Given the circumstances, you probably couldn’t come up with a better title for After The Burial’s latest LP, Dig Deep. The band has had to deal with one of the most unimaginably awful sets of events within the scene in recent memory. The untimely and heartbreaking death of guitarist Justin Lowe was as unexpected as it was tragic, and has still left plenty of unanswered questions in the minds of fans the world over. Unlike many of their contemporaries, After The Burial has also had one of the steadiest lineups and writing partnerships around, so losing such a key component to their sound and dynamic could have very well ended their career. Despite such a monumentally crushing setback to the band, the guys have returned in less than a year with a refreshingly similar album that doesn’t spend as much time pushing boundaries as it does reminding everyone why they’ve become one of the most iconic bands to emerge from the Sumerian Records roster. It may not be the most important album of the band’s career, but the tenacity and conviction is impossible to deny.
For better or for worse, Dig Deep is eerily similar to the band’s previous three LPs, even down to the pacing and track order. It doesn’t take a lot of time to see that, as the band opens with a couple of heavy groove numbers, introduces the 9-string ball buster on the third track, and then explores more melodic and emotional territory immediately afterwards. While this is almost exactly what they did on both Wolves Within and In Dreams, it’s only a minor complaint amongst a vast array of triumphant guitar solos, monstrous breakdowns and some of the band’s most confident vocal performances ever. Nor do the hints towards the past end there. The band’s first single and second track, “Lost in the Static,” almost solely relies on the band’s thick and chuggy backbone while also delivering one of their most memorable lead riffs since the classic “Cursing Akhenaten.” Anthony Notarmaso’s pacing and tight, choppy vocal performances really pop out as the biggest improvement overall since their last record dropped about two years ago. It really feels like he’s stepped up the most in the wake of losing a band member and sounds better than he ever has before.
Generally speaking, Dig Deep does have a slightly darker and more aggressive tone to it than Wolves Within (which you can clearly understand why). There’s also way less of an emphasis on electronic elements in Dig Deep, which actually feels refreshing given the fact that many of the band’s peers have been abusing this for quite some time. Whether it’s the main groove of the upsettingly-pummelling “Heavy Lies the Ground,” the nod to Vildhjarta at the end of “Collapse” or the OG metalcore throwback in the final breakdown of “Sway of the Break,” this album feels like the most savage group of songs the band has come up with since their debut. Dig Deep still packs plenty of punch in the lead department, and a few guitar solos throughout the album just scream 80s shredder material, “Collapse” and “Deluge” especially. You honestly don’t see many bands that spend as much time tipping their hat to Meshuggah as they do to Racer-X. Trent Hafdahl is still an absolute fretboard wizard when he decides to pop his head out in the mix, make no mistake.
In spite of such hardships, it’s great to see After the Burial still sound as inspired as ever with this latest LP. There’s also at least some material on Dig Deep that the band worked on with Justin while he was still alive (“The Endless March” has some riffs that have been floating around for years now) and plenty of moments that harken back to the sound that the band had back when they were a 5-piece. Oh, and they don’t seem to down on themselves for the entirety of the record, either. Perhaps the most important moment of the album happens during the album’s best track, “Laurentian Ghosts,” in which a crucial airhorn sample is dropped right before ripping into the song’s heaviest moment. If this moment doesn’t make you laugh hysterically and want to loop it for weeks, you’ve basically admitted that you have no soul. After The Burial aren’t reinventing the wheel or taking a whole lot of chances with this album, but instead they’ve arguably become the most consistent band to ever bear the “Sumeriancore” moniker.