The Gleaming Sword
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The Gleaming Sword

Review: Atreyu’s Baptize (2021)

You might have thought this band’s best days were behind it

La Donna Velata by Rafaelle Monti. Public domain. Source photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Atreyu is a 19-year-old metalcore band that just parted ways with its founding member and frontman, so it should be struggling, but someone forgot to tell that to the band. On Baptize (Spinefarm Records, 2021), former drummer Brandon Saller takes over for Alex Varkatzas on clean vocals, and the resulting work is among the band’s finest.

The album does what Atreyu has always done best. The band has always been about tightly crafted, energetic, anthemic metalcore of the sort that doesn’t bore like, say, Of Mice & Men. I fell hard for Atreyu’s second album The Curse (2004) when I first heard its blend of the undeniably heavy with the infectiously melodic. If there were any kinks in the band’s formula, they spent the next four albums working them out, resulting in killer tracks like “I Would Kill / Lie / Die (for You)” on Long Live (2015). The band’s latest is all in that vein: pop hooks in a metal package. How Atreyu manages to sound so much like itself but fresh is a testament to the strength of the band’s identity.

A few reviews I’ve seen claim Baptize has a lot of throwaway tracks, but I disagree. No single track crosses the four-minute mark, but each one makes a distinct impression during its brief time. It’s more than effortless choruses, gang shouts and scattered breakdowns, it’s the acapella in “Strange Powers of Prophecy,” that churning riff in “Underrated,” the female spoken word in “Sabotage Me,” the guitar solo in “No Matter What,” the rock tattoo of “Untouchable,” the emotion of the ballad “Stay,” the marching snare by guest Travis Barker of Blink-182 in “Warrior.” No living dead here. This band is alive.

The cover art is also among the band’s best. Atreyu hasn’t always succeeded in this area. The Best of Atreyu (2007) is so awful I can only imagine that must have been the point, and even In Our Wake (2018) is an idea that almost works. The band has also had some great ones. The Curse’s cover is so sexy it makes vampires burst into flame even at night. And Long Live, with its tumble of empty coffins, looks like illustrator Edward Gorey decided to go into photorealist landscapes. For Baptize’s cover, however, the band has chosen the timeless subject of the veiled woman.

Italian sculptors perfected this style. Examples include Rococo sculptures such as Antonio Corradini’s Modesty and Innocenzo Spinazzi’s Faith, and Neoclassical sculptures such as Rafaelle Monti’s Veiled Vestal and Giovanni Strazza’s The Veiled Virgin. Heavy metal bands are fans and have adopted the style in other media. One recent example in photography is post-black metal band Numenorean’s Adore (2019), which is stunning. Baptize works because it isn’t trying too hard to be disturbing, as some heavy metal bands have done. The draped woman, in a palette of black-and-cerulean, is clutching her throat but without aguish. This contrasts with the large album title behind her in tiger orange and a modern font. It’s a cover that adds to enjoyment of the music.

A veiled woman by Johnathan Kaufman on Unsplash.

If there’s one problem area, it’s the lyrics. They’ve all been done to death, not just by other bands but by Atreyu itself. They’re brutalized. They feel like they’re falling. They’re going insane. Occasionally, however, this unimaginative approach turns up some good lines in the context of the music, such as the blunt chorus of “Fucked Up.”

I’m not looking to Atreyu for the sort of poetry you get from Jim Morrison or Patti Smith, but some work here could improve future releases.

In my enthusiasm, I won’t declare Baptize to be Atreyu’s greatest album. That would be, through the mysterious joining of factors that make classic albums, The Curse. At the moment, however, it certainly feels like the band’s best album in relentless songcraft and anthemic glory — with all the usual kicking ass. Long-lived bands are prone to albums with the stench of decay, but this isn’t one of Atreyu’s.

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