Atreyu singer Alex Varkatzas used to deal with severe anxiety by taking antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication including Lexapro and Klonopin, which helped him work and tour without suffering from panic attacks. However, for the writing and recording of Atreyu's new album Lead Sails Paper Anchor, Varkatzas went cold turkey and let his emotional upheaval inform the band's songs even more directly. Of course, as any psychiatric worker will tell you, being off your meds can have its drawbacks as well.
"I lose my mind a couple times a day now," Varkatzas admitted. "But I try to deal with my emotions instead of hiding behind them, and that's something that's new for me. In the past, I always used to drink or take a pill. Now I'm learning to cope with reality."
One of Varkatzas' main coping methods these days is writing lyrics, which is partially why new tracks like "Honor," "Can't Happen Here" and first single "Becoming the Bull" are so fraught with tension and aggression. But while Varkatzas is raging as hard as ever, he's no longer ranting about getting dumped or betrayed. Instead, he's addressing larger issues such as war, self-empowerment and the importance of family.
"I'm dealing with grown-up stuff now lyrically because that's what's going on in my life," he said. "I'm 25 now. I bought a condo, so I'm dealing with the responsibilities of being a homeowner. I just had my grandpa pass away when I was on tour, and it was horrible that he was dying and I couldn't go home. There was nothing I could do about it, and I had to learn to accept that."
In addition to maturing as a lyricist, Varkatzas has branched out as a singer. With the help of vocal coach Ron Anderson and an awful lot of persistence, Varkatzas is no longer leaving all the melodic parts up to drummer Brandon Saller. Sure, Saller's honey-sweet voice washes through many of the choruses, but Varkatzas has learned to carry a tune as well, and now offers a variety of voices including a more powerful roar ("Can't Happen Here"), pained croon ("Lead Sails [And a Paper Anchor]") and Vince Neil-style yowl ("Blow").
"This is the most nervous I think I've ever been for a record," Varkatzas admitted. "I wanted to do something different and to live up to my potential, so I worked really hard to be able to handle the singing parts. I'm still not a natural singer, but when I set my mind to something, I refuse to take no for an answer."
Various stylistic nuances also contribute to the album's fresh feel. "Falling Down" is a shuffling romp that sounds like a metallic Green Day with horns; "Becoming the Bull" is embellished with industrial effects; and "Slow Burn" features pedal-steel guitar.
"This album isn't just about guitars, bass, drums and vocals," Saller said. "There are strings, opera vocals, hand claps, mandolins, Turkish saz -- anything we could think of that seemed cool at the time."
Contributing to the diversity of the album was producer John Feldmann (Goldfinger, the Used), who encouraged Atreyu to push their boundaries and take chances. "He really helped us with our structuring, and figuring out what works and what didn't, and bringing a different set of ideas to our band than we would normally have," Varkatzas said. "But we put in a lot of really long and hard days. He'd make me come up with lyrics on the spot and push me so hard. I would work my ass off and try as hard as I could, and then John would go, 'You know, that's good, but you can do better.' But that pushing helped us all get to new levels on this record."
In the end, Atreyu created their most diverse and ambitious album -- a disc that should shatter the metalcore box they've been forced into and help earn them a new following that appreciates good, challenging music. At the same time, many of the elements on Lead Sails Paper Anchor are poppier than past excursions -- occasionally bordering on Linkin Park territory.
"This is definitely a metal record, but there's more to it as well," Saller said. "There are rock and roll, punk and even almost dance aspects. But in essence, it's a true Atreyu record. This is where we come from. This is what we are."
The rest of the week's metal news:
Machine Head's upcoming U.S. tour will be light one member. Bassist Adam Duce will miss the fall run after breaking his leg while dirt-bike riding in Redding, California. At first, doctors thought Duce had merely sprained the limb, but X-rays later confirmed the break. The injury required surgery that involved attaching a steel plate and two screws to the broken bone. Machine Head -- who are in the final stages of selecting Duce's temporary replacement -- will kick off their tour September 7 in Anaheim, California, and bring it to a close October 12 in Hollywood. ... Lamb of God throat specialist Randy Blythe makes a guest appearance on Overkill's next one, Immortalis, which is slated for an October 9 release. According to a statement from the band, Blythe "stepped in to give the track 'Skull and Bones' the ultimate hellish vocal-duet vibe." ... Exodus will release The Atrocity Exhibition ... Exhibit A in late October. The disc boasts nine cuts, including "Riot Act," "Children of a Worthless God" and "The Garden of Bleeding." ...
