Unearth – Black Hearts Still ReignThursday, 29th November 2018
Always a dominant force in the metalcore field since dropping The Stings of Conscience at the turn of the century, Unearth continued to stand the test of time in part due to their intense live shows, thunderous breakdowns, and socially conscious lyrics. Coupling the gorgeous riff work of the Gothenburg movement of the time and adding a dose of homebred US brutality didn’t hurt matters either. The band recently released their 7th full-length album, Extinction(s) after a four year wait in which they spent doing what they do best – hitting stages across the globe. We checked in with Trevor Phipps from their US tour with Fit for an Autopsy, The Agony Scene, and Traitors to discuss the new release, the band’s enduring live show, lyrical inspirations, and more!
Dead Rhetoric: How’s the tour been going so far?
Trevor Phipps: The tour has been good. We started with a couple of sell-out [shows] and have had a number of packed ones. It’s been fun. It’s a good package with good bands. Everybody is bringing something different, even if it’s all aggressive. We are having a good time out here.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been 4 years since Watchers of Rule, what have you guys been up to outside of the recent touring?
Phipps: The past four years we have done lot of touring. The big focus has been on international touring. We’ve been to Indonesia three times in the last album cycle and we did a bunch of long European tours and a handful of US tours as well. We’ve been busy out there. Nick [Pierce], our drummer, took a year off from touring due to back surgery. So we had Jordan Mancino filling in on drums for a bit too.
We have had a lot going on, and as far as writing goes – with all that touring and Nick’s back, and we wanted to really hone in on writing a focused effort this time around. We didn’t want to push something out quickly, so it’s been a minute since the last record but I think it did this record well, and we put together the best record we could.
Dead Rhetoric: I would agree to that as well – Extinction(s) really feels like the best you guys have done in a while.
Phipps: Right now it’s my favorite in the catalog, but time will tell. I’ve had this mix since May, but it’s still in rotation for me. I’m still listening to this record. A lot of records, I still listen to from time to time after for 2-3 months, but this is going on 6-7 months now for me with this record. I’m a fan of it, and I think it has a lot to offer to not only our fanbase but new people as well.
Dead Rhetoric: What does Extinction(s) mean to you as a band?
Phipps: It’s a step forward for us. We’ve all progressed as players and writers. With Nick, this is his second record for us on drums. It’s Chris O’Toole’s first record on bass even though he has been touring with us for four years. We all really came together – everyone really put their best foot forward. Everyone is really just trying to improve, and everything just came together. It’s a solid piece of modern metal.
Dead Rhetoric: How’d you end up signing with Century Media?
Phipps: Our last record, we had 4 different labels. Watchers of Rule was actually put out in Europe by Century Media. We had a North American deal with eOne, and we signed for one in Australia and Japan. We had four different territories and four different labels based there. Century Media did the best for us, and it was a one record deal. They offered to do a worldwide deal and it seemed like a no-brainer since they did so well for that release.
So far, they’ve put out a lot of promotion for the record. We’ve had three singles and a video done for the record, which is unheard of for us. Usually a single comes out the week before the record and there’s a rush to promote it. This time there has been a lot of setup. The feedback we are getting live and online as well has been great. It’s nice to see the hard work isn’t going unnoticed. It’s a great label to be on.
Dead Rhetoric: Unearth has always had strong breakdowns with energy and build-up behind them. What are the strengths of a good breakdown?
Phipps: It’s gotta make you move. It can’t just be generic, it can’t just be a chug riff. Like you said, the build-up has a lot to do with it. It makes a climax to it. Sometimes, it can come out of nowhere but it has to hit hard. So make sure it hits hard and make sure it makes you want to get into that pit, or come out of pit retirement.
Dead Rhetoric: What continues to inspire you with your lyrical content?
Phipps: Dating back to our first record, I’ve always been inspired by what’s going on around me. Whether it’s world events, politics, personal experiences, and stuff like that. Right now, it’s a heavy time in the world, so there was a lot of subject matter floating around out there. A lot of it is dark, and that’s where I got the title, Extinction(s). Each track on the record deals with death or loss in some way.
Dead Rhetoric: Unity and division have been some topics that have also stuck with Unearth. What’s the problem with our society that pulls us apart?
