For Fans Of
If you’re in the loop of all things dastardly heavy and groovy, then you surely know about After The Burial. The band are back after three painfully long years since 2016’s ‘Dig Deep‘ LP, their first record without former guitarist and songwriting mastermind, Justin Lowe, who passed away in 2015. As such, ‘Evergreen‘ now marks the second release since Justin’s tragic death, and the first without any of Justin’s previously written ideas making its way onto the final record. Even so, it’s safe to say that After The Burial have more than found their own little djenty niche in the heavy metal world with ‘Evergreen‘, also certainly sounding comfortable with their own trademark progressive-metalcore style. And being that After The Burial are one of my own Minnesota hometown heroes (aside from Prince, of course), I will always have the utmost respect for them continuing on Justin’s legacy, and that will never change. I’m just going to own that bias right now.
If you’ve never heard of After The Burial, then the first thing you’ve gotta understand is that their one of the most groovy, consistent progressive metalcore bands around. They have nothing but a solid discography, full of mind-blowing songs like the mathematical assault of (‘Pi (The Mercury God of Infinity)‘); songs like ‘Collapse‘, ‘A Wolf Amongst Ravens‘, ‘Lost in the Static‘, and ‘Berserker‘ that bring out your inner bodybuilder for setting a new PB at the gym; and with songs that never fail to make one smile, like ‘Laurentian Ghosts‘, and my undisputed personal favourite, ‘Neo Seoul‘. In fact, After the Burial’s albums are great examples of all killer, no filler and ‘Evergreen‘ is certainly no exception. With that in mind, let’s get into ATB’s sixth studio album!
Upon several listens to it’s first single, the pinch-harmonic-obsessive ‘Behold the Crown‘, I was left with mixed feelings. Overall, the song is pretty cool, but there was one thing keeping me from really liking it: those excessive pinch harmonics. I completely understand the difficulty of both performing and incorporating pinch harmonics like this into a song, let alone writing a song around said technique, but there reaches a point where it all becomes too much. I am not necessarily saying that those repetitive pinches are a bad thing, but nearly every major part of ‘Behold The Crown‘ features the exact same passage, and it got old – fast. The intro, chorus, breakdown, and outro all consisted of that same pinch harmonic riff. Honestly, I am not annoyed by it as much anymore now that the album’s out, but I still don’t love it either. I wouldn’t have mind if it was used just in the intro and outro, but to use it in nearly every single section was quite off putting.
However, that’s just one song, and things do get better and less obnoxious as the album progresses, especially with ‘Exit, Exist‘ right up next: definitely the strongest of the album’s two singles. ‘Exit, Exist‘ is an easy song to throw down to, filled with equally groovy and melodic parts to satisfy almost everyone.
With ‘Evergreen‘, I realised that ATB have really built their own house in the metal world with their sound. This band is most appreciated for having bone-crushingly heavy riffs and breakdowns layered with extremely melodic leads and insane guitar solos. That, and really kicking up the djent craze from a few years back, alongside certain other bands too. But you can just tell that all of the four band members have some serious chops; they’re great at what they do, simple as that. Unfortunately, ever since Justin’s passing, you can also tell that there is something missing in these new songs. There aren’t as many unexpected twists and turns, the songs are more straightforward than what they were back in the day, and the lead guitars also aren’t wild or as outrageous as they were once upon a time. Yes, there are still some unexpected parts here and there, such as the bridge in 11/26 and the outro to the bending, razor-sharp, riff-machine that is ‘In Flux‘, but it’s also not the same. And it never will be again, sadly.
Guitarist Trent Hafdahl is certainly carrying the torch to the best of his abilities, manning both rhythm and lead duties. (Meaning he has to have a backing track for one of those two parts when performing live.) Back on ‘Dig Deep‘, you could tell Trent was at the top of his game with the outro solo to ‘Laurentian Ghosts‘ or the bend-heavy chaos-sphere that was ‘Collapse‘. After giving ‘Evergreen‘ some time to properly digest, though, it appears that he’s dialled back on the melodic leads and doubled down on the groove. That’s not to say there aren’t any catchy leads and gnarly guitar solos on this thing. On the contrary, they’re still heard on ‘Evergreen‘, but they are not as memorable or as hard-hitting as they were on previous releases.
Again, there are still great examples of solid, uplifting lead guitars here, as in ‘11/26‘, also containing some pretty personal and inspiring lyricism as well, speaking about moving on from loss and the turmoil of our lives. Out of all the songs, though, ‘Exit/Exist‘, ‘Respire‘, and ‘To Challenge Existence‘ were easily the most memorable tunes. ‘Exit, Exist‘ had some wicked leads throughout, Respire almost broke my goddamn neck, and the heavily-gated ‘To Challenge Existence‘ was by far the “djentiest” song of the whole bunch. That being said, it also takes a little while to really distinguish these nine new songs from one another, something that’s never really been the case on their previous records.
While they were few and far between, there were still some awesome standout moments on ‘Evergreen‘. As mentioned, that massive breakdown of ‘Respire‘ had me smacking my head against my writing desk, especially with Dan Carle behind the kit smashing that crash during each brief rest between the chugs of said breakdown. I crave those little details, man. Dan is an absolute monster of a drummer, and don’t you ever forget it. Although, I’m afraid that I can hardly ever hear bassist Adrian Oropeza shine away on the five-string bass as the mix is extremely oriented towards the undeniably thick tones that Trent provides with his rhythm work, keeping the bass parts buried six feet deep down in the album’s mix. That has always been one thing that’s bothered me on previous ATB records: the mix. I can only assume Adrian is following along with the exact same chugging patterns that Trent provides, which unfortunately leaves something to be desired.
So whilst the bass is lost in the mix, at least vocalist Anthony Notarmaso sounds as filthy as ever with his screams providing so much more outside of the chugging and lack of interesting leads in certain songs. He shows off much more vocal depth here, with many high-pitched screams layered into the background, like during ‘Respire‘. Anthony has a real skill with making the songs even heavier than what they already are with his powerful vocal takes (see: those ballsier, lower growls on the already-monstrous ‘Quicksand‘.) To me, Anthony’s vocals are what truly make this new record shine; making it more interesting as the song structures are fairly predictable and with it all just being very expected of ATB. Despite their being several softer melodic passages in some cuts, such as the bridge in 11/26 or the slower, dreamy outro to ‘In Flux‘. Other than that, expect nothing more than the usual, straight-up groovy mayhem that these Minneapolis djentlemen are recognised for.
After years of After the Burial discovering their niche, it’s obvious that they’re immensely comfortable with their own brand of progressive metalcore. They are not pushing this style of heavy music forwards by any means – not as much as they once were some years ago, at least, alongside bands like Periphery, Volumes and Veil Of Maya – but they’re still consistently writing good, groovy, moshy tunes. With ‘Evergreen’, there are plenty of moments of irresistible head-banging grooves, as well as plenty of slick and tasty guitar riffs and tones, but in the end, it’s just another After The Burial release. They are sticking right to their formula, and more power to them for that, but their sixth record is only what I fully expected. And it’s also the exact same sound of what I expect from the next ATB album too.
So, for me personally, as a long-time fan, whenever I decide to listen to ATB’s music, I will first turn my ears to previous records such as ‘Rareform’ and ‘Wolves Within’. When I do listen to new tracks from ‘Evergreen’ in the future following this review, it will most likely be through shuffled playlists and algorithmic recommends rather than out of my own volition.
1. Behold the Crown
2. Exit, Exist
4. In Flux
7. The Great Repeat
8. To Challenge Existence
9. A Pulse Exchanged
‘Evergreen’ is out now.