First they were calling themselves Inflikted. But now the new band -- featuring Sepultura founders Max and Igor Cavalera, along with Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier on bass and Soulfly's Marc Rizzo on guitar -- will go by the moniker the Cavalera Conspiracy. The band is in the process of tracking its debut LP in Los Angeles and hopes to have it ready in time for an early 2008 release through Roadrunner. ... Nebula, Les Breastfeeders and Bonk will team up for a North American tour set to kick off September 28 in Whistler, British Columbia. The trek, called "Rock de National," runs through November 10 in Los Angeles. ... On October 22, Swedish-metal minstrels Opeth will release The Roundhouse Tapes, a two-disc live set captured during the band's November 9 performance at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. The collection will include live versions of Opeth classics like "Under the Weeping Moon," "Bleak" and "Demon of the Fall." ...
Droid are no longer opening the main stage on the Family Values Tour -- they're now closing the fest's second stage. ... Colorado's Planes Mistaken for Stars are throwing in the proverbial towel but plan on going out in style with a spate of to-be-announced farewell shows. In a statement, the band blamed the split on "financial strain" and "family obligations," before adding that "we just felt it was time. Our love for each other and our music has not diminished. It will always be there." ... Fear Before the March of Flames will hit the road this fall with Circa Survive and Ours for a series of 34 live gigs. The first is scheduled for October 10 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the last for November 25 in Cleveland. ...
Dutch death-metal act Prostitute Disfigurement have finished work on their next studio outing, the aptly titled Descendants of Depravity. The set will feature nine fresh songs, including "The Sadist King and the Generalissimo of Pain," "Killing for Company" and "Fatal Fornication." ... German black-metallers Dark Fortress have found themselves a new frontman in Morean, best known for his work with Noneuclid. "Our decision is based on his immense musical and vocal abilities ... and dedication to extreme and dark music," the band said in a statement. "He will be responsible for the lyrical concept of the forthcoming album, which will be completely finished by the end of October. Expect a worldwide release via Century Media Records in early 2008, followed by increased live activities." The band's previous singer, Azathoth, left back in May, citing personal reasons. ... Norwegian death-metal outfit Chain Collector -- which features Carpathian Forest guitarist Gøran Boman -- will release their sophomore LP, Unrestrained, on October 22 in Europe. There's no word yet on when -- or if -- the disc will see an American release yet, but expect it to feature "Your Halo of Thorns," "Bringer of Sins" and "As the Play Unfolds." ...
Sometimes band breakups can be confusing or overly dramatic. In the case of Austrian extremists Pungent Stench, it's both. According to drummer Alex Wank, the band's split was "very sudden and sad," and he blames the internal strife on singer Martin Schirenc. Wank claimed in a statement that Schirenc is "jealous about my work for the Stench." Tension between the two now puts the future of the Stench's upcoming LP in doubt, as Schirenc has vowed to stop playing live gigs and working on the record. "I think the band has come to an end and there won't be any future live activities, which is sad," the drummer said. "This was always the most important thing with Pungent Stench, at least for me, and I think our supporters honored that in coming to our shows and let us feel good. I am very sorry that this unique project has come to an end." ... French black-metal act Blut Aus Nord have posted a new track, "The Sounds of the Universe," on their MySpace page. The cut is from the group's Odinist, which hits stores October 22. ... Rwake and Total F---ing Destruction will head out in October for a brief 10-date run of shows. The first takes place in Atlanta on October 5 and the last date is scheduled for October 14 in Chicago. ...
Reunited grindcore trailblazers Brutal Truth have started writing material for their forthcoming LP, which will be released through Relapse. So far, the boys have finished six new songs, which bassist Danny Lilker said in a statement "are shaping up to be some of the most intense sh-- we've ever written. After eight years, it feels damn good to write some really psychotic grind, and we've jumped right into the deep end of the pool." ... Bury Your Dead have lined up a headlining fall tour with support acts Bring Me the Horizon, Ion Dissonance and Nights Like These. The trek launches September 21 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and runs through October 20 in Tampa, Florida. ... Dates are still being confirmed for a fall tour that will see Jesu and Torche teaming up. Things will get started in Washington, D.C., on October 18, and so far, gigs are booked through October 30 in Lawrence, Kansas. More dates will be announced in the coming weeks. ... As Cities Burn have been tapped as the support act for Dredg's upcoming tour, which begins September 20 in Reno, Nevada, and runs through October 7 in Los Angeles.