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I can’t fault Atreyu for trying to change. You can’t stay the same forever. With ‘Baptize‘, the band have tried to do something a little different, furthering the sound of 2018’s ‘In Our Wake.’ What I do fault Atreyu’s latest record for is how deeply stuck in limbo it is, how cynical it sounds, wanting to be poppier and more electronic (fine on paper) but still trying to recapture the rock and metalcore of their early albums. Their first release with drummer Kyle Rosa, as Brandon Saller steps out into a lead vocalist role, with bassist Marc “Porter” McKnight taking on some of the screaming duties, is some truly horrid Octane bait. Like arena-rock fast-food; you down it and wonder why the hell you just did that to yourself.
‘Baptize’ is 15 songs long, exhausting given its trend-chasing style of pop-metal. It has the same issue as ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’: an epic, dynamic musical journey this is not, undeserving of its length. ‘Baptize‘ is a trivial album where you can read the song titles and sing the chorus back to yourself without hearing it. Atreyu’s approach is to stand mostly in the rock lane but hurry you along to the next stadium-sized whooping refrain with the occasional electronic drum pattern, synth pad, screamed vocals and odd breakdown. Sometimes, rarely, it’s fine. Most of the time, it’s an awfully shallow experience.
‘Strange Powers Of Prophecy’ begins the record with low, growling sounds. Okay, pretty cool! But in about 60 seconds flat, it’s over and done with; a real “oh, that’s it?” kind of moment. All so Atreyu can rush ahead to shake you down with the mediocre mainstream metalcore of ‘Save Us‘. Sounding like the worst parts of Papa Roach and Beartooth with new Fall Out Boy and Imagine Dragons. Here reveals the first sign that Atreyu’s new album doesn’t know what it wants to be. At first, it’s an old-school Atreyu heavy song. But before you get your bearings on the screams and mid-tempo grooves, Brandon’s jumping into radio-ready millennial chorus melodies, just not the good kind. The piece then proceeds to leap back and forth between these two opposing styles, and in another life, it could’ve been a wicked little hybrid. In this life, in our reality, it’s extremely disjointed.
While it’s one of the better written heavier tracks, complete with a decent hook and some cool subtle glitched production, the sheer irony of the meaning behind ‘Underrated‘ makes my head spin. I have a soft spot for Atreyu – their first few albums were childhood soundtracks, and I quite liked their 2015 comeback LP – and the band, while still influential, have indeed always felt underrated when placed next to the likes of Poison The Well, Killswitch Engage or Underoath. Yet there’s a simple reason for that: a lot of Atreyu’s songs were either cornier than a field in Iowa or they just weren’t there. To be blunt, it’s songs like ‘Underrated’ that probably haven’t done the band any favours over the years. This “underrated” mindset is funnier still when you consider how ex-frontman Alex Varkatzas, who left in 2020, said they invented metalcore. They will never live that woeful quote down.
The low-pitched vocals and pulsating retro synths that reside under the classic Atreyu-sounding ‘Broken Again’ are actually decent. One of the albums’ seldom moments of quality, yet these exceptions only prove the rule. Remember what I said about reading the song names and being able to basically sing the hook back to yourself? Yeah, ‘Broken Again‘ is just that. Elsewhere, the trademarked Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel – who used to play in everyone’s favourite band to hate, Trapt – solos and harmonies during ‘Weed’ are the only highlight of this hook-driven, soul-searching track that is offensively inoffensive. Say whatever you want about the band these days, and I do, but Dan and Travis are two highly talented players. Atreyu wouldn’t have been the same without them.
The lo-fi intro riff to ‘Dead Weight’, before that synth sub-bass comes in, sounds like something straight out of 2002. But then the Top 40-aiming pre-choruses and synth/vocal arrangements sound like Atreyu trying way too fucking hard to get people’s fuckle attention and nab a car ad. ‘Catastrophe‘ hits those straight-forward metal verses and towering choruses that fans like but winds up being the elevator-music equivalent of an Atreyu song. I just wish that I hadn’t first heard the song by seeing its music video, in which the band and their pals in Asking Alexandria, Ice Nine Kills and Trivium do this weird faux-song reaction, mocking critics and YouTubers in the cringiest way possible.
