Nearly one decade ago, After the Burial – a five-piece progressive metalcore/deathcore act – came together after a bunch of friends met at a high school in Minnesota. Since then, the band has released three albums: 2006's Forging a Future Self, 2008's Rareform (and the 2009 re-recorded version, which featured a new vocalist and a live drummer) and 2010's In Dreams. Fans have been anxiously awaiting more new material from the band, especially after a pre-production demo/video was released nearly two years ago. Finally, the guys are back in business and they are set to release Wolves Within on December 17 via Sumerian Records.
Upon first listen, I came to the conclusion that Wolves Within could almost be titled Rareform: Part II. The fretwork is still as admirable as before; there are a few blistering guitar solos or tremolo picking parts on tracks like "Of Fearful Men," "Disconnect" and "Nine Summers," while "Pennyweight" and "Parise" are groove-laden tracks that also feature some interesting guitar leads in the background. "Neo Seoul," in comparison to the rest of the album, is a bit different. It's a much slower and calmer song, for the most part, and its structure is very similar to that of In Dreams' "Pendulum" – except "Neo Seoul" is still loaded with grooves.
The drumming on Within Wolves is probably my favourite part of the album. There are several blast beats and a few lengthy drum fills or solos – most notably the one near the middle of "Virga" – and, as a whole, the drumming this time around just seems a bit more technical than it was on In Dreams. Similarly, the bass is more noticeable; not because it is much more technical, but because it is so powerful and very upfront in the mix.
Vocally, this is almost the same After the Burial as before. Anthony Notarmaso brings some spine-chilling highs and gut-wrenching lows to the table, but there are no clean-vocal parts provided by Trent Hafdahl – or anyone, for that matter. Though that is a bit of a disappointment because I loved the usage of cleans on In Dreams (particularly on "Pendulum" and "To Carry You Away"), it was also a pleasant surprise that the band kept things heavy for the entire 41 minutes. Another thing worth noting is that the gang vocals sound incredible when they are utilized; they kind of reminded me of the chants heard on Salt the Wound's Carnal Repercussions.
The main issue that I had with Wolves Within was the repetitiveness at times. There is a lot of chugging in some songs and most of the guitar leads and solos are very slow, as if they are helping to build up to something – when, in reality, they should be what the rest of the song builds up to. One example of this can be heard in the opening track, "Anti-Pattern," which never really ends up culminating. Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the final two tracks, "Parise" and "A Wolf Amongst Ravens." They both drag on at times, making for a relatively frustrating finish to an otherwise very solid album.
Overall, this may not be After the Burial's best album, but it certainly features most of the band's best material to date. After the first track and until the final two tracks come into play, Wolves Within is basically everything that a fan of progressive 'core' music could ask for.