Sound — 8
Atreyu is a band that undoubtedly holds reverence for the guitar teams of metal's classic era (i.e., Iron Maiden or Judas Priest), which is emphasized by the fact that so many of their latest songs revolve so heavily around a similar format. Guitarists Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel are an amazingly talented duo that deliver juicy riff after juicy riff on Atreyu's latest record Congregation of the Damned, and they do end up keeping the momentum alive throughout the 13-track CD. One could argue that the band too often relies on big guitar parts, however, and the core songwriting suffers in the process. While there are some big choruses and catchy melodies on Congregation of the Damned, it does usually end up being the Dan-and-Travis Show.
And those two put on quite a show, indeed. From the neo-classical guitar intro of Stop! Before It's Too Late and We've Destroyed It All to the Maiden-like harmonization of the title track, there's little rest for those two. Besides being technically proficient, there does seem to be an effort to dabble in different styles and genres as far as the guitars go. An industrial vibe drives the cinematic You Were The King, Now You're Unconscious, a more emotional, power ballad feeling is heard throughout Storm To Pass, and alternative, Cure-like effects are applied to the first few moments of the intro on Coffin Nails.
If you eliminate the obvious draw that is the guitar section, there are a few songs that could stand on their own. Congregation of the Damned features a powerful, big chorus that is the centerpiece for the entire song, while Black Days Begin contains several elements (from the grooving bass line to layered vocals to a Megadeth-like descending riff) that holds your attention. Atreyu has no shortage for creativity with their musical sections, and that is the selling point for Congregation of the Damned.
The main issue with the album is that drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller is a much better singer than frontman Alex Varkatzas. When Varkatzas decides not to scream and tries out a ballad, the vocals just fall flat. The closing number Wait For You has the potential to be moving and effective with a stripped-down, piano-driven setup, but Varkatzas doesn't have the singing chops to pull it off. There will always be proponents for the screaming aspect of Atreyu, but Saller's clean-yet-strong singing technique is powerful enough to not necessitate intermittent cries from Varkatzas.
Lyrics — 6
The lyrical content doesn't quite match the grandiose nature of the instrumentation on the new album. There are some truly intricate musical sections, and it seems like only the bare basics are provided to fill in the lyrical portion. In the title track you hear such lines as, I get carried away; Lost in a moment; Torn into pieces; Of violent display; I tear it away. The song delivers a theme that has been recycled time and time again, which seems to be the case for a good deal of Congregation of the Damned. They're not terrible lyrics, but they do feel hollow.
Overall Impression — 8
If you're a guitarist, there's a good chance that you'll be left at least a little impressed by Congregation of the Damned. Harmonized riffs and solos are scattered throughout the entire record, with Travis Miguel and Dan Jacobs not hesitating to add in guitar lines underneath the vocals, making for a nice touch. Atreyu is obviously a big proponent of the guitar solo as well, and you'll find some beautifully executed ones (Black Days Begin, Storm To Pass). While the band does give vocalist/drummer Saller plenty of time in the spotlight, they might want to consider turning all singing duties over to him in the future. And if there is such a thing as too much guitar, Atreyu is walking a fine line and might need to rein it in slightly for the good of their songs.