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Congregation of the Damned

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A full decade since their formation, Orange County, California’s Atreyu are just as subversive, unrelenting and unpredictable as they were when they first started. Congregation Of The Damned, their fifth album, is a testament to the inexhaustible power of heavy music and the unquenchable flame of five musicians determined to build a distinct sonic landscape entirely on their own terms. As vocalist Alex Varkatzas spits in ”Bleeding Is A Luxury:” `It’s taken 10 fucking years for them to see I don’t need their approval’. ”This album is us stepping forward to new territory but taking with us the best of where we’ve been,” explains drummer and vocalist Brandon Saller. ”It really is the culmination of a ten year career.” Often, artists will release their fastest, heaviest material at the beginning of their career and, as they mature, they become more melodic or commercial. That seemed to be the case when Atreyu recorded their Top 10 disc Lead Sails Paper Anchor in 2007 – but that perception was deceptive. The album was rife with sing-along choruses, radio-ready rhythms and pristine production, yet it was still undeniably heavy, as appealing to diehard headbangers and to anyone who appreciates solid, dynamic songwriting. But with their new album, Congregation of the Damned, Atreyu blows all preconceptions out of the water, commanding us yet again to expect the unexpected. Not only is the record more like a well-crafted continuation of the minefield-strewn path they were on when they recorded 2006’s A Death-Grip on Yesterday, it’s filled with some of the band’s darkest, most political material to date. Not only have Atreyu been fueled by their passion, they’ve been motivated by their determination to point out the ugliness they’ve witnessed all around them. Hence, the album title. ”Our leaders have screwed us,” explains Varkatzas. ”We’ve started wars, we’re in a recession and we’re trying to fistfuck other countries into oblivion. America’s getting by on doing a lot of things in the name of God. George Bush got away with a lot of shit by throwing Jesus into the mix: ’God wants me to do this’. So instead of being a beautiful church congregation, we’re a congregation of the damned. We’re in such a scary place right now, I’ve never felt this sense of tension before – and that’s in the music.” Atreyu started writing Congregation of the Damned in January 2009 and almost immediately the excitement of being back in a collaborative, unified mindset sparked the musician’s creativity. ”It felt like when you first start a band,” explains Saller. ”We were just so excited to hang out in a room and write songs just because we wanted to. And the writing process was more group oriented than previously.” Within months, Atreyu had composed 25 songs that ranged from plangent and heartbreaking to brutally fast and cathartic. Later that year, they entered the studio with producer Bob Marlette (Ozzy Osbourne, Seether). Since they were working near their homes in California they didn’t feel confined the way they sometimes had in the past, and they were able to enjoy the recording sessions like never before. Uninformed listeners could be forgiven for not realizing what a blast the guys had making Congregation of the Damned. Songs like ”Ravenous” and ”You Were the King Now You’re Unconscious” are furious and frightening, the sonic din of young adults coming to terms with the idea that they might have sold themselves short while their generation was foundering in a universal identity crisis. Whether or not that was the case, Atreyu are now determined to prove themselves more than ever. ”In the past I’d had my head up my ass,” Varkatzas admits. ”But with Congregation of the Damned I’ve focused myself and driven harder for what I want. We’ve brought back a bit of the old Atreyu: shredding, screaming and breakdowns.” Varkatzas is being modest. True, the trenchant elements of old are back, but they’re combined with stronger songwriting and flourishes that keep Atreyu sounding utterly captivating. ”The first single, Storm to Pass” builds from an acoustic intro into a steadily chug of buzzing guitars that climax in a triumphant chorus. ”Insatiable” is powered by a harmony-filled refrain that reflects guitarist Dan Jacobs’ penchant for powerhouse `80s metal bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motley Crue. ”Black Days Begin” features a southern groove-chug informed by the guys’ love for Pantera, and ”Wait For You” is a piano and strings-laden love ballad that reveals an entirely new side of the band. ”On Lead Sails Paper Anchor we had a slide guitar ballad, and that’s not my favorite song in the world, so this was kind of our chance for rock ballad redemption,” Varkatzas says. ”Big Dan [Jacobs] had this idea kicking around forever and we had never written a full-on love song. So we went, ”Dude, we’re writing a ballad. We don’t give a shit. This is what we want to do. And if you don’t like this one, you don’t have a heart.” Lyrically, Congregation of the Damned pulls no punches from start to finish. Album opener, for example, ”Stop! Before It’s Too Late And We’ve Destroyed It All” is based on a Joe Rogan comedy sketch in which he sees humans as a plague on the earth. Varkatzas empathizes with Rogan’s plight. ”When you fly into LA it’s all green and beautiful but when you hit the city the air is putrid. It’s a big black spot and it doesn’t fit into the natural geography,” Varkatzas says. ”Lyrically, it’s as if we’re this predatory organism talking over and killing everything. Mother nature would be better off without humans walking the earth. The contagious first single from Congregation of the Damned ”Storm the Pass,” is simultaneously about Varkatzas’ psychological turmoil and the volatile state of the world on the brink of annihilation. ”I wrote it from two angles at once so it would impact different people in different ways,” the vocalist explains. ”I have a tendency to get either super depressed or super pissed off. I can see it coming and I can feel it building and it’s like watching clouds or thunder heads rolling off the beach onto an island and just destroying the island. And at the same time it’s about how you can see wars or conflicts forming, like Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, what’s going on in North Korea or what could be going on in Pakistan or Iran. You feel this tension building, this storm, this malice, and it’s like a never-ending cycle and it can destroy us all.” Some of the songs aren’t political at all. ”Gallows” — which features the line, ”Like the loser I am / I can’t help but to see / That success scares the living shit out of me” – is about personal insecurity and self-doubt, and having the tenacity to break through the fear. ”I’m honestly not sure what scares me more,” Varkatzas admits. ”That’s a lot for people to grasp. Am I not giving it my all? Have I pulled back in the past because I feared failing on my own? Or am I just not good enough? But we’re all human and that’s how we learn: it builds heart and character. Tenacity has got me where I am, not talent. Whether that alienates people or makes me look stupid… I can’t help it.”

