In the past, I have been a serious critic of Atreyu. I found their music to be uninspired and derivative. However, with a new album on the way, it was upon me to shelve my previous prejudices and see what the band had to offer.
I must admit, "Congregation of the Damned" exceeded what I thought it would be. The songs are denser, heavier, and carry a better weight than the band's previous efforts. Atreyu has done some growing up since we last saw them, and it's to the benefit of the album and the audience. The general timbre of the music has become more mature, and the attitudes of the musicians are more developed.
While the album reaches with great effort, it fails to really grasp. For all the heaviness and embellishment of the improved guitar work, the band hasn't really managed to channel that effort into anything more ground-breaking than they had presented in previous albums. The effort and musicianship is improved, but it is largely window dressing draped over the same music as before.
Atreyu puts forth an honest attempt to expand their musical repertoire, and for periods it shines through. Too often though, the band finds themselves with no other avenues to explore, no more solos to play, and so they just sit down right where they started and resort to melodramatic, pseudo-anguished screaming choruses. One of the album’s pitfalls is that despite the maturation of the music, the lyrical material and wholesale emotion of the band is much the same.
That's not to say the album has no value or is completely unenjoyable. Songs like "Coffin Nails" have a more developed mainstream heavy metal sound that we're used to hearing from Atreyu, and the album is richer for the more diverse experience. Whether it’s the shambling, ominous gait of “Black Days Begin,” or the intricate guitar of “Gallows,” the band showcases a variety of sounds and styles.
With song titles like “Bleeding is a Luxury” and “Stop! Before It’s Too Late and We’ve Destroyed It All,” it would be easy to lump Atreyu with the group of smug, pretentious bands currently plaguing alternative metal. The band steers clear of that easy pitfall though, instead producing a churning, bombastic effort that is honest in intention if a touch overblown.
A song like “You Were the King, Now You’re Unconscious” is a prime example of the good and bad parts of “Congregation of the Damned.” The base rhythm and beat are savage and menacing, but the chorus completely changes the tone of the song, and then gives way to the screaming, ear-splitting would be mosh-pit breakdown. Same goes for “Ravenous” which I wish were an instrumental.
There are parts of “Congregation of the Damned” I really like, and parts I could seriously do without. The wide range of soundscapes and the band’s talent are impressive and enjoyable, but it’s all too easily and frequently bogged down with the alleged conventions of alternative metal. Whatever half the listener pays more attention to will ultimately dictate how much he or she enjoys the album.