Phipps: The way I see it, is that we are being fed news from opinion-based platforms instead of just news. When I was a kid, it was just news – a monotone voice without giving any opinion behind it. Now, in order to get ad revenue or clickbait, they pick the most shocking thing they can say, and use it to divide you further. Just so that they get more viewers or ad revenue – the 24 hour news cycle is not good for us. We should just get the news in a dry platform, and then we can make up our own damn minds about what’s going on.
I don’t want to equate the extreme left and right wing news. I believe one is seen as propaganda and the other is trying to get us all upset. But it shouldn’t be that way to start with. We should just get news – people are smart enough to figure out what is going on. To try to divide us over some petty thing is going to drive that wedge even further. It makes us more divided on the bigger things, where there should be more common ground and not less. So I see that as a major issue right now.
Dead Rhetoric: I think the problem too, is that if we reverted back to something that is more cut and dry, no one is going to listen because we have become attuned to those more sensational pieces.
Phipps: They are, and I think as a culture we need to take a step back. That’s not who we are. I’ve seen people change in the last few years but based on what they are consuming online. I see Facebook as a major problem too. People post memes and think they are getting actual facts. They see a picture of a dead president behind it [and believe it]. You should do the research. It takes like 2 minutes. He didn’t say it. But they believe it because it was posted on a meme from some weird Facebook site. What’s going on with people?
It’s upsetting to me, so I’ve taken a step back off of my own personal social media. I was fired up after the last election, and I was tweeting for a while. I will say something now once in a while, but I found out it wasn’t getting me anywhere. It wasn’t healthy for me to get divided and argue with relatives, friends, and strangers over things. I felt my voice is best served in song, to educate myself on the things that matter most to me. I put them out there, people listen to them and they might hear the emotion behind the song, and they might do the research on what I’m saying. That’s the most good I can do for people in earshot around me. Sharing a meme that might not be accurate might not be the best way to do it.
Dead Rhetoric: You guys just hit 20 years. What do you feel has been key in Unearth’s success?
Phipps: For us, it has just been perseverance. It’s just what the band wants to do. We want to get out here, through thick and thin. We’ve had a lot of great opportunities, and a lot of down times, but we are still here and have been on 6 continents. It’s the 7th record, with 2 EPs, a DVD, and a gold record. We are still kicking and this record has a lot behind it. We are going for it, and this is what we love to do. On top of it all, I think people keep coming back to us because of our live show. We put all we have into it every night. These shows should be an escape from everyday life, whether its work or school, coming out to an Unearth show should be fun, it should be a party where you can let loose.
Dead Rhetoric: True. It sounds cliché but going to see Unearth, in my opinion, has always been an experience. There’s a certain energy that you guys have live.
Phipps: It’s all about our upbringing and listening to bands and seeing shows growing up. We took what we thought was the best part of these bands and just going from there. A band like Pantera was always partying and having a lot of fun. A band like Murphy’s Law, on the hardcore side, were throwing beers to the crowd and each other and just letting loose. We used to drink heavy like that, and we still booze it up, but it’s tough to maintain over the years at that level. But we still bring the party. We try to have fun. Where my lyrics might dip into some heavy topics, I don’t preach about it onstage. If people want to take something from it, that’s what I’m going for, but I want people to be more of in a party atmosphere in our gigs.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you recall about the time around Endless and The Oncoming Storm?
Phipps: It was an exciting time. We were just starting to get some good opportunities, and then we wrote the song “Endless.” Things seemed to kind of jump off for us after that. We made an impact and got signed to Metal Blade Records shortly thereafter. From there, things just kind of took off. It was a lot of fun. We were kids, we were hungry, and still are hungry [laughs] though we are older now. It was a cool time and I remember it quite fondly.
Dead Rhetoric: You are a craft beer fan. Have you ever tried homebrewing?
Phipps: I have not tried it yet. A buddy of mine tried it and he wasn’t a huge fan of it. I would like to dip into it. It is fun though, just going out and trying different craft beers. It’s a lot different than sitting down with your average light beer. Those are fine, but it’s just a whole different experience having some craft beer and getting a different taste each time. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Dead Rhetoric: What plans do you have in motion for next year?
Phipps: We just announced a co-headlining tour in Europe for March and April  with Darkest Hour. That will be fun, and I believe we might take it into Canada as well before we leave for Europe in February. After that, we are looking to go through all the territories that we hit before. Probably sometime in 2019, or it might be 2020 depending on timing, but we are looking to go back to Australia, China, Japan, South America, and Mexico. And of course, we are searching for a US tour for next year too. We’ll be active out there supporting Extinction(s).