ATREYU’S LEAD SAILS PAPER ANCHOR REMINDS US WHY WE LOVE AT ALL COST
Finally, a band has made an album that ditches the same old tired metalcore clichés and indulges in boundless amounts of creativity; an album that is heavy yet melodic, visceral yet catchy; an album that mixes epic, operatic pop tropes with down n’ dirty, often seething hard rock; an album that breaks free from the chains of what metal “should be” and instead shows us what metal could be.
That album is called Circle of Demons, and that band is At All Cost. Atreyu, meanwhile, have followed up last year’s undeniably infectious slice of metalcore, A Deathgrip on Yesterday, with one of the year’s most disappointing releases.
Look: I enjoy a little cotton candy as much as the next guy. It’s sweet and it gives you a sugar high, so what’s not to like, really? But let’s be honest: it dissolves in your mouth almost instantly, providing no nutrition whatsoever and only the fleeting memory of what it actually tasted like, and it’s made up almost entirely of artificial flavoring and chemicals. And the same thing might be said of Atreyu’s highly anticipated new offering, which already seems to be diving metal fans and critics: it’s not a bad album per se, but it is a highly synthetic one.
For one thing, the band has chosen to soften their sound a bit, and their interest in creating music a bit more melodious than their past output is admirable; but anyone who has seen this band live should be fully aware that drummmer/singer Brandon Saller can’t actually stay on key to save his life, and as it turns out, vocalist Alex Varkatzas, who mostly forgoes his strained, breathless hardcore bark here, ain’t much better. The result is an album so chock full of auto tune that it often sounds like all the singing is being done by a robot.
But what do you expect when your producer is John Feldmann, whose vast body of work includes such illustrious artists as Ashlee Simpson, Good Charlotte, Hilary Duff and The Used? The man practically has a PhD in Protools-powered chicanery, so the overly glossy, never-quite-convincing sound of Lead Sails should really be no surprise. Atreyu have repeatedly invoked Queen in recent interviews, but what made that band so remarkable wasn’t just the way that they and their producer, Roy Thomas Baker, layered sound and mixed diverse styles into one incredible package; it was the fact that the group was actually 110% capable of performing every note without the aid of any digital cheats.
At least Dan Jacobs’ and Travis Miguel’s shredding, which self-consciously evokes Eddie Van Halen perhaps more than any guitar players have since C.C. DeVille and his ilk, sounds genuinely skillfull. At best, that might elevate Atreyu to the level of Motley Crue, another band with an awesome guitar player and a shitty lead singer, except the band doesn’t seem to posses Nikki Sixx’s pop-metal songwriting skills (hell, see Sixx A.M.’s recent The Heroin Diaries). There are plenty of hooks here, but having listened to the album about a half a dozen times, I still couldn’t really hum any of them back to you.
And as far as musical creativity goes, give Atreyu this much: there’s quite a cluster fuck of influences here. Opening tracks “Doomsday” and “Honor” sound like Metallica’s “Ain’t My Bitch” as performed by Blink 182, “Falling Down,” with its frantic, candy-rush beat and horn section has the feel of the most mainstream ska acts of the mid 90’s (Reel Big Fish, etc.), the metallic pop punk of “Two Becomes One” recalls Sum 41, semi-ballad “Lose It” has the same hype-man scream mixed with melodious whines that defines most Linkin Park, and first single “Becoming the Bull” is in the same vein as every other alt-rock tinged emo-screamo-whatever that Feldmann has ever produced. And that might be a really, really interesting mix of musical styles, if there was anything appealing about “Ain’t My Bitch,” Blink 182, Sum 41, Reel Big Fish, Linkin Park, or any of the other acts that Feldmann has produced. The fact that the lyrics are alternately trite (“Grab the bull by the horns, the old adage goes/ Nobody tells you where to go from there”), rap metal-esque (even in 1990, MC Lyte probably would have found “Fight fight fight ’til the break of dawn” passé), and just plain silly (“Doomsday came early this year” – if Doomsday is, by its very definition, a one-time-in-history thing, how can it be annual?) doesn’t help.
But like I said, there are hooks here, and towards the end of the album, the band manages to land a couple of winners: the cowbell-heavy “Blow” clearly means to recall some of the band’s favorite hair metal anthems, and it sounds convincingly enough like sleaze rockers Buckcherry to work (it even has a guest appearance from Buckcherry frontman Josh Todd), and the title track, a slide heavy ballad that convincingly evokes the feeling of a lonely ship adrift at sea, feels like Green Day performing a song written by Bret Michaels in the style of Brian Wilson (got all that?).
But it’s too little too late. It’s probably unfair to accuse Atreyu of “selling out,” because that implies that they’ve made stylistic choices purely based on what they think will move units, and for all we know, this is the album that Atreyu have always wanted to make. Rather, Lead Sails Paper Anchor feels like it was made by a bunch of kids who first got a taste of Metallica’s Load and actually liked it. Atreyu aren’t “traitors to the cause” in their musical choices, so much as it’s disappointing to see any metal band so promising make an album with this much sheen. Metal is supposed to (by and large) celebrate legitimate musicianship, convey actual, recognizable emotions, and rebel against the mainstream. In other words: this is exactly the kind of album in which nu metal specialized, and that the American New Wave was supposed to render extinct. Lead Sails doesn’t need to be angrier or more evil or heavier or any of that nonsense; it just needs to be less artificial.
(two out of five horns)