You don’t fuck with Atreyu frontman Alex Varkatzas. Behind the two full sleeves and penetrating stare, the singer for Orange County’s most vicious metalcore band is currently in the midst of a training regimen worthy of a gladiator. During his rare moments of downtime from the road, Varkatzas fills his week with 10 two-hour workout sessions that include private jujitsu lessons, high-impact kickboxing, and strength conditioning with an ex–football player. So would Varkatzas ever use his physical prowess to intimidate a shady promoter? “I’m very nonviolent,” he clarifies. “That said, if someone swings at me, my fiancée, or one of my brothers, then shit’s on. But I think our booking agent will ruin your day up if you try to fuck us for money,” he adds with a laugh. “I don’t have to worry about that.”
Besides, these days Varkatzas has more important things on his mind. His band, Atreyu—which also includes drummer-vocalist Brandon Saller, guitarists Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel, and bassist Marc McKnight—are releasing their fifth full-length, Congregation of the Damned. It’s an album that sees the band’s signature sound finally coming full circle. Since the group came out of the Orange County, CA, scene as teenagers in the late ’90s (alongside acts like Eighteen Visions and Avenged Sevenfold) and exploded in 2002 with their metalcore opus Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses, their music and image have matured. They’ve evolved from an Anne Rice–obsessed goth metal group to one of the genre’s most unique and celebrated acts—a progression that hasn’t come without its fair share of misconceptions.
“I don’t like being asked questions about makeup,” Varkatzas says dismissively. “We wore that literally not even a year, but there was a shitload of pictures taken around that time because we were always on the road,” he explains. “We got stuck in that makeup-wearing goth metalcore band thing that we definitely never wanted to be, so I think it’s liberating now to be free of that.” After two more albums on Victory Records—2004’s The Curse and 2006’s A Death-Grip on Yesterday—the band left the label and released their major label debut, Lead Sails Paper Anchor, in 2007. It was a polarizing album that saw Varkatzas taking a more melodic approach to his vocals. “I think, if anything, Lead Sails served the purpose to sever any of those ties to the goth metal thing,” he elaborates. “Any close-minded kids who just thought we were going to be one thing and that’s all they wanted to hear probably checked out on that record.”