6CORPSE6GRINDER6 on June 23rd, 2017
But what will we see when the light is gone?
Immolation’s most recent record takes a step forward from its predecessor, featuring a more ambitious proposal and a line-up change. Composition wise it sounds way more inspired and fresh, songwriting is somehow more memorable and powerful than on Kingdom of Conspiracy. The line-up change isn't such a big deal since the main songwriter is still Robert Vigna, they changed the second guitarist but there's something in his playing than gives a refreshing hint to the album; even if it isn't as good as their golden era releases, it kicks ass.
I think that the biggest difference between this record and their previous is the comeback of the heavy slow breakdowns with lots of pinch harmonics. Very old school. The rest is pretty much the same, melodic but terrifying devil's music. Fast tremolo guitar lines that evoke feelings of intense despair, tight drumming always following the guitars with psychotic precision and tone-aware fills and breaks. Slow breakdowns are conformed by weird metrics that sound “out of place” and interestingly dissonant. There’s a lot of rhythmic tension going on there. Bass guitar is okay, it doesn't really stand out but it serves as a mattress for the guitars. Ross Dolan’s vocals continue being the best in the genre after all these years, always deep and ultra low but legible. Lyrically they sent exactly the same message they used on their previous record: the last days of humanity are already here.
To summarize, another solid album from the death metal masters. The listen is totally worth it even if you're not a particular fan of the genre because of it's pristine production and delicate craftsmanship. This is definitely a well elaborated piece of art, just not as good as their best efforts.
MrMetalpants on June 23rd, 2017
Beats KoC(2013), almost as good as MaD(2010)
Every song on this album brings out something eye-popping and entertaining that will make you come back for seconds, thirds, fourths. Right off the bat the album pulls you in with it's easily digestible and catchy structure. The overall songwriting is almost a masterpiece. Nearly every song is unique on it's own and easily distinguishable. The horns(?) on Thrown to the Fire sound like a teaser for a movie and sets an great tone for the song that get you pumped. The groove on Destructive Currents is second this year only to the Six Feet Under track Sacrificial Kill. Above all increases it's sexiness ten-fold around the 2:00. I could go on but I'll let you experience it for yourself. Even the songs that are less impressive still have moments that stick out ("Atonement", "The Power of Gods", "Epiphany")
There's a certain tone that the guitar uses when it goes high that sounds new and fresh. There's only so many settings you can mess with so when a new sound comes through, it's remarkable. (Not in the guitar solos, but in the lead/rhythm work). The vocal work is what's to be expected if you're familiar with their last handful of albums. Same goes for the drums. Really, no specific instrument really breaks the mould or jumps out at you. Like I said before, the strength in the release is the structure and composition.
Overall, this release is a great follow-up to Kingdom of Conspiracy. Much better, in fact. Not quite as breathtaking as Majesty and Decay, but really close. They keep the style very close to those and haven't dipped back into their old style from Here in After, and so on. even though they're not breaking new ground, they have tilled the earth and produced a fertile crop.
--Fostering the Divide (So unique)
--Thrown to the Fire
--Above All (So sexy after 2:00)
Technical Skill: 75% Album Structure: 95% Sound Quality: 75% Originality: 65% Writing: 95%
theuntitled1 on April 29th, 2017
Four years after the mixed reception of Kingdom of Conspiracy, the death metal masters from Yonkers, New York have returned with their tenth album Atonement. Immolation is one of those bands that has established a reputation for consistency. Sure I like some albums better than others, but for the most part when you pick up an Immolation record you can pretty much expect a certain quality, which has made them one of death metal's truest standard bearers. I liken Atonement to watching a Friday the 13th movie. Everyone in the audience knows that the teenagers fucking on the couch are going to get their guts ripped out. They see it coming, but they still love it regardless. Atonement does not deviate far from Immolation's signature musical style, but within the context of their discography it does continue to demonstrate the band's maturation and overall craftsmanship. The lyrics are still nihilistic and pointedly critical of humanity's propensity toward blind faith, tyranny and self-destruction while on the production front, the team made some important improvements.
