In October, California metallers ATREYU surprise-released a new song called "Save Us". It was the first taste of the band's music since the departure of vocalist Alex Varkatzas a month earlier.
ATREYU's current lineup features drummer Brandon Saller focusing completely on singing after previously sharing lead vocals with Varkatzas for most of the band's two-decade-plus existence. Sitting behind the kit is Saller's HELL OR HIGHWATER bandmate Kyle Rosa, who had filled in for Saller on drums last year after Varkatzas bowed out of the band's European tour while dealing with serious back and hernia issues.
Asked in a recent interview with "Sappenin' Podcast With Sean Smith" if the band is still on speaking terms with Varkatzas, Saller said (hear audio below): "We'll call it a breakup. There's obviously a separation, so I think that's something that, in our hopes, the future will heal. But the five of us in the current situation are tighter than ever."
Regarding whether its feels like the latest lineup changes have injected new energy into ATREYU, Saller said: "It does [feel like that]. To me, it very much does. Being in a band for so long, I would say almost no bands are granted the insane opportunity to get a whole new big huge bag of inspiration and hunger handed to them. I feel like complacency is the killer of art. I feel like having this shift and having to almost re-prove ourselves and have something new to represent, it takes all that away and it brings you back to that youthful place."
He continued: "I said this a lot when I was doing my other band, HELL OR HIGHWATER, that it's like this invigorating, new energy that you only feel when you're young and starting. Obviously, we have decades of history behind the band and an insanely massive and incredible fanbase, but to us, we have to make sure that they're all on board, and we have to make sure that we're showing them what we're working with now."
Two months ago, Brandon told "Cutter's Rockcast" that the singer change was a long time coming. "I think people see things on the Internet, and they assume that it just happened," he said. "When you are in a band, and you have a band that's been around for 20-plus years, obviously, it's a business as well, so you have to really go through the motions and then really think everything through and do everything properly. So this has been something that has been kind of happening for a while now. Obviously, we're putting out music, so we were in the studio [making a new album]. So there was definitely the moment of when everything sort of became present that this was going to happen. We kind of had to figure out, if this happens, what is the next move? How do we go from here? Because the four of us are nowhere near done with this yet.
"I think we were really blessed with a moment [in the] summer [of 2019], where we had to go to Europe without Al, because of his back," he continued. "The two things are completely unrelated and have nothing to do with each other, really, but we had played in Europe and felt what that was like with the lineup that we currently have, and it worked, and it felt strong. So when it came time to figure out what was gonna be, obviously, Kyle Rosa was our first choice to call to play drums. If anyone knows me in HELL OR HIGHWATER, Kyle is the drummer of HELL OR HIGHWATER. He's one of my best friends and just a phenomenal human. So we kind of started playing with him and jamming with him and going through the motions to see how it felt, and it still felt really great. So that's where we are now."
Saller went on to explain why ATREYU decided against bringing in a new vocalist to replace Varkatzas.
"A new voice, I think, would completely shatter people, whereas I think just having me — everyone knows me, every ATREYU fan knows my voice and knows what it is in the band, and it's still there," he said. "And we just integrated Porter [bassist Marc McKnight] doing a lot more of the screaming stuff. I'm doing some of the screaming stuff on [upcoming] the record, but most of it's Porter. If you know our last five records, you know his voice too. Since he's been in the band, he's been screaming on records and he's been in the mix. So it still felt really familiar. We're trying to take ourselves outside of the band and put ourselves in the fans' shoes. And this still feels so much like ATREYU, and I feel like we're stronger than ever. And it feels good, and we all are so excited for this."
Regarding the aggressive nature of "Save Us", Saller said: "I think a lot of people expected us to, for some reason, put out a pop album. It's probably the heaviest record we've made in a long time. And that's not to say there isn't some freakin' pop-style stuff on there — there is, just like every other ATREYU record. Every record we've done for the past decade-plus has had those moments, and that's always been the band we are. It's brutal, and it still feels like ATREYU to me.
"This isn't a slight on Al at all, but not everyone lives and breathes on the Internet," he added. "There's a lot of people that will hear this just on the radio and will have no idea, because it's not a crazy departure style-wise."
Earlier this year, ATREYU was working on material for its eighth album. The band was once again collaborating with producer John Feldmann, who previously helmed 2018's "In Our Wake" and 2007's breakout album "Lead Sails, Paper Anchor".
In August 2019, ATREYU released a deluxe edition of "In Our Wake" via Spinefarm Records. The new version featured the original "In Our Wake" album, along with seven additional tracks. The bonus material included B-sides from the sessions for both "In Our Wake" and 2015's "Long Live", along with alternate versions of the title track and "The Time Is Now" from "In Our Wake". The deluxe edition featured completely redesigned artwork and a total of 19 songs.