Metalcore has always been a controversial genre. The style’s many critics declare it dead on a regular basis, while its flag-bearers find themselves constantly accused of endlessly recycling the same ideas. In all fairness, metalcore records are frequently formulaic affairs, but that hasn’t prevented the genre from remaining incredibly popular.
If you listen deeply enough, you can spot the difference between a run-of-the-mill metalcore outfit and a band set on carving their own space within certain creative boundaries. After emerging as part of the fabled New Wave of American Heavy Metal, Unearth quickly set themselves apart – and while so many of their contemporaries have fallen and faded away, these guys have consistently improved with time. 2014’s Watchers of Rule was so ridiculously savage that Killswitch Engage vocalist Jesse Leach submitted his own album review to this very website, while Metal Injection contributor Sol referred to it as “a benchmark for metalcore”.
High and well-deserved praise indeed. Four years later, Watchers of Rule continues to stand the all-important test of time, so it’s not surprising that the buzz surrounding Extinction(s) is beginning to reach fever pitch. Apparently, however, Watchers of Rule was not a success from every angle.
According to vocalist Trevor Phipps, the songs from that album proved less popular in live settings than Unearth’s older material, which is a surprising statement considering how powerful those tracks are on the record itself. Nonetheless, you can’t reasonably argue with the guy who stands front and center on stage every night, and witnesses each crowd’s reaction in real time. Given Phipps’ authoritative perspective, and his declaration that Unearth would summon the spirit of their earlier albums on Extinction(s), some kind of direction change should naturally be anticipated this time out.
As you’d expect from an album full of future live favorites, Extinction(s) demands to be cranked up as high as possible. Below potentially ear-damaging volume levels, it loses its impact as the performances suddenly tend to come off as apathetic. You have to play this album so loud that your neighbors will want to murder you – even if you’re just listening through headphones.
As a set of on-record cuts alone, Extinction(s) works perfectly well. Only two tracks – “No Reprisal” and album closer “One with the Sun” – are significant weak spots. The former sounds phoned in, and lacks passion no matter how loud you play it; the latter’s main hook is awkward and cringe-worthy, although the music itself is good enough.
Those songs aside, the majority of this album is pretty fucking sick. The production is much rawer than it was on Watchers of Rule, and you’ll be spoilt for choice if you try to select a single standout riff from the mass of examples on offer. "Incinerate", “Cultivation of Infection”, “The Hunt Begins”, “Hard Lined Downfall”, and “Sidewinder” all contain some exceptional moments; if you go deaf listening to those tracks, at least you’ll do so while headbanging.
Metalcore haters will quickly dismiss this album, trotting out the usual lines about creative stagnation and so on. Extinction(s) is clearly an album with an agenda, a series of songs intended to fire up live shows rather than break the mold and change the course of history, but turn it up until your ears bleed and you won’t give more than half a fuck. You’ll be too busy rocking out, and wondering whether or not your medical insurance covers aural injuries.