In June of 2015, the lives of the members of Minneapolis metalcore band After the Burial changed forever. As the group recorded their latest album, Dig Deep, in New Jersey, co-founder/guitarist Justin Lowe penned a Facebook post on his personal page announcing his exit from the band.
The note was erratic and contained conspiracy theories, and Lowe returned to Minneapolis shortly after posting it to seek help. Sadly, a month later, he went missing. His body was discovered July 21 by a hiker underneath the Arcola High Bridge connecting Arcola, Minnesota, and Somerset, Wisconsin. His death would be ruled a suicide.
In early February, as the Twin Cities was being hit with a massive snowstorm, ATB frontman Anthony Notarmaso — the only member who is not from Minnesota — arrived home from fishing to sit in his Florida backyard and watch the sunset. Talking by phone, he describes the months following Lowe's death.
"When Justin posted that letter on his Facebook page, it became viral and spread," Notarmaso says ahead of the band's release show Friday at the Skyway Theatre for Dig Deep. "Everyone was talking about it, and my phone went crazy. We didn't even know what was going on; we didn't know he was sick or anything. It was a total shock. There were signs when he initially left the studio and left us. We saw that, but before, there were no signs whatsoever."
ATB issued a statement June 25 on its Facebook page that read, in part: "Our dear friend, our brother onstage and off, has fallen into a very broken state of mind. A state that, despite our continued efforts, we have been powerless to get him out of."
Once they publicly addressed the situation regarding Lowe, the band continued to record alongside producer Will Putney on the East Coast. The fittingly named new album, Dig Deep, was written and recorded in one month, adding intensity to an already intense situation.
As news of Lowe's death spread, though, the band was unsure what its next steps would be. ATB immediately canceled plans to join the Summer Slaughter Tour, which was due to hit Minneapolis the week of Lowe's death.
Devastated and heartbroken, the four remaining members considered calling it quits and forming a new band. Complicating matters was the fact they were sitting on a finished After the Burial album.
Ultimately, fans catalyzed the band to keep moving ahead.
"So many people reached out to us," Notarmaso recounts. "We came to the conclusion that if we called it quits, we would be giving in to something that eventually took Justin's life. It would have defeated him and us."
On "Lost in the Static," the first single from Dig Deep, thoughts about shape, depth, and complexity are quickly assembled. Still, the devil, as always, is in the details, and all of After the Burial's songs are filled with tiny, detailed fragments, all scraped roughly together.
Mid-album track "Laurentian Ghosts" — based on the Laurentian Divide, a point in Minnesota where water begins flowing a different direction — has Lowe's fingerprints all over it.
"That song had the working title 'Ghosts' in the studio, and when it came to officially name it, I was OK with keeping the title," Notarmaso says. "But Trent [Hafdahl] brought up the Laurentian Divide, and I loved it. The strange thing is that the song has a big part of Justin in it. He always played this pretty riff when we would soundcheck, so we put that in the beginning of the song."
Notarmaso recites off the lyrics, "'Rage, find me beneath the iron mines, below 10,000 lakes, find me beyond the pines." He continues:
"I'm not from Minnesota, but my life drastically changed when I met these four guys and joined After the Burial. This is one of those songs where you can find double meanings. I didn't want to change anything; sometimes things are just meant to be. To me, it's a very personal song, and it's still hard for me to listen to."
As tragic as losing Lowe was for After the Burial, Notarmaso does not want that chapter to define the band forever.
"The reason you play music is to be remembered for the music. For all of us, we want to be known as the band that tried new things," he says. "The [Twin] Cities aren't known for its metal scene, so we've had to hone our sound and build our following on the road. We made our own trail rather than following a path that was already cut out; we wanted to find our own path and beauty. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail. I know I'm going to be happy on my deathbed, laying there thinking that I didn't play it safe. That's not me, nor is it Justin, Trent, Lee [Foral], or Dan [Carle]."
After the Burial
With: Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya, Erra, and Bad Omens
Where: Skyway Theatre, 711 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-333-6100
When: 6 p.m. Fri., Feb. 19
Tickets: $20; more info here.