The composition on this record is exquisite and the performance is tight. Robert Vigna is still on the top of his game employing frantic tremolo picking, pinched harmonics, ringing dissonant harmonies and the stop on a dime rhythmic and tempo changes that Immolation is famous for. The new comer, Alex Bouks, does a fantastic job keeping up with and complimenting Vigna's style. Ross Dolan still has one of the best guttural growls in the business, which is forceful yet expressive and interesting in a way that a lot of death metal vocalists are not (Glen Benton should take notes). As always, Steve Shalaty is a motherfucking beast on the drum kit and locks in with the guitars and bass with the precision of a Rolex watch. This band is air tight, well rehearsed and professional. Through their career Immolation has allowed their music to breathe more while still being technically complex and proficient. This is still true on Atonement. Vigna and Bouks let chords ring out and allow more space in the music. The meat of the songs are still based around technical riffing, but the moments of space drive home the album's mood and tone. This has been an evolving trend in the songwriting process over the past decade. The cacophonous whirlwind of chromatic progressions are still present (this is death metal after all), but Atonement has moments where the quality of the notes mean more than the quantity. Sometimes the impact of music comes from what is not played rather than what is. I don't mean to imply that Atonement is somehow death metal's Darkside of the Moon by any stretch of the imagination. We aren't listlessly drifting through space and time on this record. It is brutal and merciless. But it demonstrates the maturity and craftsmanship in the songwriting. Immolation has more tools in the toolbox, so to speak, and they know how and when to use them to get the desired effect.
After back to back concept albums, Atonement is more general is it's lyrical themes, but still hits home Immolation's overarching message. 2010's Majesty and Decay riffs on the archetypal tyrant and the Jungian "shadow". Inside every human is the inclination to become a dominating and wrathful monster and the album ponders the question: are people worth saving or does humanity deserve to be wiped out? 2013's Kingdom of Conspiracy was about the perceived malevolent and divisive forces that drive our societies and keep people malleable, docile, and easily manipulated. Atonement revisits both of these themes while also reintroducing Immolation's most reliable and favorite punching bag, organized religion. Religious fundamentalism presenting a clear and present danger to the world today makes these songs all the more relevant. Songs such as "Fostering the Divide", "Rise of the Heretics", and "Above All" rail against religion as one of the primary forces that divides and pits people against one another. But none hit this point home harder than the self titled track "Atonement" which is not only critical, but defiant. "Atonement" doesn't wallow in nihilism like most of Immolation songs do. It is assertive in its indignation. The common threads that tie this album together, and Immolation's entire discography for that matter, are the forces that diminish freedom and individuality. Dysfunctional societies, politicians, the illuminati, religion, and the dark side of human nature itself are all what drive the collective toward self-enslavement, war, and ultimate self-destruction. This is what Immolation has been writing about for decades and will most likely continue to do so in the future.
Paul Orofino returns to the producers chair with engineer Zack Ohren in tow. Orofino has worked with Immolation since 1999's Failure of the Gods and by and large has done a decent job with the exception of the previous release. One of Kingdom of Conspiracy's great downfalls was that the drums were too loud and "clicky" drowning out an otherwise decent performance. I am happy to declare that those short comings are rectified on Atonement. The double kick drums and snares lose that annoying "click" noise and sit well in the mix. Thus the guitars, bass, and vocals have more room and are able to set the tone of the music like they are supposed to do. The production is still "modern" in the sense that everything is compressed and jacked up as loud as possible giving the music little to almost zero head room. But I can't necessarily blame Orofino and Ohren for that. After all, this has been the industry standard in music production for some time now and it is up to the band, not the engineer, to dictate which parts should be softer and which should be louder. A good engineer will pick up on this and bring it out of the performance. There are a few moments of dynamic variations on Atonement, which are given the proper care much to Ohren and Orofino's credit. A lone guitar interlude shouldn't need to be blasted through the speakers. The quiet parts give the louder parts more of an impact. Orofino and Ohren demonstrated that they understood this while recording.
In summation this is an awesome album worthy of a purchase from death metal fans. It admittedly lacks an "X factor" that pushes it into the mind blowing and jaw dropping category, perhaps due to it's somewhat predictability. Nevertheless, Atonement is a solidly put together release that will undoubtedly stand out as 2017 rolls along. Immolation doesn't make bad albums, which has made them one of heavy music's most enduring and influential bands.
Originally posted on: http://jjtheuntitled1.blogspot.com/
Twin_guitar_attack on April 7th, 2017
Nothing to Atone for.
