WORDS: Henry Jones
Tragedy can break a band. Close, almost familial bonds broken by the limits of mortality. Justin Lowe, the lurid green half of AFTER THE BURIAL’s iconic guitar duo, unfortunately passed away in July 2015 amid heartbreakingly sudden circumstances. This threw the band’s future into question, with a fifth album looming on the horizon. AFTER THE BURIAL pushed forward, ever marching the endless march, continuing with touring obligations, and suddenly announcing their upcoming album, the appropriately titled Dig Deep.
Opening with the destructively groove-laden tone museum that is Collapse, one can’t help but hear the finest points of AFTER THE BURIAL’s sound compacted into a singular package. Carved, refined, and perfected to an expert level, the riffs and melodies showcase the band at its finest. The focus on groove continues with the following track, the album’s lead single, Lost the Static, however, this does not showcase the vast spectrum of sound captured with this release.
AFTER THE BURIAL have always been notorious for their impossibly low tunings, coupled with an impossibly precise guitar tone. Giants of the djent scene, a huge mid-focussed tone is essential. This detail can be immediately noticed on Dig Deep, transforming seemingly bland picking patterns into intimately violent exercises in rhythmic perfection. Dig Deep’s production has been handled by Will Putney, and while it does not possess the vibrant digital efficiency of its predecessor, Wolves Within, the sound is punishing and incredibly well balanced. The low end is filled out nicely as a combination of bass guitar and the crushing low end of the band’s extended range guitars, exhibited on tracks such as Heavy Lies the Ground and Mire. Vocally, Anthony Notarmaso performs exceptionally well, pushing ever lower, showcasing his abilities to his highest form, pushing the guttural boundaries on tracks such as Collapse and Dig Deep.
Remaining as sole guitarist, Trent Hafdahl has seemingly sharpened his already formidable skills as a lead player. The album is peppered with solos, as was its predecessor, yet Dig Deep offers a far more emotive and believable sense of proficiency. The phrasing is more powerful, the legato alternate picking runs ever more fluid, the note choices ever more organic. This is passionate playing, and adds to the chugging wall of sound greatly, providing calm and contrast to the album.
Indeed, the vast catalogue of styles AFTER THE BURIAL have captured with Dig Deep provides a great deal of comparisons to previous material. Certain tracks present playful nods to previous live favourites, capturing a very nostalgic atmosphere, only adding to the heavy emotional toll surrounding its production.
Unfortunately, one element of the sound sometimes just sticks out like a flare in the night. The snare. Carrying far too much ‘pop’ and a touch too little ‘snap’, this can often create an overtly confusing environment, such as the intro to Mire. While this element is sometimes distracting, the overall drum production is well balanced, with the cymbals captured very cleanly.
The album opens in an incredible manner, showcasing the highlights of their refined sound. The following tracks continue this fashion and capture a band performing at its very best, despite emotional turmoil and tragic loss. It is a passionate and honest album. Alas, the album’s final track, Sway of the Break, tears this atmosphere down in distasteful manner, inexplicably drifting into the realms of awfully cliché hardcore riffs. This sound is not one AFTER THE BURIAL carry well, nor does it add to the overall sound in a positive manner. It seems overtly unnecessary, and ultimately results in an ending that falls flat.
Dig Deep is somewhat more than just another djent album. This is a powerful move from AFTER THE BURIAL, whom, despite the suicide of a crucial band member, have continued to push ever onward. This album is plainly a tribute to Justin Lowe, and it certainly succeeds. While it may be hard to approach at first, this album inevitably grows on the listener, and is a worthy successor to the band’s previous effort, Wolves Within. This is a vibrant, uplifting journey through some of the heaviest riffs ever conceived. This is a huge step forward. This is an unequivocally heavy album.
Dig Deep is out now via Sumerian Records.