Unearth are well known in metal circles as one of the most uncompromising, heavy and unstoppable live acts around and they also have never made a disappointing record. From “Call To Judgement” to “Giles” to “Watch It Burn”, you can find great songs all throughout their career. One of the most consistent and hardest working bands going, they truly embody the subculture and the deserved power that comes from hard touring and believing in your own artistic path.
Fresh off the release of their latest (and perhaps most highly acclaimed record ever) “Darkness In The Light”, Unearth are still at the top of their game. In the decade plus that this band has endured they have left a huge impact and you can hear their influence in great bands like In The Midst Of Lions, Within The Ruins and many other “metalcore” bands of today.
“We Must Battle On, through barren lands and waste while there is still light of day”-from “Arise The War Cry”.
Click here to read a conversation with guitarist Ken Susi on the foundations of Unearth, their current tour with Chimaira and the making of “Darkness In The Light”.
Morgan Y. Evans: How are you looking forward to the Jagermeister Tour with Chimaira? They came a little more out of the nu metal scene but have always been very heavy and you guys always represent the underground. I’ve always thought you’d be a great touring pair of bands to see if you ever shared a bill. Both bands have evolved over the years but also remember who they are.
Ken Susi: Yeah, Chimaira kinda came out around the same time as us. We started in 1998 and played metal/hardcore at the time. It really wasn’t its’ own genre yet and people started calling it metalcore. We were really one of the pioneers of that. We crossed paths with Chimaira about 2005. They’re a good group of dudes. Unearth’s influences are pulled mostly from Iron Maiden and classic bands. We never really listen to our peers for any type of inspiration. We were a very trend setting band at the time we started and basically invented a sound that wasn’t done before, so…y’know, It’s cool to be on the same bill with a band that started to come up with us around the same time.
MYE: The name of your new song “Coming Of The Dark” sounded like a Maiden-type name to me. I was just reading some bullshit on a Yahoo! poll or something about the “25 Worst Metal Albums Of All Time.” I hate things like that, like when Rolling Stone (which I usually like) does those unobjective “greatest guitarists ever” issues. This thing had Iron Maiden “Fear Of The Dark” on it and said that you shouldn’t be afraid of the dark in a metal band. The idiot who wrote it obviously missed the point that people were afraid of the dark BECAUSE of Eddie! That album rules.
KS: I’ve been in a band for a very long time and a lot of people read into magazines and what these “specialists” have to say about music. It should really be what you get out of it. I am totally over people trying to blow smoke up people’s asses and coin phrases and limit their musical experiences. For years and years people have been calling us a metalcore band because we were one of the first bands that introduced Iron Maiden melodic metal with hardcore breakdowns and stuff but Pantera was playing breakdowns. Slayer was playing breakdowns. People can perceive one record as bad. There’s a certain demographic of people that didn’t like Metallica when they came out. That sucks. There’s a lot of good bands and people out there and careers are ruined by the image and hyping style that goes on. There’s so much good music and stuff going on but people concentrate on one band at a time. When I was a kid Iron Maiden’s “Live After Dark” was one of the greatest records of all time. They put out a bunch of other great records but if they put out one bad one everyone’s like, “Oh! Iron Maiden’s over”. I think there’s integrity and honor in band’s trying to do something different and I’ll at least see if it works and see if they also remember their roots on the next record or whenever. Music is art and freedom of expression, not criteria and settings as to what you should sound like. Fuck people that talk shit.
MYE: Sometimes it’s young kids. I’ve been a musician for almost 20 years and also got into journalism to try and combat some of the snarky journalism out there that I think misses the point and is “too cool for school” a lot of times. It’s like, what makes you so fucking great? Anyway, one of my old bands Divest played with you guys way back when “Above The Fall Of Man” was all that you had out at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY in one of the smaller rooms in that complex. I was there recently with my new band Antidote 8 and was telling the crowd to always keep doing what they believe and that bands like Unearth used to play there and now are a huge band. If you work hard it doesn’t matter what anyone says.
KS: Yeah! For God’s sakes, in 1998 people were just playing straight up hardcore or Earth Crisis type stuff, which I really love. That’s all awesome in my opinion. People call us metalcore now because supposedly we started a style of music that they couldn’t “name”. It wasn’t metal and wasn’t hardcore. Now people have a generic term for it. I still take it as a compliment. If you have to start a genre based on what my band was doing at the time…so be it. We were innovators and we were on to something and take great pride in our roots. We love playing with all the hardcore bands and metal bands we came up with in the clubs like you mentioned and worked hard back in the days when a band didn’t have a record contract in three minutes and then had a bus. Six or seven years in a van eating shit just to pave the way for all these shitty bands (laughing).
