Reviewed: [June 2019]
Released [2019 Sumerian Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
With their last album, 2016’s Dig Deep, Minneapolis’ After The Burial (ATB) were still emerging from the dark cloud that following the loss a year earlier of guitarist Justin Lowe. Some of the last riffs he contributed to ATB – before an apparent mental breakdown in mid-2015 prompted his exit from the band and mysterious death not long after – were included on the album. And in its title – and tunes like “Collapse,” “Mire,” “Deluge,” “Lost in the Static” and “Heavy Lies The Ground” – Dig Deep was rife with references, either veiled or overt, to his ultimately tragic situation.
With their sixth full-length, Evergreen, however, the band seems to be turning over a new leaf, literally and figuratively. Sole original member, guitarist Trent Hafdahl, has taken the reins as band leader and ATB has forged ahead here in a somewhat different direction that is less grim and more forceful while leaving some of their “core” inclinations behind. But not all.
Indeed, the opener, “Behold The Crown” is a hulking, deathcorey brute of a song. Yet at the same time it seems to be taking the piss at deathcore, as Hafdahl replicates the puke-and-squeal vocal histrionics on his guitar while frontman Anthony Notarmaso offers a familiar, though less ludicrous, bellow with the actual vocals. A nimble solo adds some zazz as well, making it anything but the “usual” deathcore, deathcore though it may be.
But soon thereafter, ATB settle into a thrashy/djenty mode that predominates on Evergreen, echoing the athletic crunch and friskiness of Lamb Of God on one hand, as on “Exit, Exist” or “11:26,” and Meshuggah – sometimes uncomfortably so – on “In Flux,” “The Great Repeat” or “Quicksand” with their poly-rhythmic drum patterns and shuddering, stutter-step riffs.
The ringing, cavernous production here gives the drums and guitars an especial prominence, and the combination of thunking beats and the steady thrum of eight-string hooks and sporadic breakdowns makes much of Evergreen feel like Doc Martens marching across your chest and forehead. Notarmaso hollers for all he’s worth above the din, a la Randy Blythe or Jens Kidman from the aforementioned Lamb and Meshuggah, but manages to show some distinct personality, especially tracks like “Respire” that have more buoyant choruses.
The album goes out on a high note with the limber, almost funky “To Challenge Existence” sounding downright playful and “A Pulse Exchanged” exploding with black metal fury midway through as the band sneaks a wicked fastball after a steady diet of curves and sliders. This shows an “upbeatness” from a band that could stand to loosen up a bit, given not-so-distant events. And it’s good to see that they seem to be moving on – and moving forward – after a particularly trying stretch.