Fire Rains From the Sky
CoC chats with Buz McGrath of Unearth
by: Jackie Smit
"When we got started, I never thought we could get as big as we are now", reflects Unearth guitarist Buz McGrath -- and just so nobody misinterprets that statement as ill-conceived arrogance, consider the statistics. Over twenty thousand copies sold in the United States during the first week of its release. Number nine on the UK Independent Album Chart, hobnobbing with the likes of The Arctic Monkeys and Fatboy Slim. And best of all: Unearth have achieved this considerable success sans any of the commercial trappings of so many of their peers. Yes indeed, their latest opus, _III: In the Eyes of Fire_, is as crushing a metal record as you could hope for, and as for its relative mainstream triumph -- all down to hard graft. As McGrath explains:

"When we started playing together, we thought it would be cool to play a show and have three hundred people come. We did that with a band called Overcast, who are one of our favourite bands. Then the next thing you know, we got offered a tour with In Flames and Soilwork, we stayed out on the road, and it just kind of kept getting bigger and bigger after that."

CoC: Coming off the back of an album that did very well for you (2004's _The Oncoming Storm_), and having only a few months to complete this record, how did you all manage to cope with the pressure and deliver the goods?

Buz McGrath: We basically just got together as much as we could and tried coming up with ideas together. I mean, we all come up with ideas as individuals as well, which we bring to the band room. But we wanted to start off by seeing each other a lot, putting a good practice regime in place and just making the most of our time. As far as pressure -- that comes from us mainly. We want to outdo our last records and give fans more of what they want. There's pressure from Metal Blade and from management, but it's more to do with when they want things done. I think it actually made for a good record in the end. I sometimes wonder what it would sound like if we had a year to do an album. Personally, I think that could make us maybe over-think and over-analyse stuff.

CoC: Did the majority of the album come together in the studio then, or were there a lot of ideas that you'd come up with individually on the road?

BM: There were a few ideas, but it was only when we came off tour and we could sit down and really focus on ideas that things started happening. When we're on tour, I guess we all have time to go pick up a guitar and play and maybe come up with some stuff. But for me, it's not the right vibe. I like to be home, in my own area, and have all my stuff around me. I know a lot of bands do it on the road, and I wish we could do that, but I don't know if we just don't have the motivation, but it doesn't work for us.

CoC: It was quite a coup for Unearth to have Terry Date on board to produce this record, considering some of the records he's been attached to. What was it like working with him?

BM: Terry was awesome to work with. We were definitely blown away when the option was even put to us. But anyway, he flew down and we hung out with him for a while and he came out to one of our practices, we hit it off and we decided to do the record with him. The whole process was just really smooth. I mean, if you'd told me years ago that I'd make a record with Terry Date, I'd have told you that you're crazy. This guy worked with Pantera, Soundgarden -- his resume is really top-notch. It was different working with Terry as well. Adam [Dutkiewicz], who did our previous records, tends to be really precise and he likes to use things like click tracks and stuff like that, whereas Terry lets you just go with it and lets it just sound a little rawer and more organic. Before, we used to record everything separately, and this time we were all together in separate rooms laying our tracks down at the same time. So it was kind of like being at practice or being at a show. We weren't tied down to any tempo or anything like that. It all just happened naturally.

CoC: Well, in addition to the album sounding a lot more organic and a lot rawer than your previous stuff, I think one of the major differences is how much more aggressive all the material is and much more subtle the melodic elements are. Was this a deliberate decision from the band to amp up the heaviness and tone down on everything else?

BM: Yes, it definitely was. We wanted to make the heaviest record that we could possibly do, and the fact that so many people have mentioned it means that we accomplished what we set up to do. We wanted to stay away from the clean singing completely; there are a lot of bands doing it -- some do it well and some don't, and the ones that don't are just ruining that whole scene. We wanted something different to what's going on now. So, this record is definitely raw and aggressive and organic. It sounds a bit more real, compared to the bands who use the same software and the click tracks and so on. We wanted to really distance ourselves from that this time round.

CoC: Well, you've hit upon something there that I've been harping on for a couple of years now, and I'm definitely glad to see that we're in agreement on that. With so many bands coming out and a lot of them sounding very "factory-packaged", what are your thoughts on the so-called resurgence of metal, and do you feel that it's all that it's been cracked up to be?