Immolation have been around twenty nine years now, and Atonement is their tenth full length. It's hard to know what's more impressive from the New York powerhouse, the regularity with which they've been releasing albums since the early nineties, or that there isn't, not just a single bad one, but anything less than stellar in their entire discography. Close to a World Below is their most famous, but you can pick up anything they've put their name to and find a goddamn death metal treasure. There's a seemingly never ending wealth of ideas behind the instantly recognisable gruffness of Dolan's growls and the haunting atmosphere courtesy of Vigna's dissonant riffs and twisted leads that's made Immolation one of the mainstays of the scene that have never sounded like anyone else and never once lost their way. And they still haven't because this is once again top shelf death metal from a band that keeps showing everyone how it's done.
The faster blasting vibe of 2013's Kingdom of Conspiracy was brutal and took more than a few listens to really get under your skin, but once it had it was on regular rotation. Atonement on the other hand grabs you straight away from the moment the first eerie riff is followed up by a huge rhythmic groove. It's more accessible, but that's not to say they've suddenly gone all Arch Enemy. Throughout the album the music is generally slower than it's predecessor making the riffs feel spacious, easier to absorb,and a lot more brooding, creating much more of an unsettling atmosphere - but it melts your face off twice as much on the moments when they do speed it up, which are hardly few and far between. The dissonant riffs that create the atonal eerie atmosphere the band are known for are just as effective on an album that creates a particularly claustrophobic sound with it's atonal guitar work, with simpler slower sections to induce headbanging along with the moments of frenzied face melting technicality. The thick and suffocating atmosphere is like being stuck in a tar pit - spending most of the time in the mid-tempo, the bursts of speed akin to lashing out to escape and the slower sections from sinking further in. The guitar tone is the right mix of massive and audible, it's meaty enough to sound destructive, but not too distorted where the riffs come across with crystal clarity. The drum sound is also perfect with an incredibly snappy tone and technical playing that compliments the guitars really well, it's not just all blasts and repetitive fills, the drumming is always as interesting and integral as the guitars.
In terms of songwriting it's fantastic once again, the songs crafted really well meaning the evil feeling of the album never fades away, each riff leading perfectly into the other with each song sounding like a SONG which is not always the case with more technical groups. There's no filler to be found, but a few in particular really stand out. The Distorting Light has a much murkier production than the rest of the album, and as an opening track it feels like they may have taken a little inspiration from the recent cavern-core scene (that they were an integral inspiration of) and has a much more gaseous and toxic sound than some of their other writing, and the slower more technical parts are brilliant, as are the bridges that allow for Dolan's voice to really express itself. It's atonal even by Immolation's standards and probably the least accessible of the album and is something of a jarring introduction. When the Jackals Come follows up by going the other way with a more accessible track that's more melodic and faster, especially in the verse, with blasting drums and twisted sprawling riffs changing tempo so much it's hard for your banging head to keep track. Rise the Heretics has the fastest, most technical guitar playing on the album, and on an album where every solo on each song is fantastic, this is particularly barbaric with it's intense speed and deranged dissonant sound. Lower is slower and more unsettling for most of the track until a faster riff leads into another blazing solo before moving back into slower doomy territory in a more suffocating piece. The title track has the best of everything that is Immolation, and is an eerie behemoth that marches between slow and oppressive and blasting brutality, and with the martial drums in the middle it sounds like the aural equivalent of a battle in the depths of hell.
Overall it's another fantastic effort from one of the most consistent bands not just in death metal, but metal in general. It doesn't reinvent what Immolation is but it's a damn great example of what they are and always have been - technical, eerie, brutal, evil and downright essential. Immolation fans need this, and those who haven't heard them before will find as good a starting point as any on Atonement, most likely before going and getting the rest of their discography.
Originally written for swirlsofnoise.com
Lissart on March 25th, 2017
Consistent till death
Immolation are one of those bands that have never released even one below par album. It's unbelievable how consistent band they are; having released 9 albums thus far did by no means weaken their creativity. The band's 10th offering, 'Atonement', came out 24th February 2017 and is a successor to 2013's 'Kingdom of Conspiracy'. Ross Dolan, Robert Vigna and co. did it again.
The beginning of the album is marked with an incredibly heavy piece that is 'The Distorting Light'. The eerie, clean intro rapidly turns into what Immolation are about - we are introduced to onslaught of extremely aggressive musical delivery. Pacey, but at the same time technical drumming of Steve Shalaty strikes immediately after the intro is gone creating controlled havoc that is a signature move from veteran death metallers. Definitely more than a promising commencement of the release.
