The theme of facing adversity is prevalent in After The Burial’s band name and completely resembled on their fifth record Dig Deep. The tragic and confusing death of guitarist Justin Lowe created quite a mountain for his comrades to climb, a mountain that is quickly ascended through the powerhouse performances on Dig Deep.
The craftsmanship of After The Burial has never come to be questioned, their furious technicality and guitar-centric sound resonating strongly with a vast majority of the metal community. Maybe it’s due to the fact that the insane shredding is simultaneously a homage to Megadeth and Meshuggah, firmly placing the After The Burial dudes in a position to be viewed as greats. They’re a band held to a high standard, which is why topping the diversity heard on fourth record Wolves Within was sure to be a lofty goal.
How suiting it is then that the band went for a definitive work rather than a variance of stylistic approaches. That’s not to say the music itself doesn’t have its peaks and valleys – It certainly does. Be it through experiencing crushing devastation (“Collapse”), thrashy aggression (“Mire”) or uplifting perseverance (“Deluge”), Dig Deep has plenty to please any fan of After The Burial and maybe even the older metalhead while never sacrificing the signature high energy this band is known for. It’s just that the focus on consistency pays off richly on this record.
A listen-through of Dig Deep reveals its marvelous inclusive nature towards its targeted listeners. Anyone who has been with After The Burial from the start will find it difficult to be disappointed in this release. Every key ingredient that is normally associated with the band is thrown lovingly into a confident stew of recognition. The guitar melodies heard in “Lost In The Static” will remind you of Rareform days, but the groove section that briefly interrupts “Collapse” is going to bring to mind potential In Dreams remembrance. The fact is that After The Burial are so in-tune with their identity here that they know they can add in any element of their sound whenever they damned well please. Forging A Future Self even peeks out from under its now-dusty position in After The Burial’s history for a sonic cameo in “The Endless March”, which could also be viewed as a tribute to Unearth’s album of the same name with its plentiful shredding.
The best moments on the record come when the tracks transition perfectly from bruising aggression to beautiful melodicism and back again. “Catacombs” is the standout on the record in that regard and will undoubtedly be a fan favorite. “Deluge” is notable as the most expressive song on the record, however. When a guitar solo does pop up, the focus is more on the feelings being conveyed than the technicality. In that same way there are fewer guitar harmonies on this record. Still, the guitars on the record truly do the talking, though that is not to discredit the career-highlighting vocal performance of Anthony Notarmasso (his years spent in the band since In Dreams only exposing his masterful growth). He splits the Earth in “Heavy Lies The Ground”, a candidate for After The Burial’s most destructive song to-date. How is it though that he is able to match the emotion in “Laurentian Ghosts” with the same brutality he shows in “Mire”? That’s not so much a question as it is an expression of amazement.
If I am to expose this album’s and this band’s landmark, I must speak of the fact that this is Justin Lowe’s brainchild through and through. His touch is prevalent throughout all of After The Burial’s discography and Dig Deep doesn’t try to be an exception to that. The chemistry heard between Justin and Trent Hafdahl showcases a spark that will not often be heard in music or even experienced in a friendship. It can’t be expressed enough how unfortunate it is that Justin has passed. Whether this record is as heavy as it is to showcase the frustration and sadness of those Justin left behind is certainly hinted at, but as it stands Justin’s final touches and performances are heard on this record.
Even if that wasn’t the case Dig Deep would still be special because bands like After The Burial don’t come around often. Chalk that up to Dan Carle’s multi-tasked percussion, Lee Jennings’ bass-work that somehow keeps up with Justin Lowe’s and Trent Hafdahl’s shredding while matching Anthony Notarmasso’s monstrous growls and shrieks. After The Burial are a fully fleshed-out musical outfit and Dig Deep is the code of honor that defines them. They will look to this record in the future and know it’s who they are. Identity is a powerful thing and as far as After The Burial are concerned so is passion.