Nov 242010

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we’re stepping aside again to make way for another album review by our UK contributor Andy Synn. It’s about the latest release, In Dreams, from one of NCS’s most beloved bands — AFTER THE BURIAL — but brace yourselves, because Andy is underwhelmed with the effort — and backs up his opinion in detail. Comments please!]

Apologies all, but I’m afraid this is going to be my first ever mainly negative review.

To qualify myself for this, I’d like to state that although I found Forging A Future Self to be a little stock for the majority of its running time, the band’s sophomore release Rareform remains one of my favourite albums of the more modern iteration of metal. It’s a skillful display of technicality and melody, mixed with a sense of interesting and progressive song-writing and a great sense of (non-derivative) Meshuggah-influenced groove. It had energy to spare and was organic in its ability to shift styles and tones.

Unfortunately, the third album In Dreams seems to have forgotten much of the positive growth demonstrated by Rareform, aiming for a more derivative and mass-appeal based sound. In a move similar to much of the “djent” movement (and also in a way reminiscent of the development of UK hardcore darlings Architects) the band have regressed to a more simplistic, and arguably less “metal”, sound. Now whilst not every record needs to be “tr00”, “kvlt”, or whatever is the precisely elitist terminology of the day, this record comes across as rather forced and lacking in certain departments, leading me to wonder if the band have lost a lot of interest in the “metal” element of their sound. (more after the jump . . .)

The overall sound now is far closer to their debut offering, far more generically “hardcore” in approach (and although I grew up as a hardcore kid, shaved head and Earth Crisis wife-beater to boot, the new iterations of “hardcore” do seem somewhat lacking), with few real riffs to make note of. The majority of the delivery is now predicated purely upon rhythmic chugging and bouncing – whereas before these elements were but one part of a varied mix of styles. The Meshuggah influence is now far less organic and original, coming across as far more derivative in approach and delivery, whilst also making up 90% of the overall sound of the record. The use of breakdowns (not necessarily a bad thing at all by the way) has increased dramatically – however, they are rarely used to great effect, merely highlighting a portion where “the kids” can get down a bit harder. There is a LOT more playing upon pseudo-heavy polyrhythmic patterns than there is any attempt to build a sense of mood or overall depth to each song.

Opener “My Frailty” comes across as an amalgamation of cast-offs from both the band’s previous records, lacking any particularly catchy or memorable riffs, favouring general djentiness and dissonant patterns over any actual sense of direction. The solo is nice (overall the record still remains extremely strong in the lead guitar department) but little about the track is truly memorable. It also demonstrates an unfortunate tendency which permeates the entire record — the tendency to force different parts and sections together in a harsh and often unnatural manner (in contrast to the smooth delivery and agile changes found on their previous records) by simply stopping and re-starting the song to suit. This interrupts most of the songs on the record in an extremely unfortunate manner and comes across as memorable in entirely the wrong fashion.

“Pendulum” and “To Carry You Away” noticeably incorporate far more of the upbeat major key riffs which seem to have become a key part of the “djent” sound, presenting a welcome contrast to the generally darker material offered. However, without any real heavy riffs for contrast, this often come across as extremely shallow and an easy attempt to shift their core sound toward more accessible areas of the current music scene.

My concern is that, much like Periphery (who work far better when not trying to convince others that they are “heavy” – their better material is clearly the more melodic and textured and less “metal” of their material), whilst ATB as a band wish to move into a more melodic direction, they want to do so without losing their “metal” credibility (unnecessary cliché though that is) – meaning the heavier sections come across as forced and unconvincing, as their hearts are really more into being less heavy.

I have no problem with a band wanting to shift their sound and fan-base (as it seems this record is clearly designed to do) as long as it is being produced honestly and without regard for popularity and politics. This record seems somewhat cursed to be caught between two differing poles and suffers for it. Ideally, however, this will simply serve as a transitional period for the band, to be looked back and remarked upon in the future. Let me be clear, however, that whilst both tracks (“Pendulum” and “To Carry You Away”) have their disappointing and more generic elements, there are still parts which are immensely enjoyable.

