There comes a situation in a band’s lifetime when one certain element which makes or breaks the band’s popularity. There are two options on the platter for a band in such a circumstance: Sell out and give the target audience the sound they are asking for OR produce a game-changing standard of compositions that enable everyone to re-evaluate the band. When “In Dreams” was released, Minnesota Metallers, After the Burial were on the receiving end of many an angry fan’s ire, for not keeping upto the standards of previous records “Rareform” and to some extent “Forging a Future Self”. With the end of 2013 looming ahead, there has been a string of amazing ground-breaking records that have made us all re-think our Top of the Year’s lists. And headlining those changes in the lists is none other than good ol’ After the Burial.
Riding the crest of much deserved hype following the release of singles, “A Wolf Amongst Ravens” and “Of Fearful Men”, which have piqued interest from old fans and newly gained ones alike, After the Burial dropped the mixed bag of goods that is “Wolves Within” this 17th, and needless to say, it has caused a certain amount of resurgence in the band’s fan following. The genius of “Wolves Within” lies in the fact that After The Burial did little to make it a ground-breaking, genre-bending experience. “Wolves Within” is as good as a record, that is not following a strict context or concept, can get. There is a flow between the tracks, which simply refuses to follow the treaded path. Leaning heavily on the sound template created for “Rareform” ATB traverse down the play-time with a collection of 9 tracks that range from heavy, melodic, up-tempo with a side of minor complaints here and there.
Opening to a barrage of pummeling drum grooves, “Anti Pattern” starts the album on a ferocious note. Chased up by new vocalist (well, not that new either) Anthony Notarmaso’s enviable growls, “Anti-Pattern” sets the mood for an album which ranges from tracks that bank on enviably fast solos, to gut-churning palm-muted grooves as in 3rd track “Pennyweight”. For the most part, there is an efficient use of very low, down-tuned guitars to help the tracks progress, when drummer Dan Carle is not cooking up a tirade of galloping drum progressions. Second track “Of Fearful Men” sees the band resorting to traditional Heavy Metal compositional norms, in that they use powerful lead sections and catchy riffs to substitute for the usual palm muted riffs and drum fills and such. Released as the 2nd single off the album, “Of Fearful Men” is what made a new After the Burial fan out of yours truly. Serving as a testimony to the fact that the Minnesota outfit is not just one that conforms to the current crop of Modern Progressive Metal trends and has a lot of out-of-the-box, if not out-of-the-Prog, tricks up their sleeve, which are tops in my book, because these are the very elements which make “Wolves Within” leave no room for monotony, and give a platform to the bands explorative style. “Of Fearful Men” also showcases drummer Dan Carle’s brutal chops behind the kit, once the track shifts dynamics during the bridge section. Featuring one of my favorite intros on the album,”Pennyweight” is the lighter fluid that legendary headbang sessions and moshfests are made of. An exclamatory “Fuck yeah” and “Owwh” follow suit, as is custom. Complemented by an equally fitting rhythm section, “Pennyweight” is the kind of balls out progressive Groove that would bring ATB closer to the dj0ntstars/thallkids, just as 4th track “Disconnect” tickled me right in the feels. Setting the mood with a somber, appregiated acoustic line and a deliciously toned lead section to accompany it, “Disconnect” is as ballad-ish as ATB can get. Complete with gang chants to provide backing to the chorus, “Disconnect” also features some killer high-ranged screams from vocalist Tony. To sweeten the pot, the band cranked the track to the next level by adding another headbang-worthy bridge section complete with crisp, distinct chugged guitar lines and a booming drum filler, the outro lives up as well. Fifth track “Nine Summers” follows more or less along the same template followed till now. However, despite the failproof formula, the track fails to live upto the quality of the previous four tracks. While listenable and repeat-worthy in its own accord, featuring a memorable solo, the track misses the par with the other tracks by an inch or two. Bassist Lerichard Foral’s contribution to the album spikes, once the track “Virga” starts. Adding significant value to the production quality and mixing, the bass lines sound more prominent beyond this point, if not palpable. Possessing a schizo/bi-polar tendency, “Virga” jumps from a medium paced track with an instrumental section that somehow reminded me of the Pop Punk influences in A Day To Remember, to a breakneck bridge section which would definitely produce some results when played live, in the form of bruised necks and broken teeth. Delightful, innit? Rounding up the second half album in the most appropriate and fitting fashion I can think of is the track “Neo Soul”, which comprises of a delayed intro. The thing with delayed intros or delayed guitar segments in general is that they were used sparingly to add some color and definition to tracks which would otherwise be pigeonholed to only Extreme Heavy Metal/Hardcore listeners, but with the advent of djent, it became more of a mandatory exercise. ATB once again refuse to conform by using it sparingly, only to add some definition to an enjoyable track. Needless to say, coupled with the delicious bridge segment, it paints a beautiful picture, once the track’s title is incorporated into the context as well. Dressed up as a part of the band’s dual nature of exploiting the extremities of light and heavy sections on the same track, is the penultimate track “Parise”. Catchy to say the least, the track also features a memorable solo to drive the point home. Probably my personal favorite of them all, final track “A Wolf among Ravens” makes use of galloping down tuned rhythm sections, glitch electronic effects and much more. In short, “A Wolf..” is the sum of the best parts of the album.
