So far, ATEEZ’s work has been divided into series. Their debut-era Treasure series remains unrivaled in scope and quality. Follow-up Zero felt less narratively (and musically) cohesive, though it had its standouts. But, that’s all in the past. We find ourselves at the start of a new chapter with The World Ep.1. For years now, I’ve hoped ATEEZ would venture down a techno, cyberpunk aesthetic. They’re getting quite close with this project, even if title track Guerrilla sees them retracing tropes they’ve already mastered.
Teased earlier this month via an extended dance preview, Guerrilla’s shouty hook struck me as way too familiar for the grand kick-off of a new ATEEZ era. I mean, every boy group from big-name agency to hole-in-the-wall startup are recording this style of blustery chorus – low on melody, high on attitude. They don’t feel remotely ambitious or unique anymore, and with a vocal line as strong as ATEEZ’s I wish they’d opted for an epic, melodic centerpiece that truly flexed their skills. After all, part of what makes their music so transcendent are those majestic vocal climaxes. We get a hint of these during Guerrilla’s pre-chorus and much more during its bridge, but overall this is a performance piece with emphasis on contentious energy and daring musical flourishes.
With that said, Guerrilla is a solid example of this gruff, swaggering boy group trope. The song brings in a few psychedelic rock turns that flesh out the instrumental and add needed heft to its modest bones. I’ve always thought you could judge a truly great song by how well it fares when stripped of its flashy production. Guerilla wouldn’t pass this test, but I’m not sure that’s the point. This song is all about production and performance. The rap hits hard, the dynamic post-chorus howl shreds as furiously as any electric guitar solo, and the guys even flirt with screamo in places. This heady mix is enough to distract from Guerrilla’s let down of a hook. The song succeeds on sheer verve, and really comes to life during its final minute. In fact, I wish the entire track sounded like its hard rock bridge.
On another familiar note, I fear we got Take Me Home’d again. B-side Cyberpunk‘s full-on techno crunch would have made an epic single that offered something we can’t hear anywhere else in K-pop. There’s still time, guys!