For so many in the mid to late 2000’s, Orange County’s Atreyu served as not only one of the seminal introduction points to the subgenre, but also as a perfect melodic bridge between the more mainstream post grunge/alt metal bands like Breaking Benjamin and Avenged Sevenfold and harsher metalcore bands like Killswitch Engage and Bleeding Through. Through their roller coaster sound changes from straightforward metalcore to radio rock and back again and then forth again, Atreyu have always carried some constants with them: they’re exceptional at writing great hooks, they have excellent guitar work courtesy of Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel, and they have the best clean metalcore vocalist outside of Howard Jones.
Brandon Saller, the band’s longtime drummer and clean vocalist, has eased his way to the forefront of Atreyu over the years, and now with the departure of harsh vocalist Alex Varkatzas this year, Saller has stepped to the front of the stage for the first time on the first night of the band’s two part live stream, Carry the Fire. With a setlist of 'Greatest Hits' on the docket and new drummer Kyle Rosa behind the kit, this livestream was to set the tone of how this band is pushing forward and forging an identity in 2020.
2020 single 'Save Us' is the first song out of the gate, and it sounds good. It’s not among their catchiest fare but certainly makes a Varkatzas-less statement, and with nice sonic and stage production to boot. The light show and large video screen the band employs is elaborate and their sound is large and booming in this mix. Saller is the standout, and it only becomes more apparent as the night rolls on just how good of a voice he has. It’s gritty, soulful, and sharp. And spoiler alert, he is on point and hits every note throughout the night.
However, rolling into the next track, 'The Time Is Now', from 2018’s In Our Wake, and especially into the classic 'Right Side of the Bed' from 2004’s The Curse it becomes apparent that the loss of Varkatzas is keenly felt. Bassist Porter McKnight has taken on the full brunt of screaming duties, and his pitch and timbre is completely different. Where Varkatzas had a throaty, yelping scream that sounded deeper and fuller, McKnight has a full on throat shredding rasp of a scream that doesn’t add as much texture or nuance to the harsh vocals of each song. It’s a shame because these two renditions, especially 'Right Side of the Bed' are knockouts from Saller and the rest of the band instrumentally. They sound great and he sounds incredible. Atreyu’s best move would be to find another full time harsh vocalist with a bit more range if they want these songs to have their full, 100% punch moving forward.
Moving into 2006’s hit, 'Ex’s and Oh’s', the band proves why they are veritably overlooked when it comes to crafting melody, as this is a crowd pleasing classic that still bangs 14 years later. The guitar solo sounds great, as Jacobs shows his chops that also often go overlooked in the metalcore world. 'Do You Know Who You Are', off 2015’s Long Live sounds good as well, with the band’s harmonies on point and with nice usage of the video screen, but again, Varkatzas’ absence is certainly felt despite the excellent musicianship across the board, including some more ripping harmonic solos. It should be noted that new drummer Kyle Rosa fits in nicely as well, and he holds down the position solid on every song.
It’s around this point that Saller reveals to the crowd that the songs were chosen for this first setlist from the most streamed songs across all platforms (aside from songs from Lead Sails Paper Anchor, which the band is playing in full on December 4th). This was a hit and miss move. Sure enough there were real hits in the set. The band delivered, (again aside from harsh vocals) an awesome performance of 'Bleeding Mascara' that saw Saller switch with Rosa and hop on drum duties as well as cleans, while Rosa took McKnight’s bass. But there was both a distinct lack of really amazing tracks from Long Live as well as 2009’s criminally underrated Congregation of the Damned, which had no tracks played from it during the night.
Using this formula, the band chose 'Battle Drums' as a song for the set, which they certainly delivered with power and style, but the EDM track (that was originally a collab with Kayzo) just doesn’t hold as much weight as another pure album track from the band’s catalogue would have. On top of that, the band debuted a new track they announced would not be released for a long time called “Underrated”. Though the sentiment that the band is underrated is true, the track, albeit being a nice return to a bit more heaviness, wasn’t all that memorable and took up a slot for another potential classic track to be played. The band did deliver a great rendition of 'The Theft' with Saller playing the first third of the track on an acoustic guitar before the band launched in. He took the lead and definitely showcased his vocal talent, and one can only hope this livestream demonstrates to a larger audience just how talented he is.
The ending of the livestream was another toss up. On one hand, the band delivered a one two punch with 'House of Gold', a track that showcases Atreyu’s penchant for great melodic songwriting, powerhouse clean vocals, and sneaky good guitar licks. And then they followed up with the forever closer/encore 'Lip Gloss and Black', a song that still holds up as a seminal track in metalcore history; both ostentatious and emotional all at once. As the band built up the track, teasing for longer and longer, it exploded into a wonderful performance punctuated by the iconic “Live, Love, Burn, Die’ lyrics superimposed over the band as if popping out in front of them on the screens of the audience. A singalong was a must.
But that was it. Seriously. That was the last track of an only 45 minute stream. No more hits, no more songs. Even as the chat digitally shouted “one more song” the disappointment could be felt among many at the length of the show. Yes, there is another show coming in a few weeks, but this was an opportunity to really showcase the entirety of what this band has accomplished and show off their skills that have truthfully gotten lost among the flood of similar bands in their heyday. It was a bit of a bummer to end the night expecting more and having to wait, especially with certain albums not receiving any love at all.
Atreyu did prove, however, that they are still a band with massive talent and frontman who is poised to show his skills to a larger audience, especially if the band continues down the road of even more melodic and radio friendly fare, which to be honest, they’re damn good at. However, there were a number of missteps in the band’s choices in this stream, some beyond their control, and others fully within it. Getting lost in their talent was a good time for 45 minutes, but it ultimately didn’t reach the heights it could have potentially gotten to. At least there’s another one coming soon.