The popular metalcore band returns with their fifth full-length album. Is it like their earlier work, or is it Lead Paper Sails Anchor: Part Two?
1. Stop! Before It's Too Late and We've Destroyed It All
2. Bleeding Is a Luxury
3. Congregation of the Damned
4. Coffin Nails
5. Black Days Begin
7. Storm to Pass
8. You Were The King Now You're Unconscious
10. So Wrong
13. Wait for You
Atreyu’s on pretty shaky grounds right now.
Their last album, Lead Paper Sails Anchor, split fans of the older, heavier Atreyu away from the new melodic flavor. Yet Lead Paper Sails Anchor was their most commercially successful album to date. So where does a band go when you’ve reached the end of reason? How can you please both sides of the equation?
The answer: 2009’s Congregation of the Damned,an album which attempts to combine the strengths of all of their previous albums together in a handful of tracks, with mixed results.
So the first question right off the bat – is the new album better than Lead Paper Sails Anchor? I’m happy to report that yes, it is better, both musically and stylistically. The first four songs show Atreyu bringing back their old-school sound, where fans of The Curse and Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses should feel right at home. But while Congregation of the Damned shares a lot with their earlier stuff, you can’t help but feel that they’re a changed band with all the commercial success. I remember when Atreyu toured with From Autumn to Ashes, and now they’re with Hollywood Undead for their latest journey – how much clearer can the evolution be?
Some negative traits on the new album: You’ve got Brandon Saller, the band’s drummer and secondary vocalist – his clean voice is still as Pro-Tooled as it ever was. (And man, there’s a lot of it.) On top of that, there’s corny choruses and vocals aplenty – yelling “Bleeding is a Luxury!” is incredibly silly, if you think about it. But hey, I shouldn’t complain -- at least there’s no “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT – ‘TILL THE BREAK OF DAWN!” or “SO FUCKIN’ BLOW THOSE WORDS OUT THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD!” to be found. That’s a plus.
The first track on Congregation, the very well-titled “Stop! Before It’s Too Late and We’ve Destroyed It All” begins the album nicely – it allows frontman Alex Varkatzas room to breathe after his last album, since he finally returns to front and center for the first time in years. There’s not much screaming at first… he does the “I’m-going-to-talk-quietly” thing for a while. It’s not really brooding, and it’s not really brutal. But it sounds cool, at least – and it’s only the warm-up before he finally belts out those screaming vocals.
“Bleeding Is A Luxury” is plagued with silly vocals, yet has one of my favorite moments in all of Atreyu history – a heavy electric breakdown with violin strings playing in unison. It nearly broke my heart, while my face displayed a razor-sharp smile. Yes, moments like this are the reason I listen to metal. But it’s all too short, and I was left itchy for some more experimentation.
The self-titled “Congregation of the Damned,” despite the dominance of clean vocals, served its purpose with ease. The chorus is loud, anthem-like, and will make a great impression on crowds. I can already hear audiences yelling, “I get carried away – lost in a moment!!” When you’re stuck in a track this catchy and it never loses momentum, kudos must be given. Again, the breakdown is another highlight – quiet chanting is subtly placed in the background during the heaviest moments, and the contrast between these sounds works beautifully.
The sludgy riff which opens “Black Days Begin” is cool enough, but nothing impressive ever happens – no good chorus, nothing. But it’s nice to see the band trying to be heavy. I found the riff reminiscent of “I’m Broken” and “Cemetery Gates,” so it’s clear that Atreyu has a case of Pantera envy. They want to be them, but they are not. (And they are not even close.)
Most of the later tracks went by in a haze; “Ravenous,” “Insatiable,” and “Lonely” all suffer from the same fate: the earlier tracks steal the thunder away from them. By the end, you feel as though you’ve heard it all already. The exception is the last track, “Wait for You,” which continues the Lead Paper Sails Anchor tradition of the quiet song that closes the CD. This one is simply mellow: combining piano, violins, acoustic guitar, and clean vocals to create what might be an attempted Atreyu ballad. But it unfortunately makes me laugh – hearing Brandon and Alex moan “I Wait For Yooooooouuuuu…” reminds me too much of the new Whitney Houston single, “I Look To You.” Yes, Whitney Houston. And that’s not what I like to think of when I listen to metalcore.
Not even a little bit. Yikes.