What I love about Punknews.org (sometimes) is how it occasionally very graphically highlights when a band 'loses it.' Atreyu's first two albums, the acclaimed Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses (an album I still enjoy today) and its successor, The Curse (which I regard as inferior but solid), saw two reviews on this very site each and the message board rammed with, as always, mixed messages.
Yet, Atreyu's fourth offering, despite having been out for over 12 months, has completely failed to recieve even the slightest discussion, yet alone a review until now. The reason Atreyu have 'disappeared' started with the release of The Curse, which was an undeniable shift towards a more popular, friendly sound. This change was then put into overdrive in 2006 on A Death Grip on Yesterday, an album which I personally view as one of the most dissapointing and generally awful releases of recent years, and which managed only to bastardize an array of genres and fall completely flat on its face. But onto Lead Paper Sails Anchor...
One of the worst parts of Deathgrip was the complete failure of Alex Varkatzas' metalcore vocals to transfer over to the new 'stadium hard rock' feel of Atreyu's sound. The solution in this album is to eradicate Alex's screams down to a bare minimum, and instead the vast majority of songs are led by Brandon Saller from behind the drums, whose voice is actually excellent throughout. Varkatzas is almost demoted to backing vocals for the most part, alongsde the occasional use of straightforward orthodox singing, a new experience for the frontman. On Atreyu's website, he claims regarding the change: "I don't have god given talent...I'll just try fucking hard and suck at something for a while until I finally get it right." Unfortunately, however, his 'singing' is very weak. Personally, I see almost no point whatsoever in having a frontman with considerable talent and experience of metalcore vocals remain in a band where he must attempt to either support or match the complex soprano harmonies of its drummer. Indeed, only last week, Atreyu played two festival shows without him due to inflamed vocal chords. Solution? The bassist just filled in! I think no clearer signal is needed that Varkatzas' position in the band is nigh on obsolete based on this album.
The album itself, however, is half-decent. The guitar work is often heavy and riff-laden (often to mind-numblingly simple blast-beats such as in "Honor and Blow") but its occasional attempts at 'edgy dynamism' come across primarily as confused and erratic. There is no real innovation or excitement; there is no "Lip Gloss and Black" moment where the guitars are huge and soaring, and instead the attempted huge breakdown solos, such as in the bridge of "Falling Down," are better described as effect-laden 'twiddling.' The album also sees the use of synths, pianos and a manner of other bizarre sounds to end the monotony of the choruses prevalent in the Saller and guitar-led tracks. These tracks ("Lose It," "Can't Happen Here," "Slow Burn") aren't terrible, but offer little excitement and do not stand up to the listenability or quality of the first half of the album. The title track itself brings all these new, experimental sounds to a concise head. The track itself is actually very, very good, but it sounds absolutely nothing like Atreyu; it's smooth, calm and melodic throughout and is held together by a beautiful harmony alongside multiple layers of vocals. What else is going on outside of the vocals is hard to determine but (bizarrely) I'm pretty sure I can hear a pedal steel guitar in there
However, the real redeeming factor and saving grace is that Atreyu still know how to write catchy, upbeat and sing-along Saller-delivered choruses, usually with well-screamed backing vocals and nearly every single track on the album benefits from this treatment. There are five standout chrouses on this album ("Doomsday," "Honor," "Falling Down," "When Two Are One" and "Lose It"), which frankly would not be out of place on The Curse and are probably actually marginally better overall. But the verses blend together into an ugly and confused mediocrity, as the guitars plod away and the stark and heavy vocals are pushed deep into the backing track, almost as if they are being deliberatly hidden. The result is spending the majority of the time impatiently waiting for the chrous hook -- nothing else exists to sustain any interest.
The deluxe editon here contains a brand new song, "The Squeeze," which is not on the album for some reason and two special cover songs: "Epic" by Faith No More and "Clean Sheets" by Descendents. These are actually okay. There is also a load of interviews, backstage and 'on-the-road' footage and three live track videos -- good for the die-hard fan but unlikely to entertain anyone else more than once.
This is a perfectly listenable album; indeed, its good moments reveal the considerable talent that the band have, but it is often weak, primarily due to the continuation of the band's confusion and inability to rediscover the dynamic and cutting sound of their earlier career. It is very rarely unlistenable (with the exception of the awful "Becoming the Bull") but despite this and its strong choruses, overall, at best this might just make it as your guilty pleausure of the month.