Album Review: AFTER THE BURIAL Dig Deep
As it is the obvious elephant in the room, I'll waste no time in addressing the issue and how last year's consequential incident may influence the actual opinion of this release that followed. I find it difficult to sustain journalistic integrity after such a momentous event as the loss of a founding member has occurred seemingly so recent, but I feel it is only right to suspend any sympathy towards the band for the sake of a skewed bias when searching for a genuine critique. The only information that has been publicized to my knowledge is that "Justin wrote some riffs that made the record." While it is uncertain what physical amount of recordings were used towards this album, it is quite likely that his creativity, spirit, and unfortunate passing impacted the process and ending result of Dig Deep.
Regarding the legacy of the band prior to Justin's passing, I believe there has been a steady incline in both popularity and merit. And I'll state it right off the bat, this is likely their finest work. "Berzerker" or "Your Troubles Will Cease and Fortune Will Smile Upon You" may always be classics in the catalog, but these nine tracks hold their own and the amount of excellence remain relatively consistent throughout.
First track, "Collapse," is extremely strong and representative of where After the Burial stand now. The riffage, vocals, and guitar solo can all be summed up as groovy, infectious, and massive. Luckily, those terms can be used to exemplify the entirety of the record being the band is just warming up with this opener. As the obvious single on this record, these guys just kill it on "Lost in the Static." There is something about the guitar melody that is so unconventionally appealing. Moving on to "Mire" and "Deluge," the riffs rely on traits alike djent and metalcore respectively.
“Laurentian Ghosts,” a toned down anthemic piece that refers to the geographical divide in Minnesota, has a conventional appeal to a few segments of the song. The subdued aesthetic during the intro suggests a possible tribute towards Justin or at the very least showcases the tranquility the group are able to create. Halfway into the song, there is a synthetic DJ air horn, which completely disrupts the flow of the whole piece. Although I understand the intent of a build-up and lyrical connection, it seemed really unnecessary, out of the place, and subtracted from the immersion. There isn't too much terribly distinct about the remaining tracks other than the fact that they all are equally heavy and attention-grabbing. "Heavy Lies the Ground" and "Catacombs" parallel to the stylistic approach of their latest output as "The Endless March" and "Sway of the Break" are reflective of the first two albums.
Personally, I have always felt that the group struggled with the balance between lead guitar and the rhythm section. Early compositions like Rareform tracks felt to be dominated by pitchy riffs, while more recent material on Wolves Within was a groovy chug-fest at parts. Fast forward to now, the steady stability between the chugs and leading riffs maintains a vicious dynamic. Whether this change is indicative of the absence of Justin, I am unsure, however it is evident that this is where Dig Deep shines brightest. There was never a moment where my ears began to become tired in the fashion they have on previous records. This element partly may have to do with the production quality though. As much as I support exploration of self-producing, After the Burial's past work is an example of why this may not always be the best idea. With the infamous Will Putney now taking the wheel, everything sounds far more refined.
Comparisons to labelmates Born of Osiris or Veil of Maya have followed since the beginning, but on this LP it seems the band has made a name for themselves. Even in terms of commercial success, After the Burial have been one step behind, however this release may put them on equal terms if not greater. Now with all this praise, I do think it is significant to clarify that although this album appears to be their most mature, it does not signify utter perfection. While the totality of this LP is well-rounded, there are some run of the mill and stale moments here and there. It is troublesome to deem releases of this limited genre to large acclaim when groups like Meshuggah or Vildhjarta have done before.
As I previously indicated, Dig Deep is arguably the most notable of After the Burial's discography. And while the title of record references to the action the remaining members were pressured into enduring while executing this album, the musicalities also follow a similar sentiment shown predominantly by the dynamics, diversity, and balance that had not quite reached prime in past material. All in all, the positives outweigh any negative criticism, resulting in what should and likely will be marked as the group's landmark record regarding both recovery and quality. I felt obliged not to pander back to the event of After the Burial's fatal loss in this review, but I deem it necessary and fitting to conclude with the notion that Justin would be proud.