Whilst they may have faded a bit more into the background these days, from the late ‘00s to the mid ‘10s After The Burial were one of metalcore’s biggest rising stars. Their first two albums Forging A Future Self and Rareform showcased a uniquely brilliant take on a genre that was starting to become a bit staid, incorporating influences from progressive metal to create something that was a bit more complex and interesting than the Killswitch Engages and Unearths that were ruling the metalcore roost at the time.
They also fully embraced self-production, with many of their recordings being masterminded by their now sadly departed guitarist Justin Lowe. With Rareform becoming a cult classic and expectations for a follow-up being incredibly high, they decided to go bigger and better than they had gone before. Out of that came the band’s landmark third album In Dreams, which as of November 2020 celebrated its 10th anniversary!
Whilst Forging A Future Self and Rareform had been solidly metalcore releases despite the heavy progressive metal influences, In Dreams decided to take those progressive metal ambitions to the max. The band decided to enlist the help of an outside producer for the first time in their career, drafting in Jocke Skog (keyboardist and vocalist of the socially-conscious Swedish rap-metal band Clawfinger) to assist them with the mixing and mastering of the record as well as adding some of his own contributions.
Skog’s expertise resulted in an album that sounded much more polished than their previous self-produced efforts, with more layers of vocals and instruments than were on Rareform. In Dreams also featured noticeably more clean vocals than previous albums, sung by lead guitarist Trent Hadfahl and guest vocalist Ryan Jimenez.
Whilst opening track ‘My Frailty’ is very much typical of the sound from the first two After The Burial albums, the band’s new identity first makes itself heard on the pummelling ‘Your Troubles Will Cease And Fortune Will Smile Upon You’. Whilst it wasn’t the first time the band had used 8 string guitars, it was the first time where they’d built a song around the incredible lowness you can get out of them and it really left an impact. The main riff slides around in a way that’s unassumingly catchy and those off-kilter syncopated rhythms in the verse give a brilliant feeling of unease.
That song follows seamlessly into ‘Pendulum’, a crushingly heavy yet incredibly melodic metalcore track with a beautiful lead guitar melody and an enormous gang-vocal led chorus that almost seems to signpost at the kind of soundscapes we’d hear a few years later from Bring Me The Horizon and Parkway Drive. The guitar work is the real highlight of ‘Pendulum’ though; Justin Lowe and Trent Hadfahl smooth seamlessly between Iron Maiden-style harmonized guitar leads and expertly-navigated off-kilter breakdowns.
After another speedy blast from ‘Bread Crumbs And White Stones’, we go into ‘To Carry You Away’, a metalcore ballad that starts off with clean guitar chords before exploding into tightly interlocked harmonized guitar parts that carry the song into a massive chorus where multilayered melodic gang vocals and aggressive and direct harsh vocals interplay with each other brilliantly. Following the first chorus is a huge breakdown that drops down into the lowest territory of the band’s 8 string guitars, before coming back to that clean part at the beginning and then launching into a sweep-picked guitar solo from Hadfahl. It even ends with a fade-out, something that’s very unusual these days! It’s probably the most dynamic song on the entire album and really puts After The Burial’s progressive metal ambitions on show.
‘Sleeper’ is an explosion of manic energy with almost impossibly frenetic drums – the drums in the song’s intro consist almost entirely of blast beats – and DragonForce-levels of speed in the guitar and bass work and almost inhuman yells from frontman Anthony Notormaso. As you’d expect from a metalcore band, there are more than a fair share of good old-fashioned neck-snapping breakdowns too!
That’s all followed by ‘Promises Kept’, one of the biggest and most melodic songs on the album – that chorus is absolutely enormous – and the only one that features some acoustic guitar.
The end of In Dreams comes with the infectiously groovy 8 string riff-fest that is ‘Encased In Ice’. A song that properly set the stage for groove machine-level songs from their later albums like ‘A Wolf Amongst Ravens’ and ‘Pennyweight’, it’s one of After The Burial’s best songs in their catalogue for a reason. Everything about it makes you want to get up and bounce and that “we are nothing more than memories” breakdown where everything drops out except for the lead vocal and the drums does an incredible job of hyping you up for the introduction of Rusty Cooley’s alien-sounding guitar solo.
In Dreams was received as a bit of a mixed bag when it came out. A lot of fans wanted an album that was more like the shreddy, technical metalcore that they were used to from After The Burial. I think the album has absolutely stood the test of time though, especially in terms of its production. Forging A Future Self and Rareform had mediocre production at best due to being recorded on a budget, and the production of its follow up Wolves Within was quite frankly shocking. But In Dreams still sonically holds up and that’s no small thanks to Jocke Skog’s fantastic skills as a producer.
More importantly, however, In Dreams was a sign of what was to come for the world of metalcore. Thanks to the ever-increasing influence of bands like Periphery and Meshuggah and the influences from more melodic bands from outside of the metal sphere creeping in, subsequent releases from bigger bands within that sphere like Bring Me The Horizon and Architects have seen them move away from metalcore tropes, create more complex music, push for bigger production and incorporate more clean vocals. Whilst In Dreams definitely wasn’t a direct influence for those bands, I feel like it was the first glimmer into what we were eventually going to see from the metalcore mainstream. That’s why it’s absolutely worth talking about this album and why it’s worth remembering as a classic metalcore staple that brought the genre out of the ‘00s and into the ‘10s.
Words by Robert Percy
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