‘Fucked Up’ is just bad. The band screaming “I’m fucked up, you’re fucked up, we’re all fucked” is the most childish lyric I’ve heard in 2021. Some of the verses to ‘Fucked Up,’ and how they shift in dynamic intensity, arrangement and tempo, are quite cool. But my god, those choruses are just so insufferable that it sabotages the rest, the band spending some sections trying to make everyone remember that they were once a metalcore band. It doesn’t work, and again speaking to a larger problem with the record, it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Some artists can straddle multiple different genres very well – Twelve Foot Ninja, Ulver, Linkin Park, Rolo Tomassi, Enter Shikari – but Atreyu are not one such band. At least, not here.
Roping in Jacoby Shaddix, ‘Untouchable’ feels like a poor B-side to ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor,’ but blow my brains out the back of my head like it’s 2007, this one does not. It should be illegal for bands to use that ever-recycled rock riff that kicks off ‘Untouchable.’ The believing-your-own-hype nature, fake-laughing screams and palm-mutes with dancey floor-tom beat combos make for some proper second-hand embarrassment. I’m also getting mixed messages: Atreyu, are you an underrated band or are you an untouchable act? Make up your minds.
Moving right along, ‘No Matter What’ reminds me of some of the best cuts from 2009’s ‘Congregation Of The Damned’ just with some added electronics and production. (I’m pretty sure I’m one of ten people who rate that as one of the better Atreyu records.) It’s honestly not bad, showing the kind of strong vocal melodic and propulsive rhythms that made those old songs so engaging. From that excitement and into a bored nosedive, we have ‘Oblivion’. Of which I don’t have an opinion of. Like, none at all, even with Trivium’s Matt Heafy on it. By this point, I’m sitting with a thousand-yard stare waiting for the end to come.
No one is going to say that Brandon is a bad vocalist. The guy has some huge pipes! After all these years he’s still belting out choruses in a higher register, maintaining his own vocal characteristic. Respect where it’s due, many singers from this scene can’t do that. ‘Stay’ is a big pop-rock ballad of simple rhythms and power chords, with a hook constantly repeating “I wish you could’ve stayed.” It’s undeniably catchy, and Brandon cuts a good performance, but as I will forever die on this hill, having a hook doesn’t suddenly make the song great. Same as how being “heavy” isn’t an automatic good qualifier.
When listening to closer ‘Warrior‘, I couldn’t help but think that a true “warrior” wouldn’t need to so publicly state they’re one and that they “walk with the gods.” Anywho, ‘Warrior‘ has this cool sub-divided, live marching snare-roll in the song’s bridge that, as a drummer myself, I’m into – literally the only part of the song I liked. That bridge part is from Travis Barker, because of fucking course it is, proving recent memes correct. If I hadn’t plugged the band’s name into YouTube to grab links to embed here, I would not have ever known the Blink-182 drummer had some kind of hand in this song. Not a grand swan song for ‘Baptize,’ ‘Warrior‘ is the last nail in the coffin for this album’s lack of conviction.
When I listen to ‘Baptize,’ I see it for what it is. A transparent attempt to desperately stay relevant that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It doesn’t once feel authentic, just cynical and calculated. Like the band are trying their hardest to acquire sync deals in radio, ads, and most likely, sports. I can see certain songs getting flogged during the next NBA or NFL seasons, or even during the current AFL season here in Australia. To Atreyu, get that cheddar; you do you. The band clearly want to grow in listenership and popularity, and this album reflects that by hopping into some new sounds and aiming to fill arenas. Yet these “experimentations” are never interesting, and the songwriting is so played out. The band’s mixture of pop, electronic, rock and metalcore doesn’t pan out well over these 15 songs. I loved Atreyu – ‘Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses, ‘A Death-Grip On Yesterday’ and ‘Congregation…’ forever – but ‘Baptize’ is just so disenchanting. I knew what I was getting, expected little of it going in but was hoping to be surprised, and ended up with even less.
Strange Powers Of Prophecy
No Matter What
‘Baptize’ is out now.