Friday, December 20, 2013

After the Burial - "Wolves Within"

How would you like your blog today, folks?

Perhaps I can interest you in one of our signature dishes: a choice selection of adulatory paragraphs directed at a band on whom I clearly have a massive man-crush. That comes with a healthy side of the narcissistic obsession I have with my own words, lightly drizzled in a pretentious musician sauce. All of this of course served on a bed of my relentless fixation with all things relating to heavy metal. And for dessert, the meal is topped off with a piping hot cup of critical commentary about the metal scene and what's wrong with it today, served alongside a slice of self-righteousness - marinated to perfection in pop culture references.

Excellent choice, if I may say so. Coming right up!


This is going to sound bad, but After the Burial is one of those bands I keep forgetting about. Not in the sense that I completely forget the day I bought In Dreams or the week I had "Aspiration" (Rareform re-release version) basically on a loop. But when I think of bands I want to listen to during my commute or at the gym or what have you, I just keep forgetting they're in the mix somewhere waiting to be queued up. Me, of all people!

But that forgetfulness allowed me a pleasant surprise: hearing about their latest album only a few short days before it was to be released. Instead of months of crossed fingers, I had less than a week to enjoy the two tracks they had already posted: "Of Fearful Men" and "A Wolf Amongst Ravens." These two tracks made me genuinely hopeful for the quality of this release, and I'm happy to announce that Wolves Within delivers the goods like a really good good-deliverer.

"Anti-Pattern" kicks things off with a half-second of bending guitar strings that almost sounds like the revving of an engine before a quick drum solo smashes the door down like an axe-wielding lumberjack. Then the guitars jump in to a staggered pattern of riffs that are as heavy as they are head-bobbingly catchy, and the hypothetical lumberjack from the previous sentence announces he's traveled 500 miles to bring you his seed.

A reference for this reference.
And that's just the first track. Next up is the previously mentioned "Of Fearful Men," which had already pleasantly surprised me with its brief, jazzy interlude - one of the more experimental moments in After the Burial's discography, and a welcome ingredient. Later on, "Nine Summers" opens with a complex riff that leaps back and forth between needling high notes and sweeping low-end chugs in a sequence that reminded me of the opening to "Luck as a Constant" from Periphery's sophomore album - a release whose praises I have already sung at length. Elsewhere, "Neo Seoul" opens gently on a soft bed of ambient musical textures before the guitars ninja-chop their way into the song while maintaining the chord progression established. And in a wonderful example of musical symmetry, the smooth melody I just mentioned returns toward the end of the song while the rest of the instruments are still going strong - adding a beautiful depth and resonance to the piece.

There really is a lot to love about this album, but my personal favorite track is the last - "A Wolf Amongst Ravens." When I first heard the track a few days before the album was released, I kinda fell in love. It's easily my favorite song out of After the Burial's entire discography, which means I'm scheduled to have a very difficult conversation with "Aspiration" in the near future.

"A Wolf Amongst Ravens" perfectly encapsulates what After the Burial brings to the table. The main groove barrels along like a muscled juggernaut launched from a polymetric cannon while the second guitar layers a complimentary lead over the proceedings. It's a song that gets your blood pumping in an almost trance-like way, as the interlocking rhythms and riffs envelop the listener in an ocean of energy and focus. This is of course saying nothing of lead vocalist Anthony Notarmaso, who flawlessly alternates between the high-pitched shrieks of a mutant panther and the low rage-growls of a battle-ready berserker. (A wild reference appears!)


Guitarist Trent Hafdahl performing the crowdpleaser: "Split Ends"
After the Burial has been something of a "song-by-song" basis kind of band for me. I loved 3 or 4 tracks from Rareform, I loved 3 or 4 tracks from In Dreams. I didn't dislike the rest of those albums, I just didn't find them terribly compelling. With Wolves Within I've found the After the Burial album for which I've waited - with basically a complete set of songs I enjoy without feeling the need to skip ahead.

However, one thing I was slightly dismayed to see was the absence of any clean vocals, and I know that might sound a little heretical. In Dreams featured a very light amount of clean vocals, primarily on "Pendulum" and "To Carry You Away." I felt those moments - brief though they were - added a dimension to the album that would have been lacking otherwise, and frankly I expected to see it return on Wolves Within. It's hardly a deal-breaker, but I was hoping for a little more variety in that department.


Without question, Wolves Within is my favorite After the Burial album to date. The band seems to have found the perfect blend of metal ingredients, and have managed to arrange them in such a way as to sound distinctly unique. Each piece taken by itself - the blast beats of "Virga," the quirky bass interlude on "Parise," the standard uptempo metalcore pace that appears in most of the songs, simple palm-muted breakdowns accompanied by complex palm-muted polyrythmic grooves - isn't strikingly remarkable when compared with what plenty of other bands are doing these days. But when all those elements come together the way they do on this album, the result is immensely satisfying.

Anyone who's read my blog before knows I like to pontificate about the state of the metal scene and decry how everyone seems to want to decry everything else. It's a bad habit, but it has its uses; for example, sometimes you can use the lack of negative response to a given album as an indicator of its quality. It's not a perfect measurement, some people will always find something to be upset about. But when a new album drops and you're actually hard pressed to find someone drinking the Hater-ade, you know you've found something exceptional. From what I've seen, response from fans and critics alike has been overwhelmingly positive towards Wolves Within....turns out there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo; and it's worth fighting for.

There are a few moments on Wolves Within that reminded me of other artists - "Disconnect" reminded me of some of Volumes' work, for example. And the mix in several places put me in mind of Monuments' debut album Gnosis. None of that should imply that After the Burial is "ripping off" anyone else; quite the opposite. One of the strengths of Wolves Within is how deftly different defining qualities emerge and evolve throughout its run time - there's even a vaguely Iron Maiden-like hook in "Virga" right after former lead vocalist Nick Wellner's guest spot (right around the 1:43 mark).

I made this, I want everyone to see it, and I couldn't really think of a clever way to work it into the rest of the review so, here.
Wolves Within is the kind of album that from moment-to-moment very definitely fits into one genre or another. This part here is very metalcore, this part over here is classic djent, this moment is your typical Nazi-face-melting-before-the-Ark-of-the-Covenant-core, etc. But After the Burial manages to bring all those elements together on Wolves Within and bind them together with their own signature sound. I've already said this album is my favorite After the Burial release, but I'm going to one step further; Wolves Within is the best After the Burial album to date and you'd be a fool not to go pick it up right now.

Besides, doesn't your grandma need some new tunes to jam while she's making jam?


  1. Just listened through all of it, it's fucking incredible! Their sound is really progressing in an interesting way, i am amazed with every of their release. Nice review!

    1. Thanks for reading! I went back over the album a couple of days ago - seems to get better every time I revisit it.