Atreyu: Defenders Of Dreams Live The Curse

Metalcore band named after film hero screams out in agony.

Those with little knowledge of '80s children's movies might think the band name Atreyu is daunting and oppressive, but people familiar with the Wolfgang Petersen film "The NeverEnding Story" know that Atreyu is a character in the movie who rides a giant fuzzy flying dog.

"If you look at it for what it is, Atreyu was the defender of dreams in that movie," singer Alex Varkatzas said a tad defensively. "If you know that, it's kind of cool, and not that lame."

If you're more interested in the flying dog than the metalcore group, check out www.atreyu.com, a foreign site dedicated to the film. The bandmembers wanted rights to the domain, but the asking price was too high, so they had to settle for the less snazzy www.atreyurock.com.

In retrospect, maybe Atreyu should have thought of a different moniker. They should definitely have considered a different title for their second album. Since they conceived the name The Curse, all has gone not so well in "NeverEnding" screamo-land.

First, bassist Chris Thomson quit during the recording of the album (he was replaced by Marc McKnight). Then the band's label accidentally printed promotional materials plugging www.atreyucruse.com, so they had to purchase that Web site and www.atreyucurse.com. Finally, the band had to cancel Ozzfest gigs in Boston and Ottawa because Canadian border patrol officers gave the bandmembers a hard time.

"Man, sometimes it feels like we are cursed," Varkatzas said. "Especially when we're on tour for weeks on end and we're in a van and every single day we're doing the same thing. I especially hate being in Europe. You can't talk to anybody. You don't have money to make expensive calls back home. The shows are fun, but everything else is horrible."

Lots of musicians are low-key folks who get their internal frustrations out in their music. Not Varkatzas, whose angst and aggravation vibrates through his every sentence. And that energy is as much a part of Atreyu's sound as the melodic death metal, hardcore and emo flavors that guitarists Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel and drummer/vocalist Brandon Saller bring to the table.

"I'm really shy and antisocial, but writing really agonized lyrics that come from personal experience is good for me," Varkatzas said. "By sharing my pain with other people, and having them reading it and associating it with their life, it sometimes makes my problems seem easier to deal with."

Not everything has been downhill for Atreyu. The Curse recently debuted at #32 on Billboard's albums chart, and the band has been a major highlight of Ozzfest's second stage (see "Screamo Comes Of Age On Ozzfest's Second Stage"). In addition, numerous stations have picked up Atreyu's new single, "Right Side of the Bed," and the video has been well received.

Like many songs on The Curse, the cut vividly describes a painful relationship that was anything but monogamous: "Another masquerade in false circumstance/ ... I just wish that I could replace/ All the memories of what makes my blood run cold."

"I was with this girl, and we just started to abuse each other because we couldn't let go," Varkatzas recalled. "You don't realize you're not in love anymore, because love isn't supposed to hurt that bad. So you just have your heart ripped out, and the person who did it doesn't even know what she did was wrong. I just can't understand infidelity. I've never ever cheated on anyone, and I can't understand why anyone would want to be like that with me."

Varkatzas, Saller and Jacobs met in junior high in Orange County, California, and after bonding over a love for Snapcase, Black Flag and Minor Threat, they decided to form their own hardcore band. The group lasted a couple of years, then in high school the guys decided to rethink their direction.

"We wanted to push the boundaries of what a heavy band should be like," Varkatzas said. "A heavy band isn't supposed to have this huge singing part in the middle of the song like we do, but we don't care. And Brandon is such a great singer that it works out great. He's the real talent in the group. I just scream. It's amongst my other numerous task jobs. A little cooking here, a little cleaning there. And I scream."

Varkatzas sometimes screams for vengeance and sometimes out of self-pity, but he doesn't shout blindly. Whether relaying feelings of going insane on "My Sanity on the Funeral Pyre" or being on the verge of suicide in "Five Vicodin Chased With a Shot of Clarity," Varkatzas picks apart his brain to deduce what went wrong, and why and how he can learn from his misery.

"There's a song called 'The Crimson,' and that's about taking a step back and looking at yourself and the decisions you make," he explained. "Sometimes, I've been pretty disappointed about how I've treated people. It makes me disgusted to the point of wanting to make myself better. But where do you begin? Because when you live in sin, it's hard to look at saints. Sometimes you just feel so unworthy you can't change. You just suck. But at least I'm making that effort to recognize the problem, and sometimes that's half the battle."