Next generation metalcore pack leaders navigate the death of guitarist Justin Lowe and nonetheless make a triumphant future genre touchstone.
To say that Minnesota's After the Burial have grown is a gross understatement. The hard-working band was already worthy of respect for several younger waves of modern prog-tinged, imaginative metalcore and a heavy touring ethic. However, the startling suicide of mentally troubled (yet truly blessed creative talent) former guitarist Justin Lowe was more than just a tragic footnote for the scene. It was a wake up call for many kids in the current heavy scene to re-focus on unity over troll culture, a chance to make the metal and hardcore world mean more than fashion and cliques again. It was a chance to say ", It's ok to say something if you're hurting."
Indeed, After the Burial's name may be more sadly ironic than ever but they were galvanized to live on in Justin's name, following their hearts where most bands might have buckled.
The results on new album Dig Deep are nothing short of spectacular. Don't be surprised if this record and Killswitch Engage's pending Incarnate are neck in neck for metalcore contenders of the year in 2016.
Opener "Collapse" features dive bomb guitars over super busy riffing yet anchored to a strong framework. After the Burial have had moments of dizzying guitar brilliance that threatened to drift off into the astral plane in the past on fan favorite 2010 release In Dreams. Dig Deep has some of that stuff but is more akin to a more focused and fluid version of their perhaps formerly heaviest smasher Rareform, a youngblood statement of aggro intent from 2008.
Time, tragedy and sobering reality make this album After the Burial's best yet, however. All the performances have a sense of complete commitment. Thankfully some of Justin's riffs still made the album as well and nonetheless his presence is the ghost in the machine here. The senseless loss of one of the premiere players in the scene was not only sad on a human level but for the metal and hardcore world's "could have been" years to come as well.
If anything, even a passable knowledge of the band's story will make you feel something, but paired with the intense sounds and polyrhythmic charge of these songs, you'll be rocked across the room. "Lost in the Static" features Anthony Notarmaso delivering the type of confident Sumerian core spastic vocal stacato attack that made the slippery tongued Bizzy Bone of Bone Thugs N Harmony not entirely out of place on the mostly metalcore label. After the Burial aren't as indulgent as Veil of Maya or Born of Osiris in the musical grandiosity department, but are rooted more in the streets and moshpit survival mode. The band take less detours than recent August Burns Red while still prizing mathy, djent-tastic riffs paired with surprising melodic rock with classical flourishes ("Laurentian Ghosts"), solid pocket drum grooves ("Catacombs") and of course some crunchy but not overly relied upon breakdowns ("Deluge").
"I feel so much better here below," Notarmaso bellows on album highlight "Mire". Yet it thankfully feels more like he means "below" within the underground amidst the support of peers and friends rather than swallowed by the darkness of a cruel world.
This may be a very heavy album with true heartbreak at the core yet hope shines even through the band's darkest hours to date. Like the lamp on the album cover down in the roots of the Earth, here is wishing them a brighter, kinder yield in the karmic future. Here is also hoping it comforts fans, as it should, that there is honor in picking up the pieces of shattered faith and trying again.