By Greg Maki
For many music fans, the frontman is a band’s entire identity, and when that voice is gone, so are those fans. I tend to take the opposite route. I see a vocalist’s departure as an opportunity for the remaining musicians, a potential rebirth even for a veteran band with a long history and deep discography. (For example, I’ve found Of Mice & Men far more interesting since bassist Aaron Pauley replaced Austin Carlile on lead vocals.)
This, of course, brings me to Atreyu, which parted ways with vocalist Alex Varkatzas in 2020. Luckily, drummer Brandon Saller already had been handling much of the clean singing, and now he’s stepped out from behind the kit to assume the role of frontman. Bassist Porter McKnight takes over harsh vocals, while Kyle Rosa, bandmate of Saller in Hell or Highwater, is the new drummer.
Listening to “Baptize,” Atreyu’s eighth full-length, it feels like the transition could not have been smoother. While putting Saller out front naturally places a greater emphasis on melody and clean singing, those always have been integral parts of the band’s formula. Saller has a big, powerful voice, so strong and confident that it sweeps up listeners and takes them on a ride whether they like it or not. McKnight, who has contributed backing vocals since joining the band in 2004, also carries himself well, and the interplay between him and Saller is one of the record’s strong suits.
Saller, McKnight and guitarists Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel have been together for a long time, and their obvious cohesion and chemistry shines throughout “Baptize.” Even though 15 songs are a lot to consume in one listen, this is a tight recording that never drags or loses momentum. (No doubt that’s aided by all the songs clocking in at less than four minutes.) Guests appear to varying degrees of success: “Untouchable,” featuring Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, is the only skip-worthy track here, while “Oblivion,” featuring Trivium’s Matt Heafy, is an album high point.
And then there’s the record-closing “Warrior,” featuring Travis Barker, probably my favorite Atreyu song to date. It’s a triumphant anthem celebrating perseverance and inner strength. Most bands probably would place such an obvious centerpiece of a song near the start of the track list. But it’s such an empowering note to go out on, a statement that Atreyu hasn’t just survived the adversity of a lineup change but thrived on it and emerged as something more, something greater than it’s ever been before.
Spinefarm Records – June 4, 2021