They may not be as well known in the US as some of the other metalcore bands out there, but Norway’s Atena has been around for over a decade and putting their own spin on the genre across five full length albums. While they originally leaned heavily into djent and the 2010’s era of metalcore, in more recent years their sound has pulled in everything from hip hop, post hardcore, and alternative rock into a metalcore foundation. This year’s Subway Anthem showcases that adventurous spirit with plenty of heavy hooks alongside electronic and pop elements that channel a mellower and reflective tone. It does feel a bit front loaded as the second half ends up mellowing out a bit too much, but this is still a strong effort from a band that’s able to push outside of some of the usual metalcore stereotypes.
Despite how many different directions Atena goes in on this album, they smartly chose to start things off on the heaviest side of the spectrum. “Ultra Ultimate Opus Power” is a short opening track but it comes roaring in with electronics that have a slight hip hop slant and huge, chugging riffs that culminate in an explosive breakdown towards the end. This smoothly transitions into “Hard Day”, which may be the most traditional metalcore type song Subway Anthem has to offer, but it does a good job of moving from huge, heavy chugs into angular riffing where electronics are added in to create a bit more atmosphere. But even “Hard Day” gives a window into Atena’s more subdued and vulnerable side, as the second half lets off the gas and lets the keyboards shine. From there the sound starts to move back and forth between the heavy and melodic, as “Bargain” feels like a mix of post hardcore and metalcore with its soaring melodies, while “Poison Pure” even has a drum ‘n bass section that shakes things up further. Compared to 2020’s Drowning Regret & Lungs Filled With Water, the fusion of all these different styles into the heavier foundation feels a bit more seamless and makes for some stunning cinematic peaks. Admittedly the second half leans a bit more into alternative rock type melodies, opting to explore Atena’s softer side for multiple tracks in a row, and this is where the album struggles a bit. There are still some heavier sections, but the run from “Leave” to “Oh My” doesn’t have quite as strong hooks compared to the earlier songs and I found myself hoping for one more big breakdown to close out “Oh My”. Subway Anthem is consistent from beginning to end and there’s nothing bad or out of place, but it does feel like when the band pivots towards these orchestral and cinematic directions and mellows out that they lose some of that adventurous nature from earlier on and become just a little too uniform.
One of the most surprising elements of Subway Anthem was how much variety Atena packs in their vocal performance. Even on the heavier side there is a wide range of pitches, as the first minute of “Ultra Ultimate Opus Power” moves from low pitched growls, raspy screams, and even some yells while keeping the intensity at a high. “Hard Day” features the first appearance of singing, which initially comes in the form of emotive and post hardcore style pitches that still have some grittiness to them. But starting with “Bargain” the vocals transition over to much deeper singing that has more of an alternative rock feel, sometimes reminding me of early 2000s effort from bands like The Killers or The Bravery. Add in some pop ranges as well, and this gives Atena a unique angle compared to some of the other metalcore bands out there. Some of these ranges may be an acquired taste depending on listener preferences, but I felt they all fit with what the band was going for on Subway Anthem and nothing sound forced or underdeveloped.
It does feel like the strongest experimentation and balance of metalcore, pop, and electronica come during the first half of the album, with the second half coming in slightly more uniform and not standing out as much. But the strength of songs like “Hard Day” and “Poison Pure” make this one worth a recommendation, and Atena does have unique qualities that makes them a bit more interesting than the average metalcore band. I’d like to see them keep some of that adventure and spontaneity even at their mellowest as they move forward, as that seems like it could go a long way. Subway Anthem is available from Indie Recordings.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg