After The Burial
19th February 2016 – Sumerian Records
02. Lost in the Static
05. Laurentian Ghosts
06. Heavy Lies the Ground
08. The Endless March
09. Sway of the Break
Recorded in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of founding member and guitarist Justin Lowe, Dig Deep is the fifth full length album from Minnesotan tech metal juggernauts After The Burial. The heartbreaking circumstances saw a genuine outpouring of grief from the online tech-metal community, so beloved was he by both his peers and fans alike, but the remaining band members - Anthony Notarmaso (vocals), Trent Hafdahl (lead guitar, clean vocals), Lerichard “Lee” Foral (bass) and Dan Carle (drums) – opted to push on with the release of the record. They dropped out of their scheduled run on the Summer Slaughter tour to allow themselves time to heal and to focus on recording an album viscerally centered around the painful loss of their friend.
Dig Deep does not shy away from the formative events of the recording, with the title, artwork and several of the song names exhibiting imagery of death and loss, but also of perseverance and human endeavour. Indeed, Hafdahl himself stated, “When you think you don’t have anything left in you, you have to rely on that inner strength. That’s where we are as a band. So many things beyond our control went wrong, but we started to dig deep as brothers.”
After The Burial have been the archetypal djent band to many; the sight of two neon guitars either side of the stage churning out their trademark staccato, palm-muted riffs has graced all of their previous work, but the band decided not to replace Lowe, and so the writing duties for the guitar fell exclusively on Hafdahl, bar a few guitar parts written during Lowe’s extremely short stint in the studio. As a result of the change in writing duties, Dig Deep is lacking in the variety showcased by some of their earlier albums - Rareform in particular – but there are some very entertaining moments on the album that even despite its sombre mood actually manage to raise a smile. For instance, the mid-point of “Laurentian Ghosts” heralds an incoming breakdown with an airhorn blast that catches the listener off guard. It’s a jarring but good-humoured joke before the track instantly brutalises your eardrums with the resultant onslaught. Similarly, “Catacombs” starts out as a crushing drum-heavy dirge, but morphs into a bouncy pinch harmonic-led party song, showing the band’s innate ability to inject urgency and fun into their sound.
So there isn’t a great deal of progression or evolution, but this will please existing fans. The band’s reputation for being the finest proponents of zeroes in the scene has even seen 2013 single “A Wolf Amongst Ravens” played on a “djent stick” – literally a plank of wood with one string and a pickup attached to it. It is perhaps unfair of critics of the genre to reduce the contribution of this band to its lowest common denominator, especially when the members are all clearly finely honed musicians with machine-level precision.
As always, Carle and Foral are a rhythm section the envy of most bands within the scene. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to witness them in a live setting can testify to their ferocity and force, and this is particularly evident on “Deluge” and “Heavy Lies the Ground”. Equally, the unrelenting hurricane strength vocals of Notarmaso are stamped all across the album. There are far fewer clean vocals on display this time around; perhaps as a result of Hafdahl choosing to focus on guitar parts, but also with due to the raw emotion the band were no doubt experiencing during the writing process – it’s highly likely they felt a more visceral sound better reflected their collective emotion.
After The Burial collectively deserve the respect of their peers and fans for having the strength, confidence and determination to pull off Dig Deep in such a short space of time and under incredible emotional difficulty. Fans of the genre hoping to find something new might be disappointed but fans of the band couldn’t have hoped for a more fitting send-off to honour Lowe’s memory.