As Minnesota extremists After The Burial issue their fifth full-length, there’s an eerily unfortunate connotation not only to the band’s name but the album’s title. Dig Deep comes six or so months after the burial of guitarist/programmer/producer Justin Lowe, who committed suicide in July following his departure from the band while apparently in the grips of a profound state of mental distress.
The quintet actually had just begun work on the album while Lowe still was a member. And though he was able to make some contribution, at least compositionally, before he left – as his breakdown was apparently in full swing – the album was finished without him, and right around the time of his death. This of course left the band with quite a quandary, and after some time off to grieve and reflect, they opted not only return to touring, but release the album and continue on as a quartet under the ATB banner.
Thus we have Dig Deep. And connotations, coincidences and conspiracy theorizing aside, it sounds more or less like what we’ve come to expect from ATB: assaultive staccato guitars, stutter-step rhythms and frontman Anthony Notarmaso’s vehement roar. Though perhaps a bit more urgent and agitated than 2013’s Wolves Within, given it came together under trying circumstances, the album is also weighty and dense and shudders with a heaviness that rivals Meshuggah.
Working with an outside producer for the first time – Will Putney, guitarist with Fit For An Autopsy – hasn’t mellowed the band in the slightest. And just when it seems like ATB are ready to relent here, with the wistful intros to “Laurentian Ghosts” or “Heavy Lies The Ground,” they bring the hammer down and the songs crush like all the rest – especially “Ground” with its mid-song sprint.
That said, there is a certain delicate side to the album thanks to Trent Hafdahl, who does yeoman’s work here handling all of the guitars. He counters his quaking main riffs with ample flourishes, sweeps and finger-dance fret runs to provide an almost elegant contrast and make things less oppressive and brooding – something Lowe accomplished on previous releases with his synth programming.
Hafdahl’s lighter touch also offers a sense of melody that allows the band to resist the usual rote clean choruses or other cheap theatrics. And it makes what could have been chaotic or calamitous just musical enough so as to not be off-putting.
Events essentially forced ATB to make a statement with Dig Deep, even if that was something the band never intended – at least one to justify their continued existence. But they largely succeed here with an album that, despite a key missing component in Lowe, is certainly up to the band’s previous standards and lays the groundwork for what’s ahead. Whatever that may be.
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