As the album tracks pass by, a listener can notice how coherent the album actually is. Passages between each song are well-thought and constructed in an apt manner. No disturbing oddities to be found here. Immolation have never fallen short of expectations during their lengthy career on the metal scene and with this release they once again prove they're masters of their own craft. One just can't say death metal without thinking of this band.
Creative songwriting, rumbling blast beats, extremely low vocal tone, unique and sinister riffs - each tool of the trade to be found on the 10th full-length by the band. Despite the fact that Immolation have often been accused of being generic and predictable throughout their entire career, 'Atonement' is a quite diverse offering. From the enchanting but at the same time surprising outro of 'When the Jackals Come' to the blissful acoustic intro of 'Lower', the album offers some interesting and rather unexpected moments. One thing is certain - Robert Vigna is a master of death metal riffing since his riffs are unparalleled and incomparable. It's impossible not to recognize his unresistant guitar assault.
The band's most recent offering is definitely an honorable successor to such Immolation classics as 'Dawn of Possession', 'Here in After', or 'Close to a World Below'. One could say that their newer stuff can't be compared with earlier mentioned masterpieces. I'd concur to say that 2013's 'Kingdom of Conspiracy' didn't hold a candle to those albums, but 'Atonement' doesn't lack anything to be named a rightful heir to their throne.
To conclude, 'Atonement' is the quartet's best work since 2002's 'Unholy Cult'. The band never suffers from a dearth of concepts and ideas what's clearly noticeable on the group's 10th official studio album. Despite having kicked our asses for almost 30 years now, Immolation keep on conquering the underground world of extreme music, the death metal world below.
Track picks: 'The Distorting Light', 'When the Jackals Come, 'Rise the Heretics', 'Destructive Currents', 'Lower'
slayrrr666 on March 23rd, 2017
Atone your sins before your burned alive
One of the genre’s biggest institutions, New York death metal legends Immolation have always had a defining and overwhelming influence on the scene with their dark, churning atmospheric take on the death metal scene that has earned them quite a deserved fan-base. Entering their third decade of active duty in any form, the groups’ tenth full-length effort was released February 24, 2017 on Nuclear Blast Records.
Coming through in fine fashion, the band wastes no time here displaying the prototypical dark and churning sound that’s typically associated with the band. Firing off that ever familiar sense of dark, blasting rhythms and churning, swampy riff-work that generate the kind of oppressive, heavy-handed atmosphere that the band is famous for, and when kept to a wide array of tempos and rhythm shifts the music comes off even more dynamic. That goes in conjunction with the atonal arrangements spread throughout here in adding another layer to the thick, murky atmosphere by changing up the tempo into more lethargic sprawling filled with these atypical squealing patterns that keep this one on such a varied offensive charge due to the ability of letting the thick, churning patterns generate another avenue of attack that keeps this one bristling with a plethora of dark and dingy rhythms. This attack is carried throughout here to such extremes that it’s entirety is taken up with this back-and-forth approach and the album maintains a viable engaging atmosphere due to this tactic. It really only makes this one feature one real flaw in that it’s still the same-old approach throughout here that the band has come to utilize, and there’s little new to be found in here that can’t be found in other efforts by them. That doesn’t make much of a difference for some, and it’s overwhelming power still holds this one up overall.
With such a large amount of positive work here and just so few flaws that many might not really care about, there’s quite a lot to like with the group who have released another stand-out offering that should greatly appeal to all fans of the bands’ past work and both death metal and old-school death in general.
mjollnir on March 21st, 2017
When it comes to death metal, I tend to lean towards the more traditional or old school approach. Too brutal or too technical and something gets lost. Crushing riffs, great solos, and evil as fuck low growls…that’s what I love about death metal. Immolation was part of the early days of death metal and their debut, 1991’s Dawn of Possession, is still one of my favorite albums of the genre. They’ve consistently churned out albums over the years ranging from good to great but their tenth full length, Atonement, is the band showing the world that they are still relevant to the genre.
What I like most of all is that this album has an overall dark atmosphere. The riffing and tempo of some songs remind me of doom metal while others are blasters but the feeling of the album as a whole is the same. The album opener, “The Distorting Light” opens with this eerie dark riff leading to a rather chaotic few seconds but the riffs are brilliant and the solos are really good. Halfway through the song is some cool doom riffing before another amazing solo. I will say it took me a bit to warm up to this song because it is all over the place but it’s still a great song. “When the Jackals Come” is more straight ahead moving between blasts and mid paced but this song has a lot of serious riffs. It’s one of the best songs on the album for sure.
