While many bands may feel aggrieved that the latest metal poster boys reap the limelight and play to sell out crowds in absurd venues, more often than not peddling a generic, watered-down version of your own back catalogue; Trevor Phipps is focused more on the long game.
Sat in Hobo’s in Bridgend, South Wales, a great live venue, but which only houses some 250 fans, the frontman of metalcore pioneers Unearth is instead reflecting on the band’s career to date and upcoming sixth album. Friendly and enthusiastic, he’s rightly proud of his band’s longevity and consistency since their 2001 emergence, while doing everything on their own terms rather than bowing to any pressure or urge to change focus.
“Sometimes it’s all about the trend of the time. We’ve never been one to follow trends, we just write the songs we want to write. We’ve been going for 13 years non-stop and it has been an up and down rollercoaster, but it’s been enough to keep us around.
He’s also keen to emphasise the example set by some of his heroes, who have stuck to their guns and ridden the tides to remain relevant in the long-run, instead of reaping short-term glory.
“You check out bands from the 80s and 90s like Anthrax and Exodus, they had their lulls for a while but they came back. Take Testament, a favourite of mine personally, they went downhill for a while. Their songs didn’t but as far as album and ticket sales they did. But now they’re back, as big as ever. It’s weird to see but you have to ride the rollercoaster if you want to stick around.”
Upcoming sixth effort Watchers Of Rule is the latest example of this tenacity. Easily the band’s most belligerent, punishing effort to date, with new drummer Nick Pierce cranking the tempo up several notches and guitarists Buz McGrath and Ken Susi shredding to within an inch of their lives in between the band’s trademark mosh-inducing breakdowns and riffs, it’s again a defiant statement of intent and refusal to bow to trends.
“It just turned out to be more aggressive and vicious. The last record we did [Darkness Into Light] was more structured with clean vocals, while this is more chaotic. It fits as we like to write out balls-out heavy stuff. The whole record is fast throughout, there’s a lot of notes. When I was growing you had to digest the better records and live with them for a few weeks, and they’re the ones that stick with you the longest. Something about your brain likes to stick with them, whereas a very immediate pop song you might get sick of that pretty quick,” before adding, “bands that follow that route don’t stick around too long.”
“I think bands that don’t give into pressure and keep doing it their way will reap the rewards in the long run. Our intention the whole time has been to model ourselves after the likes of Hatebreed, Cannibal Corpse and Slayer, although they’re a much bigger level, to just keep going and get the band as big as we can for as long as we can. We don’t want to end, we’re going to give it everything we can for as long as we can. We’re always touring and releasing albums, like those bands who always tour and maintain a career throughout all the peaks and valleys, you’ve just got to fight through it.”
Ultimately Trevor is happy to be able to provide for his family by doing the job that he loves, and still revels in the live environment, presenting his words to an audience that’s still as appreciative over a decade into Unearth’s career. While others may well be playing bigger venues and selling more records, he clearly wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It still doesn’t feel like 13 years since when we started off full-time”, he concludes. “We do have ups and downs but we’re still having the time of our lives and that hour we’re up on stage you get lost in that moment. This is what we do. Hopefully we’ll be having this chat in ten years time saying the same thing.”