Review Summary: In which strides are made, promise is shown, and banality rears it's ugly head.
After the Burial certainly have been busy since the release of In Dreams in 2010. The album that opened them up to many new fans simultaneously drove older die-hards away with the toned down style, and ever since then the game plan seems to have been to win them back. Relentless tours playing mostly older material, rerecording a select group of songs off of the bands first release, It's almost like the band seems to understand that it might be better to have the hardcore fan base securely in their court.
And this trend continues strongly with Wolves Within, the newest release from the Minnesota Djentcore Djiants (see what I did there.) The feel of the album is very much trying to recapture the magic of Rareform, the groups strongest release to date. Faster, heavier, more technical and just more fun than In Dreams, After the Burial have really shown that they haven't lost what made them stand out originally. The songwriting is tighter than ever, with tracks transitioning from breakneck riffs to djenty grooves to powerful solos naturally. Anti-Pattern, the opening song, comes right out of the gate with a groovy base that gets you engaged and Of Fearful Men keeps the attention with the fastest and most technical riffs since Berzerker.
But here we get to what plagues the album, which is inconsistency in quality from track to track. While Disconnect, the fourth track, is the high point of the album and possibly the band's career, the two songs that pad it are both for lack of a better term standard. Both Pennyweight and Nine Summers sound like copy and paste boards, taking good ideas from the bands past releases and gluing together songs. They aren't BAD, but they certainly don't stand out either, and after listening to the album the first few times you still won't really remember the songs. They just don't leave a lasting impression. Virga picks up the slack with some top notch riffing and even a guest spot from original vocalist Nick Wellner sure to tickle the hardcore fan base. After this though, the rest of the album suffers a similar fate as before. Neo Seoul is the "Melodic Track" on the album and it has good ideas but ends up being less memorable than say Aspirations. Pairse is more groovy grooves, and while i appreciate the small keyboard section, it doesn't quite bring the song up enough. Ending track A Wolf Amongst Ravens is more of the same, a semi interesting djent track with not much going on. All of these songs offer something up that is decent, and all are better than the worst parts of In Dreams, but they just leave a lot to be desired with other tracks showing such promise.
The other elephant in the room is the production quality of the album. Now i know that for most people they don't even pay attention to the actual sound of the album from a mixing standpoint, but on this release especially it is noticeable. Guitar tones are tinny and inconsistent, the bass mix is all over the place and the drums sound highly compressed. This seems to be a trend with Sumerian as The Faceless's new release had similar production issues. It's not a huge problem and the quality of the songs over-rides it, but it is definitely an annoyance.
So at the end of the day what have After the Burial accomplished here? Wolves Within is a good album, full of good songs. The band recalls their heyday while looking to the future. But is it an amazing or even great album? Some stale ideas and some production problems keep it out of that league. What it does show however is that After the Burial are not finished and that they still have potential to improve. Just the fact that they were able to learn from past mistakes and implement noticeable changes is huge, much more than many bands are able to do. If you like them already you will like this album. If you like this kind of music you will like this album. But if you're looking for the next album of the year or the next step in music's progression, look elsewhere.
*Of Fearful Men