“Thrown to the Fire” is one of those examples of the eerie doom feeling that this album has. The riffs are slow and crushing and even where it picks up in tempo it still feels dark and gloomy. The solo midway through is godly. The guitar tone on the solos is perfect and adds to the atmosphere of each song. The production of the album is really good. The sound is not over polished but is clean and mixed well. There’s a few spots where the vocals seem drowned out but for the most part this album has a great sound. I think my favorite track on this album is “Above All.” This song just crushes from beginning to end. The massive riffs combined with the precision time changes and killer solos makes this a great song. And the two songs that come after it, “The Power of Gods” and “Epiphany,” are some of the best songs this band has written in years.
I admit that I have not followed this band’s career very closely after the first two and I have Kingdom of Conspiracy but rarely listen to it. But this album blew me away from beginning to end…even the re-recording of “Immolation” from the debut. This band has had a pretty good career but making a death metal album this good at this stage of the game is quite impressive. This band still has plenty to say.The Elitist Metalhead
Evokaphile on March 19th, 2017
Top-Shelf Immolation Goodness
There’s something to be said about a band’s aesthetic principles and how they tie into the music itself. Whether it be to capture the emotive principles or intellectual underpinnings of an album, a band’s imagery is undoubtedly an intrinsic component of how the music therein affects the listener. On occasion however, it can also signal a change in direction. Such is the case with Immolation and their 2017 release, Atonement. Having abandoned their original logo after the unveiling of their legendary 1996 masterpiece, Here In After, Immolation’s sound took a noted change in direction from the ominously brooding nature of their sophomore effort to a slightly more indulgent and in-your-face modus operandi. The change was in many ways subtle but nonetheless held steadfast for over twenty years, adorning the tombstones of numerous classic releases from the band. Fast-forward two decades, and the choice stencil of yesteryear has been resurrected. With this harbinger engraved on their latest effort, Immolation have unleashed another mind bending and finely tuned machine, only this time engineered from both the salvaged artifacts of their early history and the triumphant innovations their more recent releases.
Immolation themselves stated prior to the release of Atonement that the recent switch between record labels had afforded them more time to write and record the album. With the extra creative room this gave the band, the veteran death metal sages found themselves with the opportunity to develop their ideas more thoroughly and organically. Upon hearing Atonement’s first few moments its obvious that these circumstances inspired the band to further elaborate on the more atmospheric side of their trademarked brand of darkness. And yes, Atonement is dark. Very dark, in fact. If the blistering nature of Kingdom Of Conspiracy was the urgent warning of a fast approaching Armageddon, than Atonement is the hallowed day when our fragile world is consumed by a violent eschaton. Indeed, this more eloquent velocity is the real key to Immolation’s success with this album.
Drawing inspiration from the more atmospheric developments of their back catalogue has resulted in an album that sounds modern as ever while harnessing the murky grit that made their 90’s-era releases so convincingly ominous. It is truly the best of both worlds here. Within the scope of Immolation’s present day stylings, Kingdom Of Conspiracy suffered from a lucklustre production job which did the rather pedestrian songwriting no favors. Luckily the production job on Atonement is more in line with that of Majesty And Decay’s brilliantly massive sound. This engrossing and precise soundscape truly complements the more spacious dynamics present, as each instrument comes off as robust and gargantuan. Bolstering this constituent, they really come across as a tighter group this time around. Apparently restoring the fluid chemistry that instantly made Majesty And Decay a modern classic, every articulation this album presents is done so by the entire band without ever sounding anything less than spot-on.
One would find themselves hard pressed to find a single Immolation album that doesn’t have at least a dozen memorable riffs, and Vigna’s work on the strings here is nothing less than masterful business as usual. The man has riffs. He has really good riffs. Tremendous riffs. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you, Vigna’s riffs are the best riffs. Geometric and expressive, there are many moments here, like the exemplary bangers “When The Jackals Come” and "Lower", that see the axeman utilizing the added space of a more mid-paced trot to greatly rapturous effect. On the other side of the spectrum, moments like the sexy pinch harmonics on “Rise The Heretics” or the rhythmic, pummelling movements of the title track offer that extra dose of physicality that keeps this album addictive through many repeated listens. Shalaty’s work on the kit is robust and gymnastic as always, only this time around he seems to play tighter (but no less intricately) alongside the string section, oftentimes showing a more subdued approach to bolster the emotive impact of his well placed flourishes, syncopations and all-out bursts of blasting grandiosity. Dolan’s vocals are also badass as ever, giving Atonement a genuinely grave and sagely personality, and the frontman's bass work still humbly lurks the bottom end with an authoritative diction and confidence that is both unabashed and adept. You would think after two decades of such unwavering quality the band would be showing signs of fatigue, but instead Immolation continue to hone, sharpen and refine.