The aforementioned songs also include a woeful amount of clean vocals that do not sit well with the rest of the sound. Now, I am not at all against clean vocals — a large proportion of my listening includes cleans, either occasionally or predominantly throughout, and I appreciate what can be done with them and what new depths they allow bands to plumb. Unfortunately, these cleans come across as extremely shallow in approach and do little except reinforce an unfortunate comparison that has sprung to mind – the record as a whole so far is coming across as an unfortunate mix of Finch + Meshuggah, with a touch of Dragonforce — a mix that does not sit well at all.

Worst of all is the use of cleans in the song “Promises Kept”, which comes across as a terrible attempt to make a Lostprophets-esque sing-along cross-over track. And don’t get me started on the terrible moment at 3:25 where the band drops into one of the worst, most off-putting segues I have ever heard. They seem to have lost all their previous skill in penning intriguing and natural changes between styles and sections – replacing them with harsh breaks and stops that ruin the natural flow of the songs entirely.

The record does have its positives, however. The vocal performance by “new” singer Anthony Notarmaso is now far more powerful and commanding, demonstrating his increasing comfort in the band now that he has totally new material to work with and make his own. The track “Sleeper” starts off as markedly different from the others, with an energy and aggression reminiscent of “Rareform”, combining technical riffing with a series of constant tempo changes and adjustments, along with a sense of honest-to-god heaviness that has been lacking in the rest of the album.

Most of the tracks also continue to contain some impeccable lead work, well-written and well-played lead lines and solos offsetting the more basic chugging nature of much of the material. It’s a shame that these elements too often come across as an attempt to justify the more basic nature of the material behind the lead guitars.

Strangely enough the last track, “Encased In Ice”, is the record’s real stormer – based around a strange, elasticated (and memorable) riff underpinning a surprisingly danceable rhythm. It’s energetic and punchy and comes across as the best of “djent” – influenced by the tones and styles of a certain Swedish band, but not utterly derivative of them. Its more positive and upbeat delivery thrills the listener with its energy and unpredictability and provides a pleasing send-off for an otherwise disappointing release.

Overall this album has been a major disappointment. Although I did not expect an exact re-recording of Rareform, I did expect a development of the band’s music toward new horizons. Rather, we are treated to a regression of their sound toward a more generic and predictable mix of styles, substituting forced “new” elements for actual organic progression. The song-writing seems to have suffered as the band has chosen to include far more elements designed (either consciously or unconsciously) to increase their sound’s mass-appeal, which sit badly against the traditional elements of their sound – a fact which can be observed in the prevalence of harsh and unnatural cuts and changes between styles, which reflects poorly upon the music.

I urge people, however, to continue to support the band in the hope that they will once more continue to progress toward newer and more distinctive sounds, learning from the mistakes (subjective or otherwise) of this record. In Dreams could, in the future, be viewed simply as a necessary and slightly awkward transitional period for a band wanting to explore different avenues than those they had originally set-out to follow – reducing the overall “metal” content of their sound due to an honest lack of interest (rather than a cynical play for popularity) in a manner similar to that explored by current rising stars Tesseract. Only time will tell.

I apologise for the negative review, but I felt that this one needed writing, as otherwise I predict an unjustifiably gushing response for a band that, to me, appears to be resting on its laurels and confused as to its overall direction.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: You can sample the album for yourselves.  One song is streaming at MetalSucks (here) and a second is streaming at Revolver here.]

23 Responses to “AFTER THE BURIAL: IN DREAMS”

  1. The Artist Formerly Known as Dan says:

    Very well written. I haven’t yet heard the full record yet, so I won’t pass complete judgement, but I’m inclined to say that I will agree with you. I loved Rareform, and was equally excited when ATB released those three pre-production videos earlier this year – they were full of promising sound and footage. However, my expectations fell when I didn’t hear anything from them all summer, and then I read the news about a month or two ago that they had to drop off of a tour due to a physical altercation between band members. I’m no expert, and I obviously don’t know all the details, but it’s kinda hard to have band chemistry if *something* happens to cause you to drop off of a tour entirely.

