“Song is king.” That’s what Atreyu front man and vocalist Brandon Saller said is the philosophy of his band’s longtime producer, John Feldmann, the same producer who crafted the band’s breakthrough Lead Sails Paper Anchor back in 2007 and the band’s last record, 2018’s In Our Wake. And that philosophy is key to understanding the sonic shifts the Orange County metalcore quintet has exhibited as of late. On the aforementioned In Our Wake, the band introduced electronics and some of the most pop influenced construction they had ever used, which was a big departure from the head down and straightforward metalcore ragers of their 2015 album Long Live. And “fans” online immediately began their tirade. The band had “sold out.” “Where’s the heaviness” they shouted. Even press outlets began to cast the band as has beens and autotune abusers who sound nothing like their seminal records of the early 2000s. But what they couldn’t see is that the band had begun to rediscover and embrace what had made Lead Sails…such a success: great songs with great hooks.
And on the band’s new record, Baptize, that formula is dialed in to as high as its even been since that famous 2007 record, and this is, without a doubt, the band’s finest batch of songs and best record since then. Every single song on Baptize, from start to finish, could be a single. It’s as simple as that. The hooks are incredible, and though there will be (and already have been) outlets and fans who will sneer at the band’s heavy use of electronics in both vocals and instrumentals, these elements are in the service of a greater purpose, which is crafting songs with that are the catchiest, bounciest, and sing alongable and downright fun that the band has ever done. And Saller is at the heart of it all, with his voice still ranking among as the best (unless your name is Howard Jones) in metalcore.
Even on the intro track, 'Strange Powers of Prophecy', Saller flexes his muscles and sets the tone of the record immediately, and then it’s off to the races. There is no track that is longer that four minutes on this record, and there is no letup at all. It’s so difficult to pick weaknesses on this record, because every song is an absolute banger in its own way, but certain tracks, like the title track and 'Untouchable' stand out as the weakest of the record, with the former just not having as good a hook as the rest of the record, and the latter falling a bit too much into the “rah rah” radio rock cliches despite the energy brought by guest Jacoby Shaddix. But honest to God, the rest of this album is so muscular and chunky in its production and so damn catchy it’s hard to pick favourites.
Songs like 'Underrated' and 'Catastrophe not only showcase the solid hooks, but also show bassist/new lead harsh vocalist Porter McKnight in his new role. He can lay it down for sure, but there is a different timbre to his voice and it’s hard to imagine what former vocalist Alex Varkatzas would have sounded like on this record. But when it comes to pure melody, the record is unmatched. 'Weed', 'Sabotage Me', 'Dead Weight', 'Oblivion', 'Stay', 'Warrior'…every one of these tracks and more showcase Saller at his best, with the rest of the band laying down thick walls of guitar and bass as a soaring melodic canvas for him to paint upon. The guitars aren’t here to be flashy on this record, except for some classic Dan Jacobs action on 'No Matter What' which has the most classic Atreyu flavour of the whole record. And yes, all of these songs do have copious usage of electronics, but the key lies in how they blend and weave to create a song, and these songs are just out of the park. 'Stay' in particular sees Saller at the height of his powers, and is perhaps the best vocal track he’s ever put down. It’s stunning.
By the time this record rolls (or rather roars) to a close, there is no doubt that those fans who have stuck with Atreyu through their sonic changes are going to be in for a treat at the band’s upcoming performances. These songs were built to have the crowd bounce and sing their hearts out too. Every song is an anthem, and there are very few records of which that can be said. It’s often remarked that it can be more difficult to write a great pop track than a long, winding, progressive metal track. Well Atreyu have found the key and they are about to open some doors. If this record doesn’t see the band on wrestling promos and sports commercials across the airwaves, then something is wrong. But one thing is clear, this band is having fun, and it’s led to their best in quite some time. They may have been around since the birth of metalcore, but with Baptize, Atreyu is proving their best is not just ahead of them, it’s now.
Baptize is released June 4th via Spinefarm Records.