MYE: It’s awesome because you guys blew up and still talk about bands like Overcast or All Out War who were around in the early days. It elevates the whole class of the scene above the bands that are fly by night with no sense of context to the foundation this national/international scene was built on.
KS: Music has turned over so quickly with Youtube and a lot of bands that are popular now…I’m not gonna name names but a buddy of mine is a pop guy and had a list of 5 metal bands that are supposed to be “hot” right now. On the “hot” list. He listened to all five bands and asked me what the difference was between them! He could tell the difference between Unearth back in the day and other bands. I started looking at these bands and trying to depict how they were different and to be honest there wasn’t much difference at all. A lot of bands these days stick to a formula, a couple heavy riffs and then they start singing and do a “crab-core” dance. They are just buying into the same bullshit and what bands have the best neck tats and hair. It’s a dog and pony show. I’m still searching for the next great band. The next REALLY great band. I haven’t heard anything in the last 5 or 6 years that I thought was original. Even bands that came out of our scene are putting out a lot of the same stuff.
MYE: But also you guys came out and on a different note discovered your sound. You have gotten more popular but retained elements and yet REFINED what you do. It’s Unearth but there is still a lot of growth over the years.
KS: When we were starting the band, obviously there were a lot of great bands before us, but when we started we were concentrating on what we sounded like. We didn’t care about copying what other bands were doing. It wasn’t, “Oh, Killswitch has clean vocals in this part. We gotta do that”! We were friends coming up with Killswitch, Lamb Of God, Every time I Die. Right now every new band is copying from the next band ahead of them. When we were coming up you got Killswitch and they were like In Flames and Def Leppard at the same time then you have us like All Out War and Hatebreed mixed with Iron Maiden, then Every Time I Die who had a rock n’ roll side. If I read reviews that they pigeonhole us they just hate the fact that we do what we do. Nobody criticizes Slayer for sounding like Slayer. We do what we do and I don’t know why anyone would criticize anybody for doing what they love.
MYE: Your records don’t let down. “Equinox” on the new record sounds like Unearth but has that expansive quality. It’s exciting, almost like an interlude that turns into a short, aggressive song.
KS: “The Oncoming Storm” was one of our more popular records but we took some chances. We tried some things. We did “The Eyes Of Fire” which was more of a thrashy and raw, wild approach to our music and then we did “The March” which was a little bit slower and more techy with a bluesy element. Then we did this record, which is going back to our roots and making music that sounded like our early days. If you liked “The Oncoming Storm” you’d like the record we just put out. You’re right. For “Darkness In The Light” we focused on making sure the songs were dynamic. Like it or hate us, I still believe we are one of the best bands that play the style we play.
MYE: How was it working with Adam Dutkiewicz again on this record?
KS: It was great working with Adam. We have done a lot of stuff with Adam. This record was different because I got to co-produce it. That was exciting for me. I tracked a lot of the guitars. I tracked Trevor and Adam didn’t have as much to do with it. He ended up listening to a lot of stuff with us and I engineered a lot on this one. He’s a good friend and good guy. He did what a good producer does and gave us his opinion. Sometimes if you are emotionally involved in it you aren’t sure anymore. He could walk in and hear a part and say,” Oh, that sucks. It doesn’t belong there.” He’s kind of like the 6th member of the band. He does that for all the bands he produces. Every record is different. This one was difficult to make but was still a good process. It was back to basics so it was exciting to me.
MYE: It sort of summarizes everything you’ve done but is who you are today. It’s almost like the lessons of the band all in one.
KS: Yeah, I think what you just said is very true. All the things we’ve learned are wrapped up in “Darkness In The Light.” I wrote a lot on this record and have learned a lot of music theory over the years. It’s about rekindling my own love of writing and not second guessing myself. This record I just did what I did.
MYE: Any advice for kids who are growing musicians and want to keep their heads up and improve?
KS: Not all the great musicians and not all the great songwriters make it. It’s about timing and perseverance. Don’t get bitter if you aren’t at the top of your game by a certain age or whatever your expectations are. I really do believe if you write a good song, over anything, it will make it. If you walk on stage with a band and you have “THAT SONG” in your back pocket and believe in what you do…you can’t fail. If you rush it and don’t care or wear the right clothes in front of certain people…that’s not gonna do it for long.
[Photo: Jason Zucco]