UNEARTH is back and about to drop their new record Darkness in the Light (Metal Blade). It has been a long road for the metallers from Massachusetts. In many respects they were one of the forerunners of metalcore and pre-dated the current wave of modern American metal bands. They have remained largely consistent release after release, but have tried to move forward on this new album by returning to their sonic roots somewhat. We chatted with their decidedly candid guitarist Ken Susi about the new album, songwriting, THE BEATLES, competition and other topics.
MAA: Everybody always says their latest record is “the best thing they’ve ever done”. How does Darkness in the Light compare to your other albums?
KS: You know what? Honestly I have been saying this for a few days now. It is very cliche for bands to say this is our best record. I wanna say that it’s not whether this is our best record or not. It’s the record I personally can listen to. I really, really enjoyed this record as much as I did The Oncoming Storm. I’m not saying it’s better or worse than The Oncoming Storm. I love The The Oncoming Storm as much as anyone does. What I can say about the record is that during the process I really focused on songwriting mostly. Songwriting coming first. Meaning everything tying in together very well. Everything being more meticulous. I really focused on dynamics. I wanted to write stuff that was fast, aggressive, heavy and melodic. If there was a part that was overly melodic, I would add clean vocals on it like how we did on The Oncoming Storm here and there. Trevor’s performance on this record is very assertive and very dark. I don’t wanna to say it’s our best record to date, but what I can tell you is this: in the history books when I’m old and gray and I’m 65 or 70 years old I can look back and have very fond memories about how this one was written and how it came out.
MAA: The new album does sound like a throwback to the early days of the band. Was that a conscious effort to look to the past on this album or did it come about organically?
KS: Because we didn’t have a drummer on this album cycle, on my side of things it gave us more freedom to do things I wanted to do. Freedom to things we haven’t done in a while and new things we haven’t done yet. But you’re right! A large part of The Oncoming Storm was myself and Buz writing all of the music, just putting it together. And on this record I definitely spent four months straight in the studio morning until night just trying to capture what we do the best. And it does. I think it really paid off. If you love “The Storm” you will probably love this record. I think it really is on that caliber. I hate to ever talk about THE BEATLES and put us in the same category or ballpark as them, but in comparison THE BEATLES were singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Love Me Do”. And then later they went on to make Sgt. Pepper and all that stuff. They just changed their mind with what they wanted to do. Now going back to The Stings of Conscience and The Oncoming Storm, we came up with a style and we coined it. At the time everybody and their mother started copying us exactly, our exact formula and style and getting big based on our hard work and our sound. It was kind of disheartening. So on “Fire” and The March we took different approaches to remain unique and to be the band that we are. Sometimes you have to strip it all down. I’m not gonna name names, but when I hear a new band come out with the endless breakdown, doing a stupid, shitty crab-core dance, jump up and down thing and getting popular off of it I just wanna be on the forefront and say we did this fucking first. We were the first band to put those ingredients together. Fuck you and the proof is in the pudding! So we’re coming back and we’re coming back hard!
MAA: How did Justin Foley get tapped to play on the album?
KS: I’ve been a fan of Justin before he was in KILLSWITCH ENGAGE. Even before BLOOD HAS BEEN SHED I used to see him play in Connecticut at a place called the Hanover House with a band called RED TIDE. I was always a big fan of “J-Fo” and I’ve known him for many years. What basically happened was when we parted way with Derek (Kerswell), he wasn’t fitting in stylistically with our band because we wanted a more aggressive drummer. J-Fo was the first guy I had in mind and I called him up and said ‘Yo, we don’t have a drummer, but you are the perfect guy for what we want to do.’ and he was like ‘that would be a blast” because he didn’t have anything going on right now. Sure enough time-wise everything worked out. I’m telling you we would send him the tracks with some drum parts I put down with Drumkit From Hell and he would send them back with stuff that was much better. (laughs) That’s how the record got written. It was really easy and easy to work with him. And I think the rhythm section on this record is far superior to any other records he have done because of experience and talent across the board.
MAA: How do you and Buz (McGrath) split up the guitar work when song writing and recording?
KS: It’s kind of like a “King of the Hill” situation. Whoever is on top of the hill pushes the other guy off and vice versa until the song gets written. Then when we are both trying to share the top of the hill, then it gets finished. In the past I have always been there to bail Buz out on songs when he has had the main motivation. But on this record Buz has bailed me out part for part and it was time for that too. Whoever is feeling inspiration and who ever is moving forward leads and the other guy takes a backseat to them and help out with the process. Sometimes songs just happen with the two guys sitting side by side. In the past we might have been writing more things side by side. But for this record we really had to keep a schedule so like I said I spent a lot of time in the studio morning, noon and night. Buz would come up with his stuff and I would have my stuff and then Adam would poke his head in and fight off the dogs and tame all the monkeys at the zoo, you know? (laughs)
MAA: You went back to Adam Dutkiewicz in the producers chair. What is Adam like to work with compared to Terry Date one record to the next?
KS: Adam D is far superior based on this experience. I am not at all putting down Terry because he’s great and what he has done in the past is great. He has worked on some big records. For the most part Adam has a really musical ear. I really do believe that since Adam is so multi-dynamic, all of the different instruments he plays and what he hears; you can always lean on him that no matter what guy you are in the band. He can always help you. So for instance if you say ‘hey my beat or this guitar part, I don’t like it.’ Adam is there. Anything he can do to heighten the part, he does. And he can suggest things other guys don’t and bouncing back and forth ideas off of him until we find the right method works. Everybody should use a producer too, I don’t care who you are. Even THE BEATLES always had a producer to rely on.
MAA: Actually the one time they didn’t use George Martin to produce (Let It Be), the band fell apart.
KS: Right! See even Paul and John needed someone to regulate. And Adam having no passion for the songs, its always good to have him come in when you are fighting over a situation or a part. Or I’ll say something like ‘this is the greatest guitar riff ever!’ and then he walks in the room and he’s like ‘Nah. No it’s not!’. And you’re like ‘Really?’ I trust his judgment because he’s usually right. Or nine times out of ten we’ll comb over other demos that I’ve had he’ll be like ‘what about that part you played three weeks ago? We should put that part here.’ And we’re like oh yeah! Okay! And things happen that way. And it will be perfect, of course. So its good to have a guy with no emotion towards the writing process to come in and orchestrate the things you might have been passionate about.
MAA: You guys are part of a very stacked lineup of talent at the Mayhem Festival side stages. Do you feel the pressure to go out there every day against so many killer bands?
KS: No, not really. I really think we do what we do and other bands should be a little bit nervous of us to be honest. We’re bringing our “A game” and when we come, we come hard. Other people will have a hard time keeping up with us. Out of all of the other bands on this festival, we have the most to prove as far as showing people that we are who we are and we plan to stay that way. We really want to move people!
by Keith (Keefy) Chachkes