For Fans Of
Atreyu – the band that APPARENTLY invented metalcore if you believe the (incorrect) word of their frontman, Alex Varkatzas – dropped ‘In Our Wake‘ in 2018. And it was… okay. It was fine. But before going any further, I have to own a bias: Atreyu were a key gateway band for me. When I was 12, and just getting into metal and alternative music at the cusp of my teens, it was Slipknot, Parkway Drive, In Flames, Escape The Fate, Killswitch Engage, The Used, My Chemical Romance, Senses Fail, and Atreyu that opened the doors in my life for music to flow through.
As for Atreyu themselves, I have all their old records collecting dust at my folks’ place, and I still have love for their music too. 2002’s ‘Suicide Notes & Butterfly Kisses’ was a solid debut album dolled up with great songs like the killer ‘Ain’t Love Grand‘ and kick-ass deep cuts like ‘A Vampire’s Lament‘ and ‘Tulips Are Better‘. 2004’s ‘The Curse’ contains some real bangers, like ‘The Crimson‘ and ‘Demonology & Heartache‘, even if it’s unbalanced in terms of it’s quality-to-meh song ratio. 2006’s ‘A Death-Grip On Yesterday’ is one of their most consistent releases front to back by a LARGE margin; every song feels necessary and has it’s own emotional weight. 2007’s quick follow-up, ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’, is a big, ballsy and flawed arena rock album, one that clearly had high aspirations for radio play and commercial success. (Which came true, hence why they still perform those songs live). 2011’s highly underrated ‘Congregation Of The Damned’ is my personal favourite record of Atreyu’s, even though many shit on it as if doing so was going out of fashion. As for their last LP, 2015’s strong comeback effort, ‘Long Live‘, it ended their hiatus with a re-energised stretch after some time off and had the band feeling and sounding powerful.
With that added context, and with those few anecdotal pieces duly noted, my personal emotional connection to this band isn’t clouding my judgement. For the John-Feldman-produced ‘In Our Wake‘ isn’t that good of an album. Again, it’s fine, but it’s also sterile and very produced at times; feels a little one-note in terms of songwriting occasionally; and comes packed with the kind of massive guitar and vocal melodies we all expect from the band. It also aims at a broader, arena-rock demographic than ever before; feeling closer aligned to the aforementioned ‘Lead Sails, Paper Anchor‘ than anything else in their discography. While that’s fine in theory, not every single track here works. However, let’s start off with the positives surrounding ‘In Our Wake‘.
The opening title track is pure later-day Atreyu; tectonic percussion, impeccable tone, big riffs, catchy vocal hooks from Brandon Saller, who not only sounds as good as ever here, but who has some well done back and forth vocals with Alex as well throughout. Sonically, this titular song is by far the biggest the band have sounded in years, and it hits hard. All with guitarists Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel up to their usual melodic guitar tricks before the song barrels into it’s final, racey lap.
Another key standout is ‘Anger Left Behind’, a classic Atreyu track but with a slightly new spin on it. The drier, darker screamed verses aren’t only remiss of early Atreyu but they’re delivered well in their dynamics and groove too. These heavier musical swings also contrast strongly with the song’s free-falling refrains and bright, dotted eighth-note delayed guitars (something the band loves across this record); all as the group effectively bounce between their two core sounds. It’s a real winner; something that long-time fans like myself can salivate all over.
Then there’s the curious ‘Super Hero’, which is the oddest track of the lot. With some added horns, strings, keys and changes in their normal guitar approach, it doesn’t sound like the usual Atreyu song. Before you can work it out, you learn exactly why that is: Underoath’s Aaron Gillespie and Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows both guest feature. Seemingly written with both Aaron’s lovely, smooth croon and Shadows‘ tougher, gravely vocals in mind, it’s a pretty interesting track; Atreyu aiming for something grander. It honestly sounds like a less proggier cut from A7X’s last album, ‘The Stage‘. One very cool part of this song is that we, for one of the first times ever, also hear Alex actually sing. And this makes his screaming later in the song’s guitar-heavy bridge section carry more impact. It’s hopeful to know that these guys did have bigger ambitions for this record, and that they could pull it off with the likes of ‘Super Hero‘.