BM: There are bands like Killswitch Engage who mix the growls with the clean chorus and they're definitely one of the best at that. There are a few others as well -- All That Remains are a great band -- but there's just so many doing it right now that it's getting played out and again; that's why we wanted to get away from that. We want to be around for a long time and not follow any trends or anything like that. Metal for me is kind of in a weird place right now. Where the scene seemed to be united before, I think that people are starting to get more and more divided on what they like. I think it's kind of lame in a way, because what's good is good, you know? But that's what I'm seeing -- there's a growing distinction between the stuff we spoke about before and the heavier, maybe more traditional stuff like Lamb of God.

CoC: Since you mention them, Lamb of God did very well with their last record and your first week figures (22,000) were excellent was well, particularly considering how heavy the new album is. Did you ever expect the response to be quite as enthusiastic?

BM: That 22,000 people would go out in one week and buy a heavy metal record -- I think that's amazing. We actually toured with Lamb of God five or six years ago and we were playing to a hundred people; and if you sold more than five or six hundred records a year, that was awesome. Now the numbers are just huge, and I think it says a lot for the metal fans and the people that are out there listening to this music. Anything over one is a miracle -- that's what I always say! <laughs>

CoC: I think that the real miracle is that there's nothing commercial about the new album whatsoever and you've still done really well.

BM: Well, our attitude was always to see how heavy we could make this record, and we're just amazed at how well it's done.

CoC: So going into the Ozzfest, as a band you must have felt on top of the world. Tell me about your Ozzfest experience this year.

BM: Ozzfest was awesome. We did it in 2004 as one of the rotating bands, and that was great because it was our first time. But playing as a rotating band, you're on at different times of the day, and sometimes as early as 9:30, when there's no one there. This year we had a fixed slot, and we were considered one of the headliners on the second stage, and we felt like we had definitely graduated to a new level. The thing about Ozzfest is that you get to play to so many people every day. I mean, there are people who go to one show a year and that's Ozzfest. Not to mention all the bands you get to hang out with, and if you take a bunch of rowdy dudes into a parking lot with nothing to do all day but drink beer and destroy stuff, you usually have a lot of fun.

CoC: What's the lasting memory you've taken with you from the festival?

BM: Just seeing the way that people responded to our music. People loved the new stuff even though they hadn't heard it before, and it's good to see a large amount of people respond to stuff you've created. It makes you feel appreciated.

CoC: As far as other bands on the festival, who stood out for you as a highlight?

BM: Strapping Young Lad was a huge highlight every day. They were just incredible. I don't know if you've ever heard Devin Townsend's stage banter, but he's brilliant. He berates the crowd and yells at people and they just eat it up. Walls of Jericho were great. I always like watching Atreyu -- they put on a great show. Main stage -- Dragonforce, I had to check out every day. For any guitar nerd they're a fun band to watch.

CoC: You're hitting the road with Hatebreed now and headed through Europe. What else is on the cards for the band as far as touring goes?

BM: Well, we've just come off a tour of Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and then it's into Europe as you said. After that we'll more than likely do a headliner or another support tour through the States, and after that -- who knows?

CoC: One of the things that has always struck me about this band is that you're easily one of the hardest touring bands around. How do you cope with being on the road for such long stretches?

BM: We just try to have as much fun as possible. This type of music isn't going to get a lot of radio play, so you need to take it to the people. But it gets hard. I'm married, I have a house and I have responsibilities. I miss my wife and you have all the usual shit that goes with all this touring. But we had certain dreams when we started this band and a lot of those dreams are now being realised, and I just appreciate that for what it is.

CoC: Buz, thanks for your time. I'll no doubt be seeing you guys in London. Do you have anything you'd like to add?

BM: No. I just hope that people pick up the new record. It kicks ass.

(article submitted 17/11/2006)

10/24/2008 J Smit 5.5 Unearth - The March
9/12/2006 J Smit 8 Unearth - III: In the Eyes of Fire
4/21/2003 A Magers Shadows Fall / Shai Hulud / Unearth / Cephalic Carnage Shadows Fall Over Columbus, Ohio
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