Review Summary: Atreyu aim for the middle and hit a tree.
I don’t usually pay attention to the press releases which accompany most new albums. Unless the artist is completely unknown, the amount of useful information which can be gleaned from the sheet is usually minimal. For some god-unbeknownst reason, Artist X always feels compelled to inform me, in too many words, that his or her latest release is bigger, badder and better than the last one, before closing with an unsolicited opinion on the dire state of modern music. It’s uncanny. Metal press garbs are more predictable still: album X is always heavier; always faster; always more melodic; always more mature; and always more brutal, even if the music was never “brutal” to begin with. None of it makes any sense- it’s not supposed to make any sense- so why bother reading them? Life’s just too short.
Every so often though, I’m reminded why I bother. The cover sheet for Atreyu’s new album Lead Sails Paper Anchor
- their first since for Disney’s Hollywood Records (Roadrunner outside North America) and their fourth in total- is about as insightful a review as I’ve read. Not in terms of the actual content- that’s the usual mixture of hype-inducing babble and blatant lies courtesy of frontman Alex Vankatzas- but for one fact: it presents the album as all things to all people. Whatever you want to hear, that’s what they’re playing- and that is exactly what Lead Sails Paper Anchor
tries to do. You want down-tuned, brutal hardcore Atreyu? You got it! You want ultra-melodic pop-rock Atreyu? You got it! You want ‘80s metal Atreyu? You got it! You want struggling against adversity and
the establishment Atreyu? You got it! You want tireless music innovators Atreyu? You guessed it… you got that too! You want Fall Out Boy? Well, they didn’t advertise that, but they gave it to you anyway.
Making an all-encompassing rock record is no easy task and, to their credit, Atreyu have stepped up to the task. Following the lead of Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows, Vankatzas has for the most part ditched his trademark scream and embraced melody, taking cue from the likes of Buckcherry’s Josh Todd (who appears on the second-to-last track ‘Blow’) and Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, though drummer Brandon Saller continues to provide the band’s real melodic impetus. Instrumentally, the differences are less obvious. ‘Doomsday’ provides some continuity, kicking off with a simple, pulsating thrash riff which recalls Master Of Puppets
-era Metallica. From there, the group branches out into poppy post-hardcore (‘Honor’), pop punk (‘Slow Burn’), co
ck rock (‘Blow’), nu metal (‘Two Become One’) and, devastatingly, country (‘Lead Sails (And A Paper Anchor). For the purpose, they make use of a saz, a Turkish lute-like device, during ‘Lose It’, programmed horns in ‘Falling Down’ and, if you’ll believe the press bio, opera vocals- though I haven’t been able to locate them thus far.
The problem with this approach is, despite the initial novelty, Atreyu aren’t particularly good at any of the new styles they attempt. They’re by no means bad musicians, but Lead Sails Paper Anchor
takes massive strides where baby steps were required, and it shows. The chorus of ‘Slow Burn’ recalls the elongated melodic lines of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, however neither Varkatzas nor Sallin (who sings the chorus) possesses Stump’s melodic range, and the use of pitch-correction is liberal, to say the least. So liberal, in fact, that it’s difficult to tell at times whether it’s used as an actual vocal effect or if the producer (Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann) is just too lazy to smooth out the deficiencies. Whatever the answer to that question, the vocals sound strikingly synthetic, even to the untrained ear, as do the monstrously overcooked gang vocals which adorn stadium rockers ‘Falling Down’ and ‘Blow.’
The latter is one of the album’s highlights, an infectious sleazy rocker which benefits not only from the superior vocal talents of Josh Todd, but from cowbell, and an expletive-ridden lyric aimed at people like me, who only have bad things to say about the group, and rightly point out that they’ve succeeded quite well without overwhelming critical support. ‘Falling Down’ is a similar-type glam rock shuffle, boasting a Bad Religion-inspired chorus and culminating in a delightfully cheesy call-and-response routine between guitar and horns, a la Extreme II
. Opening twosome ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Honor’ have their moments, the latter hinging on the anthemic chorus call of “fight, fight, fight ‘til the break of dawn!” The bulk of the album, however, just isn’t distinctive or engaging, copycat offerings which serve little other purpose than to remind the listener that there are other, better albums to listen to. And that’s the short answer to Lead Sails Paper Anchor
’s existential question.