    So, given that information, I was expecting the release to be pushed back to early 2012, but I was surprised to find that they were going forward with the album to be released November 23. The anticipation again climbed when MetalSucks premiered “Bread Crumbs and White Stones” – I opened the page, clicked play and went back to the project I was working on at the time. Some time later, I realized there was silence in my headphones. I had legitimately lost interest in the song and not even realized it ended. It’s not that the music was poorly executed, it was just lacking any strong feeling. Andy couldn’t have put it any better with words such as “forced” and “unconvincing,” but I’d like to add one more: “unmemorable.”

    • Islander says:

      You guys are really depressing me. That makes three guys on this site whose opinions I respect (Andy, you, and IntoTheDarkness) who’ve let out a big collective sigh of disappointment about this album. Now I’m afraid to listen to it.

      • The Artist Formerly Known as Dan says:

        I have to apologize, it’s always unfair to bias someone’s opinion before they even get the chance to listen to a record. I will say though, that this type of stagnation can be positive. Although it’s unfortunate that it happened to a band that I very much like, it will hopefully be good for the scene. Quoting Eyal Levi (Daath): “My two biggest gripes, both of which you are very familiar with by now, is the dismal state of metal audio production, and that the different scenes are just getting tired.” I think the general metal population agrees. As a former drummer, I at first very much enjoyed the processed sounds that could be made with triggers – it was like hearing perfect mechanics and strokes, but from a human. But nowadays, the triggered double-bass sound is indeed getting tired. So here’s hoping that this type of record fuels innovation and we get to see some cool new stuff in metal soon.

  2. ibc99 says:

    From someone that only knows them from this record, which I began listening to yesterday, I think it’s fucking awesome.

  3. Niek says:

    Listening right now and can’t say I’m overly impressed. I like the color of the bass, as its different, but the rest is pretty standard metalcore material. It’s not bad, but that about covers it.

  4. Phro says:

    This is unfair of me, as I’d never really listened to ATB until I read this review, but I just had a physical, negative reaction to Pendulum. And I’m just not a fan of the hardcore/metal/scream-then-sing thing. Some bands can do it and make it sound natural and even emotive. (Not emotional, emotive.)

    But the two songs linked at the end of the article make me feel bored or just tired from the cliches…

    But, again, this just isn’t my genre of music…….

    Perhaps if I’d listened to their older music, I would be more interested, but for now I’m gonna give them a pass.

    I did like the bass, as Niek pointed out.

  5. Arthur says:

    I completely agree with this album being a disappointment, the clean vocals throw me off and the riffs just aren’t as amazing as they used to be, they’re stale and forgettable, i mean i listen to Veil of Maya and After the Burial a lot and i was excited when i heard they were both working on new stuff, and Veil of Maya’s [id] came out awsome in almost every way, so i guess i was expecting ATB to do the same but this album just falls extremely short of my expectations, i still like them, in fact im going to seem them today with Carnifex, but i probably wont be listening to In Dreams very much, i think ill stick to Rareform.

  6. Adam says:

    Fantastic review. Rareform was one of my top 20 metal albums of all time, to have this shallow and compromising album hashed out at my expectations was painful. I really don’t know who to blame for this, so I’ll just say ATB dropped the ball as a whole.

  7. Austin says:

    Very, very good review. I agree completely.

  8. Alkahest says:

    I actually dug this more than Rareform. I seem to be in the minority on that though! I’m with you on the terrible transition in Promises Kept, though. That one was a head scratcher.

    Good review, Andy. I need to start upping the wordcount on my reviews, but I often struggle to get past 500 words. Haha.

  9. armenia4ever says:

    Wow. This was a very good review compared to the others I’ve seen. This definitely isnt close to rareform, which I didn’t like though I was a big fan of Forgiving A Future Self.

    I stumbled upon this site while looking for a picture of the band album, and I’m happy to say that I will be coming back after reading a review like this. Well done.

    • Islander says:

      Glad you like what you see here! We’re looking forward to seeing Andy’s next review, too, whatever it may be about.

      • Andy Synn says:

        Also thank you.

        Although I don’t want just people who agree with the reviews to “like” them. The key thing is if someone who disagrees with what I’ve written at least appreciates the article.

