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Music To My Ears

The Showdown: Temptation Come My Way/Unearth: III: In the Eyes of Fire

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04/01/2007 - If you're one who likes extreme rock and roll, or if you are the parent of someone who appreciates heavy metal, read on. I happen to be both, so I guess I'll have to read my own article once I'm finished.

Heavy Metal has always been a pariah, and by its very nature it has always taken great pains to be so. It's supposed to be edgy, dangerous, and rebellious. That's probably what draws so many young folks to it. It wasn't that way with me. My first exposure to this type of music was the song "Carry On My Wayward Son" by Kansas. It was 1977. I was twelve. An older kid played that song for me in his bedroom after school one day. I didn't care about rebellion, being edgy, or danger. I just really, really liked the way those guitars sounded. I remember making him play that song over and over again.

After I'd heard the song 53 times or so, I asked him what else he had that sounded like that. He put on a Black Sabbath album and my mouth dropped open. There was that sound again! After Sabbath came Styx, Nazerath, Judas Priest, and AC/DC. I was astounded. I went home and looked at my Beach Boys records with disdain. Things had changed. My musical world had been expanded. Or as Mom would say, ruined. Six years later, when I first heard Metallica, my musical taste was forever blown to pieces, but then that's another story.

Thirty years later, I still love that sound. Sometimes nothing can beat the crushing, electric crunch of a Gibson guitar played through a Boss distortion pedal into a Marshall stack. The sound that comes out can still raise the hair on the back of my neck (or the stubble, I should say) to this day.

Here's the problem, though. I just can't stomach the stupidity that a lot of metal bands espouse. The ridiculous lyrics and shock-value marketing that mark the genre have done a lot to not only give metal a bad name, but to keep me away. Even when the lyrics aren't necessarily stupid, they often promote a humanistic, hedonistic, even philosophically Satanic world view that I simply disagree with. There are also bands that use their status as a political platform to express opinions that I believe are dead wrong.

That's why I appreciate Unearth and the Showdown so much. Both bands rock (in their own way, but we'll get to that), and I don't have a problem with what either band is trying to get across.

The Showdown is a quintet of very young guys from Tennessee. "Temptation Come My Way" is their second full length release. Their first, "A Chorus of Obliteration," was a brutal amalgam of death and thrash metal. It was fast, technical, and extremely heavy. On their latest release, the band have completely reinvented themselves. The new album is full of mid-tempo stomp metal, in the vein of early-nineties Metallica. In fact, I had a chance to visit with them last December, and they came right out and said that this new album was heavily influenced by their heroes, the Metallicats.

Following this conversation, I was a little concerned that the band would lose their teeth, but my worries were unfounded. "Temptation Come My Way" is a very heavy, very fun-to-listen-to slab of old school metal with up to date production value. That means the sound is clear, razor sharp, thick, and bottom heavy. To me the best thing about metal, any metal, is the crunch. It has to have it. That's what makes Heavy Metal heavy, and The Showdown have not forgotten the crunch.

There is also an unmistakeably eighties feel to this album, which only adds to the fun. These guys grew up on metal, which is very evident. They play their music with a definite respect for the old school, which is very cool from my perspective.

Lyrically, The Showdown has elected to be a little cryptic, veiling their Christianity in the usual angst-ridden post-adolescent language of disillusionment and doubt. Nothing alarming, though. I have absolutely no problem with what these guys are saying.

Oh, by the way. The Showdown does a killer, downtuned version of Carry On Wayward Son on this album. Bonus!

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Unearth, like the Showdown, has reinvented themselves on this, their latest release. Only they've gone the opposite direction. They are getting heavier. Unlike many of their peer-bands (Killswitch Engage, God Forbid, Shadows Fall, All That Remains, etc.) who have sprung forth from the New England thrash movement, Unearth has made a concerted effort to move away from being commercially accessable. If anything, they are faster and more brutal on "III: In the Eyes of Fire."

Actually, truth be told, it's almost hard to believe the fury and power Unearth exhibits on their latest release. It's amazing. The album is punishing from beginning to end. It never relents, never lets up. When I run on the treadmill, I always listen to this kind of stuff, for just this reason. The energy level is unreal.

In addition to that crazy energy level, Unearth serves up some of the heaviest grooves I've ever heard. There are very few slow breakdowns here, which means not as much grinding, bone crushing heaviness, but they more than make up for it with jaw-dropping guitar licks and unbelievably fast, thunderous double bass runs. The vocals are frighteningly angry, as are the lyrics.

The anger here has to do with Unearth's disgust with our materialistic, self-destructive society. They speak out against simply going with the flow, and being a part of a broken machine. Their defiance is well-directed. They encourage people to think for themselves and to question the status quo.

If you're a concerned parent, you don't have to worry about bad language or any other such garbage on either one of these albums. Considering what's out there these days, this is encouraging. So whether you're a kid trying to find stuff to listen to that your folks won't throw away when they find it, or one of the parents who tends to throw their kids' music away, these two bands might be a good bet for you. Rock on, and remember, if it's too loud, you're too old. Stay relevant, people.

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