After the Burial is a band that has largely remained unchanged throughout the years in terms of their core sound- low tuned guitars that rely heavily on rhythmic playing with a healthy dose of melody thrown into the mix. What has revolved around that core is where the band has succeeded or failed. With an album like 2008's Rareform (and to a lesser but notable extent 2006's Forging a Future Self), everything was perfect. There was memorable melodic lines, chugs galore, and solos that stupefied the masses. On the flip side there was 2010's In Dreams, which didn't exactly fall short of being a good album, but just sat right in the middle of "good" and "meh" and refused to budge. While fans got used to After the Burial's metaphorical 5-star dining of their first two albums, In Dreams brought in P.F. Chang's and called it a day.
Now at the tail end of 2013, After the Burial is telling you to get your damn elbows off the table and put your phone away. It's time for a fourth course that's on par with the latter half of their discography.
Wolves Within is an interesting listen in that it's everything In Dreams tried to be and failed to be- a straddling of elements fans have come to know and love about Rareform and Forging a Future Self in a very stepped up kind of way. Just from the opening groovy minute or so of "Anti-Pattern," you're basically doomed to have a good chunk of their record stuck in your head for the rest of the day. So have fun with that.
The thing that really gets me about Wolves Within is the riffs. There are so many great, memorable riffs on this record that were missing from In Dreams it's almost unbelievable the band bounced back this hard. Case and point being songs like "Neo Seoul," which opens up with one delayed clean guitar and a few synths and breaks into a destructive, mid-paced riff that's low enough to cause several tiny earthquakes. Then there's the deadly combination of guitars and call-and-response vocals on "Pennyweight" that will surely have you bobbing your head and mouthing the lyrics no matter where you'll be whilst listening, or the mind-melting shred on "Disconnect" which sounds like leftover riffs from Rareform (in a good way).
The only true pitfall of the record is the band's occasional inability to get to the point on a given section. Songs like "Of Fearful Men" and "Parise" overall are great songs, but clean sections and needless little passing interludes detract from their potential. Why ruin the momentum of "Of Fearful Men" with a little eight-bar classical riff on two clean guitars when the song could've been left without it and had better continuity? Why stop the driving power of the end breakdown of "Parise" with a needless effects-laden guitar, only to go back to what was already going on? Even the weirdly screamed vocals over the melodic runs in "Virga" and prelude-ish drum fill between sections could have been absent and the song wouldn't have suffered at all. Granted these moments are few and far between, but they're still present and at the very least slightly irritating. It's the little things that make or break a full-album listening experience.
To put it simply, Wolves Within is a return to solid form for After the Burial.