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  • Congregation of the Damned is exactly what I expected from Atreyu. Amazing guitars, solid vocals and neck cramps from headbanging. If you love hard rock you need to check out this record.

    Directions for enjoying Congregation of the Damned:
    1. Insert disc or open itunes.
    2. Hit the play button.
    3. Crank the volume.
    4. ROCK OUT!

    As a designer I also appreciate album art…this album has a great layout and great graphics. I believe album art is about the only reason to purchase the physical CD in the jewel case packaging.

    Congregation of the Damned is an auditory delight!

    Posted on December 7, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • When downloading this album, I really hoped that it wasn’t Lead Sails Paper Anchor II. It took me a long time to accept Lead Sails, after loving the Curse in 2004. With this new album, Atreyu really brings back the metalcore that they helped shape in the early 2000’s. Although The Curse is my favorite Atreyu record, this ties for second with A Deathgrip on Yesterday. 5/5.

    Posted on December 7, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • First off, I have been a fan of Atreyu since “the Curse” was first released. I don’t do this often but I was in a Target store looking at the new releases, I was intrigued by the album cover, vampire theme, roman numerals for track listing and the song titles. I saw the last song “Five Vicodin chased with a shot of clarity” and all those factors led me to buy the album, without even hearing it. Now this could have been a big mistake, but instead Atreyu became one of my favorite bands, ever. I got suicide notes and story goes on from there.

    To all you that want it all to be back to the way it was, you are not going to find it. You see honest musicians have two bosses. The first is their corporate label (if they have one) trying to get a certain sound to sell more records. The second boss is the fans, and most of them want to be fed what they want, with no regards to the musicians themselves. Then of course Atreyu needs to do what they want to do. They got by fine with Deathgrip and then Lead Sails came around. I knew in advance it would not be the same, but it was still the same writers writing the songs. With the exception of a few tracks, I found it to be a decent album, not the best.

    Now to Congregation of the Damned: This record does sound like every other record combined and mixed up and then given the full force of their writing talent. It’s amazing, new fans who started on Lead Sails will be blown away for sure. I got it tuesday morning and that is the only cd in my stereo. It is a great cd. This one sounds like it should have come bfore Lead Sails, and then Lead Sails would be made better because of the musical growth.

    Anyway get it.

    To all you new “Lead Sails” Fans (lol) please buy the earlier cds. Please

    Posted on December 7, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Such a great deal for 4 bucks. Anyway, this CD combines the old Atreyu with the Lead Sails Paper Anchor sound that people either loved or hated. I was part of the group that really liked it and this is even better. There’s a lot more screaming here than on Lead Sails and also a lot more solos. The solos on this album are awesome. Especially the ones on Insatiable & Storm to Pass. Like always, the choruses are catchy as hell on almost every song and will be stuck in your head after a couple listens. The last song, Wait For You, is the only ballad on here and does sound like its right off of Lead Sails. But that is an amazing song. You’d think it would be really corny with the piano and sappy lyrics but they pull it off really well and it’s one of my favorite songs of theirs now. The melody of almost every song is great. There are also a ton of infectious riffs and licks scattered all over the record. Ravenous, for example, starts off with a nice fast riff before Alex starts growling the verse. Gallows is another one that starts off with an excellent guitar part.

    On the whole, this album is easily one of their best in my opinion. It has the screaming, the growling, & the clean vocals that please everyone. I think there’s something for all types of Atreyu fans.

    Posted on December 7, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • This album takes what Lead Sails made Atreyu famous and combines it with the songs from their previous albums, without all the autotune.

    If the over-active presence of the studio editing in Lead Sails kept you from listening, this album will bring you back to Atreyu.

    Posted on December 6, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now