The only trait, in my opinion, which plagues the record and could possibly lead to it getting repetitive undeservedly fast, is the band’s habit of emulating itself over and over, be it consciously or unconsciously. Make no mistake, the band is worth its weight in the priciest of 8 strings and more, but in spite of their originality and penchant for introducing something new, the template often rehashes tricks they have used before, one time too many, ja feel?
Succeeding by several miles where “In Dreams” failed and where “Rareform” drew the line,” Wolves Within” is as accessible as the current crème of Progressive Metal acts are willing to get. Compositions woven around reasonable (and comparatively) simple structures and straightforward songwriting, tracks boasting cohesion amongst its sections, are some of the many pros that make the album what it is. Definitely worth the last of your time and money for 2013, and more, “Wolves Within” is a dapper album considering all its positive and hard to pin, rare negative attributes, and it goes without saying After the Burial are back in the game, and yes, they are here to stay.
After seeing After The Burial live in March (and realizing they were probably the best metal band I had ever seen live) and listening to their recent “This Life Is All We Have” EP, the band’s new album was definitely the most awaited release of 2013 for me. I really thought it would never come out. But in the end, here it is, just in time to climb my “best of” list for 2013. Time for my expectations to face reality… Here we go!
The album actually ended up having almost everything I expected to hear from it. Massive grooves and perfect breakdowns were matched by absurd guitar tones (even changing in some passages) and a mighty bass. Many songs bring an abundance of welcome melody. Not to mention what After The Burial fans crave, the shred.
The album sounds like an eclectic synthesis of the band’s career and everything they’ve done in their previous releases. It especially sounds like they tried putting together the best from “Forging a Future Self” and “Rareform” with the updated sound they achieved with their rehashed EP “This Life Is All We Have”. This sound was achieved by packing a perfectly refined guitar tone and turning the bass volume up FUCKING LOUD. Ultimately, we have an expanded recap of the band’s career, with the best of the first two albums and a carefully learned lesson from “In Dreams”, from which the band took primarily the best elements. Beyond that, the clean vocals have disappeared. I thought there was nothing wrong with the few clean vocal segments of “In Dreams”, but that factor doesn’t influence my final judgment of this album. Similar to “In Dreams”, some songs feature an attempt to make After The Burial’s music accessible to a wider audience. The first single “A Wolf Amongst Ravens” is the right example. Yes, it’s a simple song but the groove is irresistible as it keeps up ATB’s style as well. People should understand that complexity is not the only thing that makes a song good. And in the rest of the album you’ve got plenty of just that. Maybe the complexity isn’t on the same level as “Rareform”, but it’s definitely more than we’re used to hearing in much of modern metal.
The first two songs present both sides of this work: the groovy side with “Anti-Pattern” and the more technical side with “Of Fearful Man”. “Pennyweight” is more oriented to the groovy side but brings a cool guitar solo. The overall result is one of the most balanced tracks of the album, and one of the best ones. With “Disconnect” we find some fast shredding, and another sick song. This time surrounded by a sad vibe, completely opposite to the one heard in the previous song “Pennyweight”. You gotta wait until 3:04 to go absolutely crazy with one of the sickest breakdowns on the album, leading to a beautiful ending.
“Nine Summers” reminds me a bit of “Cursing Akhenaten”. The whole song literally seems to be taken from “Rareform” with an intense melodic section and excellent delivery. Another song that will definitely be appreciated by older fans is “Virga”. This song features amazing vocals, fast shredding, great melody, and sick breakdowns. Not to mention a surprising guest appearance from the band’s old vocalists! It’s one of the most complete tracks on the album.
“Neo Soul” bring some more melody to the album with an intro that will remind you of past tracks like “Fingers Like Daggers” or “Pendulum”. In a turn of events, it’s accompanied by a crazy, groovy riff which carries you into the rest of a brilliant song. “Praise” is one of the strangest songs in the album, and maybe the only one with a more audacious attempt at innovation. The result is a groovier version of Periphery’s recent material with a load of chugs. In the final part it features an instrumental break similar to those heard in “Rareform”, but a bit less inspired. The final track “A Wolf Amongst Ravens” has already been widely discussed.
Another widely discussed aspect of this release was the production… Basically it was impossible not to disappoint somebody’s expectations with a band bringing such a refined sound. But all things considered, I think it is pretty balanced and actually pretty good. First of all, the high volume of the bass is probably a choice by the band itself as it enforces the sound they’ve been pursuing in the recent years. I think the result is great. Many people also argued that the production sounds different in “A Wolf Amongst Ravens”. If you focus, you’ll realize that it’s actually different on just about every track, giving each a unique sound. Still, I have to admit that the last song has a more remarkably different approach on production. Possibly it was an attempt to make it more attractive for the audience considering it was the first single. Other songs sound way better to me too, honestly.
This brings me to the real flaw of the album, which is the lack of serious innovation. We find something new, but it’s not much more than an intelligent, segmented, groovy assault with original rhythmic sections, solos, riffs, and an absurdly perfect guitar tone done like it never happened before. That’s pretty much all. And from a band whose proven to be capable of pushing the boundaries of heavy music, it’s not hard to expect something more creative.
“Wolves Within” is a sum total of the best things After The Burial have done on previous releases. It’s basically what I (and I guess all of us) expected from it, and After The Burial did it better than anyone else could. Ultimately, it results to be simpler than the big ATB classics but it’s still an incredible album. “Wolves Within” is able to live up to expectations, but unable to conquer the artistic perfection that “Rareform” achieved. It’s not the album of the year. Pretty damn close though.