Heavy California quintet Atreyu renews its dark faith by leading a 'Congregation of the Damned' 

Mayhem Festival
featuring Rob Zombie, Atreyu, Korn and more
2 p.m. Saturday
Zoo Amphitheatre
2101 N.E. 50th

In its dozen years of existence, Atreyu has risen to the top of the melodic hardcore heap. In that time, the members of the California quintet have established themselves as an act capable of blinding ferocity, stinging instrumental fury and moments of supple beauty.

It didn't happen overnight, but evolved across five albums.

The musicians' abilities were readily apparent on the 2005 Warped Tour. Even amongst such future chart-climbing peers as Avenged Sevenfold, Hawthorne Heights and The All-American Rejects, Atreyu's vibrant stage show and thundering sound won the day. Guitarist Dan Jacobs said the tour presaged the arrival of metalcore as a popular genre.

"It was right when everyone was kind of blowing up. It was kind of a catalyst of becoming huge right at that point," he said. "You can almost look back and see the whole story. So many of these bands have come so far, so much further than any of us thought we'd ever get."

The band formed behind singer Alex Varkatzas and Jacobs, who met in a junior high gym class and bonded over a shared love of Green Day. They soon hooked up with drummer Brandon Saller and began as a punk band called Retribution. As the group grew and the sound mutated, the name changed to Atreyu, from a character in "The Neverending Story." Jacobs later met fellow guitarist Travis Miguel while working at Hot Topic.

Even from the beginning, Jacobs and his mates' ambitions were big.

"When I first started playing guitar, I think even subconsciously my whole point of playing guitar was to be a rock star and to be famous," he said. "It was the only thing I wanted to do, and I think everyone in the band felt the same way."

In 1999, Atreyu recorded the first of two self-released EPs before signing with Victory Records for 2002's "Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses." It sold a quarter-million copies, but 2004's "The Curse" did even better.  
Disney-owned Hollywood Records had been keeping tabs on Atreyu, and signed the band for its most "accessible" album, 2007's "Lead Sails Paper Anchor," which Jacobs said became more "melodic" than planned.

But last year's "Congregation of the Damned" remedied that with a return to harder-hitting impulses, even recycling a few chord progressions from its first album. Jacobs said the dark tone is inspired by troubling world events, from oil spills to financial crises.

"You switch the channels, but you can't help but notice it, and there's people talking about it on all levels," he said. "It's just venting about all the craziness that's going on and how we are as people of the world, the congregation of the damned." "Chris Parker

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