While’ In Our Wake‘, ‘Anger Left Behind‘ and ‘Super Hero‘ are the best cuts by far, album #7 has some other tracks that are still worth a good mention. Even if they aren’t quite the best.
For one, the stomping, riffy, and synth-inclined ‘Paper Castle‘ is another heavier cut, mixed in with pop vocal hooks paired with modulated vocals that play off said refrains. While the electro-percussion in the second verse is questionable, it’s nice to hear Atreyu play to their guitar-strengths. Because that shit still gets my blood-pumping. For an example where this approach falls flat though, see the simplistic, generic, and limp-dicked ‘No Control‘ (a true ‘Lead Sails…‘ rip-off), as it’s a night and day difference. Try as the band might to cram in as many gang vocal chants to convince you otherwise.
The overtly edgy, hard-rock vibes of ‘Blind Deaf & Dumb’ is the most political that the record gets. In a sense of duality, it’s written about how “we’re at an all time low“, how current generations are creating hell for their future children, and about how idiocy and fake-facts are all running rampant in beliefs and media today. On any side of the political isle. Musically, other than having the most human and emotional vocal deliveries from Brandon and Alex of the whole album, it’s a fine enough track. Even if the whole “fuck everything and everyone” schtick is kinda cringe.
The choruses on ‘House Of Gold’ and ‘Into The Open’ – the latter taking aim at selfish people who only try to pull you down through the mud – all sound like you’re running into a wide open field; they’re bloody huge! More than enough evidence that this band can still pull off a solid chorus this deep into their career. They’re pretty by-the-numbers Atreyu tracks, sure, but they do get the job done.
However, that’s where the best parts of this record end, as now we get to the bad.
‘The Time Is Now’ feels like one of those horrific rock songs that was only ever intended to soundtrack NXT intro themes. It’s like a shitty B-side from ‘Lead Sails…‘; like bottom-feeding Imagine Dragons-esque pop and millennial whoops crossed with the worst kind of Def Leppard choruses. This is something that the cheesy ‘Safety Pin‘ and the way too typical ‘Nothing Will Ever Change‘ suffer from too, with both feeling so obnoxious. But I’m getting off-track here. Even with the brief, “heavy” breakdown during ‘The Time Is Now’s bridge, it’s an incredibly jarring tune when you consider that ‘Long Live‘ was only three years ago. Of course, a lot can change in three years, let alone in a band’s full career. Sometimes adapting for the better, and other times for the worse. In these instances, it’s changing for the worst, I’ve gotta say.
In that latter regard, we have ‘Terrified’. Oh fuckin’ boy, this damn song. ‘Terrified‘, with it’s 80’s synths, finger snaps, and electro hi-hats is a horrendously cheesy ballad that’ll give you second hand embarrassment. Even when the soft acoustic guitars, strings, live drums, and odd throaty scream come in, the track grows larger yet never actually any gets better. Which is somehow an impressive feat by itself. This is one song I definitely don’t want to see left in any of Atreyu’s wake.
Much like the latest Bleeding Through and American Nightmare comeback records, did anyone really need this new Atreyu album? I guess not. Just like how no one really needed me to comment on it either, so the universe balances itself out nicely there. And I’m sure the band will see this review as ironic given this album’s theme of putting something good out into the world – of leaving something worthwhile in your wake, as it were – but man, this thing is just really hit and miss. For not every song ‘In Our Wake’ song lands as well as it’s best cuts do. (See: ‘In Our Wake’, ‘Super Hero’, ‘Anger Left Behind’). Which sucks, as those weaker tracks (‘No Control’, ‘Terrified’, ‘The Time Is Now’ and ‘Nothing Will Ever Change’) hold back what is otherwise a decent album from a good, consistent longstanding metalcore band. A band who also didn’t invent said genre, by the way, as certain melodic death metal bands were pumping out the records that would influence said style years prior. In Flames and At The Gates would like a word with y’all.
In Our Wake
House Of Gold
The Time Is Now
Nothing Will Ever Change
Blind Deaf & Dumb
Into The Open
Anger Left Behind
‘In Our Wake’ is out now via Spinefarm Records/Caroline Australia.