years later, the host of bands fusing Swedish death metal and hardcore has grown exponentially, and some of them are doing it rather well, and ultimately using Unearth as a template. So ironically, the end result is a high quality album that sounds like a lot of other recent high quality metalcore albums – which originally copied Unearth’s formula. If you enjoyed the Endless MCD, The Oncoming Storm won’t disappoint, (you get a reworked version of the EP’s title track) the melodies and harmonies are leaps above their debut album, as is the accessibility factor, and much like Killswitch Engage’s sophomore album, the recipe for consistent solid songs is rampantly repetitive, yet satisfying.

Starting with “The Great Dividers,” the first finger twiddling Maiden/NWSDM worship solo of many appears at 1:39, followed by a stout breakdown – and that essentially lays the ground work for the rest of the album. “Failure” opens with some superb harmonies and ends with an even more epic climax, which cements, despite the album’s familiar gait, Unearth do pen some of the best melodies in the genre. The fact the genre has morphed, sucked in grindcore and death metal, no longer makes Unearth one of metalcore’s true heavyweights, as they’ve been surpassed by many bands. However, they do have enough guts and more importantly semblance of intertwining their breakdowns with their astute sense or harmony that makes the overall result a solid middle ground covering sound. “Zombie Autopilot,” is as Swedish as anything from Gothenburg, with a breakdown thrown in.

While on the topic of Swedish metal, as I listen to this album, I can’t get rid of the feeling that this is Unearth’s (and along with KsE’s The End of Heartache, possibly metalcore’s) Clayman. That’s to say, it’s an album that contains all the traits of a genre well established perfectly executed, but glosses it over with features that could make it more consumable for the mainstream. With the exception of the rather ho-hum acoustic/piano instrumental “Aries” each song, contains a pattern of fine-crafted solos that seem just wrapped around stout but formulaic breakdowns. That’s not to say they are not enjoyable, far from it. Tracks like “Bloodlust of the Human Condition” and “False Idol,” gallop with an addictive, well practiced fury and pace that demand concurrent air guitar playing and moshing in large amounts. Only the slightly bluesy start to “Lie to Purify” seems to break Unearth’s well used but enjoyable mold.

I was glad to hear the lack of clean choruses a la Howard Jones, as Trevor Phipps keeps an impassioned but now all too common scream as his main delivery, with only the aforementioned “Lies to Purify” and “Endless” containing noticeably more clean vocals (courtesy of guitarist Ken Susi) other than the other few moments of introspective whisperings.

Production wise, it didn’t sit perfectly with me. The same issues as label mates As I Lay Dying seem to hamper this album; the drums sound too processed and canned, and though slightly due to the reigned is song structures, Unearth seem a little less abrasive than on The Stings of Conscience. Compare “Endless” from this album and the MCD, the LP version of the song’s particularly nice breakdown doesn’t seem to have the weight of the EP version. Still, though thanks to the guitar work of Buz McGrath and Ken Susi, The Oncoming Storm is very entertaining, even if is doesn’t quite reach the same between album improvement factor as other sophomore efforts by All That Remains, Dead to Fall and Age of Ruin, although, again I feel the growth of the genre is partially responsible. That being said, Unearth have the Metal Blade publicity machine and a somewhat legendary status, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this surface on the Billboard charts. Deservedly so – take that as you will.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
June 29th, 2004

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