These days, record labels are pulling out every marketing gimmick to milk every last cent from the bloated bank accounts of young metalcore/emocore fans, and considering how oversaturated the music has become over the last three years, you can’t blame them for trying every trick in the book before the fad implodes upon itself. However, many thought Victory Records had hit a bizarre new low when they released The Best of Atreyu this past January. One of the most popular bands in a genre whose expiration date is rapidly approaching, the Orange County band is adored by the young Warped Tour whippersnappers, but absolutely reviled by virtually everyone else; so much so, that the mere phrase, “The best of Atreyu,” was enough to elicit howls of laughter and derision from the metal and hardcore scenesters. After all, here’s a band with zero credibility, peach fuzz still on their faces, and just three albums under their white belts, putting out a quote-unquote “definitive career overview”. Give us a friggin’ break, right?
Well, not so fast. While Atreyu has constantly struggled to put together a solid, consistent full-length album on three consecutive occasions, they’ve managed to amass a rather respectable collection of songs over the past five or six years. Consequently, while this is clearly a contractual obligation album, as the band has bolted for a more lucrative deal with Hollywood Records, it’s also a good opportunity to give kids who are interested in checking out Atreyu a sampling of songs devoid of the more watered-down stinkers in the catalog. In fact, this collection might backfire a little bit on the folks at Victory, because while it’s on the bloated side, The Best of Atreyu is all the Atreyu you will ever need. There’s no sense in buying the individual albums.
Criticize the band all you want for being formulaic, but you can’t deny these boys work the formula especially well. The “good cop/bad cop” dual vocal gimmick, with one hardcore screamer and one melodic singer, is an oft-used technique in post-hardcore and metalcore, but few pull it off better than Atreyu does, screamer Alex Varkatzas spewing verses that sound like he has a hairball stuck in his throat, only to be offset by the often exceptional “clean” vocals of drummer Brandon Saller. Musically, the arrangements are simple enough to warrant a patent for the term “MetalLite™”, but the band’s secret weapon has always been diminutive lead guitarist Dan Jacobs, who contributes sharp power metal riffs and some very impressive nimble-fingered solos that owe more to the pop metal of Dokken and Ratt than to the emo of Thursday.
Granted, on the 2002 debut Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses, we’re only given sporadic indications that this young band would be able to last 45 minutes, let alone three full albums (the tepid production doesn’t help one bit), but the disc’s finer moments are all present here. “Lip Gloss & Black” starts off awkwardly, but somehow builds to a nicely grandiose climax of ornate piano and Jacobs’ melodic solo, while the more punk-fueled “Ain’t Love Grand” showcases the vocal interplay between Saller and Verkatzas. Their musical muscle might be rail-thin at best, but they flex it as much as they possibly can on the earnest “A Song For the Optimists” and especially “Someone’s Standing on My Chest”, which features the record’s most dynamic songwriting, veering from thrash-like tempos to more churning moments.
2004’s The Curse, on the other hand, was a much more confident follow-up, with Jacobs’s metal riffs starting to dominate more, and Saller’s vocal hooks becoming much more proficient. “Bleeding Mascara” is an explosive combination of melodic death metal and hardcore, the taut “You Eclipsed By Me” neatly balances Varkatzas’s ferocious verses and Saller’s tender choruses, and the vampire-themed “The Crimson” has goofy fun with the whole goth shtick. However, it’s “Right Side of the Bed” that remains the band’s finest hour; led by a lead riff by Jacobs that sounds yanked right out of the Scorpions’ songbook, it possesses a perfect balance between overwrought emotion, melodic guitar harmonies, and contagious vocal hooks that few post-hardcore bands are capable of, building to Saller’s soaring choruses and Jacobs’s finger-tapped solo.
Last year’s A Death-Grip on Yesterday was actually a mild step backwards, as Atreyu brandished their chops well enough, but lacked the songwriting consistency of The Curse. That said, we do get the CD’s better moments, from the excellent retro hard rock of single “Ex’s & Oh’s”, to the darker aggression of “Creature”, to the melodic melodrama of ballad “Untitled Finale”.
If anything, The Best of Atreyu would have been better off if it was limited to 45 to 50 minutes instead of its whopping 69 minute running time. Also, there’s absolutely nothing here for the fans of the band; non-album track “Her Portrait in Black” should have been included. That said, considering how we’ve been given a fair chunk of Atreyu’s discography on a single disc, appended by a DVD of the band’s six music videos, it’s a very good deal for the new fans out there. If metalcore isn’t your thing, just keep walking and let the kids have their fun. Just try not to laugh as they do their kung-fu hardcore dancing.
// Notes from the Road
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