  10. 1metalguy says:

    I hated this review. And furthermore it was not well written. He constantly repeated himself and his accreditation statement does not verify his standing with the kind of music that they play. The clean vocals are just filler for the album. Their live show has little to no clean vocals so you should all check into what you are criticizing before you do so.

  11. HxCginger says:

    As an avid listener of ATB, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. Everything in it was up to par with their previous records. So they tried new things, like clean vocals, so what, it worked. They’re not trying to reach a bigger fan base, they’re trying to widen their sound, and were very successful. If you want to condemn them for it, then go ahead but I’d say that it’s not good of a fan to do so. Plus, I personally thought “Pendulum” was one of the best songs on the album. As for your blatent regard to over using the fact that they take influences from Meshuggah, and other bands- that got increasingly annoying as I read through the review. You restated, and restated, and restated that ATB was a derivative of Meshuggah, redundancy much? I think so. I also applaud you for opening up a dictionary to write this. Although I figured most people would realize after about the 7th time they used the word “unfortunate” they would think, “Oh maybe I should find a new word in the thesaurus”(which is apparent to me, you don’t own one.) Good job. But then again, I absolutely despised the artical.

    P.S. They don’t change tempo, only time signatures. It may sound as though they change tempo, when changing time signatures but that is to be expected when you’re trying to fit a greater or lesser number of beats in a meausure.

  12. Andy Synn says:

    Ah.

    Personal attacks for attempting to share a considered (and in this case less than positive) opinion.

    You disagree – fine. However to pretend that you know me and to cast aspersions upon my writing or grammatical ability (simply because I use the word “unfortunate” more than you might think necessary) is a little below the belt and, in all honesty, highly inaccurate.

    I can see that you love the band and clearly appreciated certain elements of the album far more than I did, however my issue was not with them trying to “expand their sound” as it was with the fact that it seemed to me to have been done in a rather forced and heavy-handed manner and overall the album was not as well-written as the previous one, or as expansive as it is perhaps meant to be. I felt that the attempts to “expand their sound” came across as rather shallow in the end, as if they were done because they were the easiest ways they could think of to do so.

    As I said, “new” elements do not necessarily equal progression or growth.

    You seem to be suggesting that I am neither an avid listener of ATB or an avid fan, which isn’t the case either – it is from this that stems my overall disappointment with the album. I am not going to stop supporting the band, or going to see them live (I missed them on their last UK tour, but thankfully a large group of my friends were able to make it to see them), however all I attempted to do was to provide an honest and objective take on their new album which I felt to be a disappointment compared to the promise of their previous release.

    That’s the only aim I have in doing these reviews – sharing an opinion without recourse to hyperbole or trolling. They aren’t done for self-aggrandisation (after all, the online blog community isn’t exactly a “real” thing in many ways) or to make me feel superior to others. I simply enjoy writing and was given the chance to write some articles and reviews for the site. I enjoy comments and discussion, but the common-place internet assertions that just because you disagree with me you somehow “know” me and are therefore able to insult me – these I appreciate less so.

    Either way however, thank you for your comment. It inspired me to write further in response, which is clearly a good thing for the site as a whole.

  13. Aaron says:

    This album sucks. Period. If I were to write a review, I would probably try to say “It sucks”, as night as possible too. But I don’t. So I’ll just say it. This album fucking sucks. It really makes me sad that you went from “Rareform” to this. It made up for your very first album. Which was horrible too. But when “Rareform” came out, I completely forgot and forgave you for the first album. Why then would you go back to a lame ass sound that I thought was over? This album being so terrible really does make me sad. I won’t even get to talk about how awesome “Rareform” is without people being like, “Nah man. They suck ass. Didn’t you hear “In Dreams”?’ And that sucks. And el oh el about 3:25 on “Promises Kept”!!! That shit was funny.

  14. Jesus mumby says:

    fuck all the haters who have a bad taste in music this is too brutal for ya

  15. Kage says:

    Holy shit now this is a good review. So much holds up, the fact that this ended up being an awkward transitional record in between Rareform and Wolves Within, and Periphery being way better with the textured experimental melodic stuff vs being br00tal. Even their new album demonstrates this, opening with a tryhard heavy yawner and then the rest of the record is a melodious masterpiece.

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