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Live Review: Unearth at Gothic Theatre

Photo: Aaron Thackeray

Unearth, Protest the Hero, Acacia Strain, Whitechapel, Gwen Stacy Friday, October 10, 2008 Gothic Theatre Better than: Taking in a metal show within the cramped, uncomfortable confines of a dive bar.

Early on in the Acacia Strain’s Friday night set, frontman Vincent Bennett staked out the parameters of the performance: “This is a metal show, this is not a fashion show,” Bennett announced to the screaming crowd. “If your pants are too tight, get bigger fucking pants … No one wants to see … your new myspace photo.” Bennett wrapped up his assessment with a tribute of sorts. “This goes out to the real motherfuckers who are in this room.” Bennett’s invective was an eloquent summation of the evening of sounds that ranged from melodic hardcore to metalcore.

Gwen Stacy got things started with an opening set of hardcore guided by the melodic vocals of Bobby Oakley and bassist Brent Schindler. While Oakley stuck mainly to the lower, more guttural registers, Schindler added more emotive vocal lines. The dual dynamic helped distinguish Stacy’s sound, which tended to stick to a predictable loud-quiet-loud template.

Whitechapel eschewed Stacy’s brand of melodic metalcore for a more straightforward approach, a quality strengthened by the band’s three guitarist. Unfortunately, the band’s unyielding drive and force, harnessed admirably by lead singer Phil Bozeman’s insistent vocals, lost subtlety in poor mixing. Seven stringers Ben Savage, Alex Wade and Zach Householder’s most shred-worthy moments got lost in a muddied sound mix.

Any sound issues seemed to be worked out by the time Acacia Strain took the stage. Buoyed by prescence and seemingly endless energy of lead singer Vincent Bennett, the act fill the theater with a sound that was noticably more expansive and driving than the other bands on the bill. Guitarist Daniel Laskiewicz augmented his persistent, low-toned rhythms with sharp, stinging riffs, while drummer Kevin Boutot focused sharply on providing the rhythmic spine for the band’s steady, breakneck cadences.

Protest the Hero followed and provided an ideal preface for Unearth. Supported by the band’s crew of expert shredders, frontman Rody Waker mixed an acerbic falsetto with a hardened growl. While the sounds of Whitechapel’s individual guitarists got buried in a bad mix, Hero’s roster of virtuosos effortlessly cut through, with bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi matching the fretwork of Tim Millar and Luke Hoskin with his frenzied and frenetic playing.

Photo: Aaron Thackeray

Unearth closed the night with a performance that struck a balance between virtuosic solos and denser musical contours. The band’s forceful fusion of hardcore and thrash were bolstered by spot-on, fleet fingered solos. Lead singer Trevor Philips made an almost immediate effort to engage the crowd, exhorting fans to mosh more frantically with more fervor. While the set included older tunes like “Bring Down the Rain” from previous albums like The Oncoming Storm and III: In the Eyes of the Fire, the stand out tracks came from the act’s forthcoming album, The March, which is due out this week. While Unearth’s older material boasted faster tempos and more straightforward vocal structures, the new material favored slower tempos with more occasions for clean lyrical breaks, resulting in a more diverse and accessible mix.

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Critic’s Notebook

Personal bias: With a childhood marked by phases of admiration for stunt guitarists like Steve Vai and Mike Keneally, the stretches of shredding guitar proved an especially stirring highlight for me. Random detail: Unearth guitarist Ken Susi made creative and innovative use of an air horn for the third song of the set. For a tool that is designed to offend the ear, the air horn seemed to fit eloquently within the framework of the band’s sound. By the way: The Gothic’s balcony is an ideal vantage point for the more lackluster metal fan, the type that prefers a distanced view than the injurious vantage from within the pit.

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