Returning to the subject matter of Here In After, Immolation’s tenth full length certainly has more in common with this aforementioned antiquity than first meets the ear. True, the production here is considerably shinier and streamlined – this is simply a consequence of current times – but the songwriting itself draws many stylistic connections with their second full length. The aforementioned pacing and emphasis on emotive chord structures give way to a weight that falls like a musty and burning acid rain, utilizing visceral chemistry to inflict terminal harm rather than rely solely on the convictions of tactile violence as a means to an end. Atonement however, is far from a hearkening of past glories, as these rustic elements are used in moderate measure, carefully mixed with all the martial acrobatics they have learned over the years.
Frankly, Atonement sees Immolation being as… Immolation as ever. Its a catch-22; if you love the band, you will assuredly love how this album boasts all of the band’s finest qualities. However, those with expectations of stark evolution and re-invention will be let down by the fact that this release hardly breaks any new ground for the band, regardless of how good it is. As a whole it may not be the most earnestly fervent offering from the group, nor the starkest aesthetic evolution, but such qualms must be taken in context. Atonement is still an extremely well crafted offering on every level, and regardless of how tall it stands within the Immolation’s own discography it will definitely stand as one of the best death metal albums of 2017.
(Orginally published on http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/72999/Immolation-Atonement)
Larry6990 on March 2nd, 2017
Death metal mainstays Immolation have cranked out one of the most consistent bodies of work in the metal community. But as the sub-genre has evolved, so have they - though it might not be obvious upon first glance. The primal raw energy of albums like Here In After has been focused and channelled into a more focused package here in 2017. Atonement still retains their characteristic haunting dissonance, but with maturation comes the dilution of energy. It's still there, but in short bursts.
Immolation have never been one for blazing straight-up blastbeats start-to-finish. This isn't Aeon, for God's sake (pun intended). Strong, solid grooves and eerie ambience will always be the prime focus. And, once opener "The Distorting Light" gets over its rapid, messy introduction and settles into a crushing riff 20 seconds in - we, the listeners, feel in safe hands. It's these moments where Atonement shines. The guitar tone is just the right amount of meaty to be both destructive and clear - making riffs like the 0:43 point in "Lower", or the 3:21 mark in the title-track so effective (the latter of which is my favourite point on the album).
The rest of the production job is pleasing indeed. No over-compression, no over-triggering - just a simple, raw, death metal sound that doesn't need to prove itself. The only mixing issue lies in the vocals. Mainman Ross Dolan is buried a little; once the blastbeats in the title-track start up, he is barely audible. He also is starting to sound worn - a remark I'm very hesitant to bestow upon death metal vocalists. I won't put it down to age just yet, but lets hope he goes the way of George Fisher, not Chris Barnes.
The atmosphere of this album is held up impressively by many factors. The treble guitars that pile themselves on, layer after layer, atop the chunky riffs create an extra dimension of chaos. The menacing ambience between songs (see the opening of "Thrown To The Fire") tides the listener over in a sense of foreboding anticipation. And the apocalyptic artwork by Pär Oloffsson ties it all together to make a cohesive whole.
In no way do I seek to disparage the songwriting talents of the death metal veterans (well, veteran), but Atonement reaches a point of tiredness. Once the hammering ending riff of "The Power Of Gods" comes to a crashing finale - you're ready to stop the disc spinning. Alas, there is one more (the slightly lacklustre "Epiphany") to sit through. And if you have the digipak version as I do, there's even a modern re-working of their title-song from the quartet's very first album. All in all, Atonement is a more-than-worthy addition to Immolation's shining catalogue. But don't expect it to wow anyone who isn't already a fan. Just enjoy those hulking riffs when they come beating down on your puny face.
RapeTheDead on February 24th, 2017
filthy business as usual
Immolation is back! And they finally used their cool logo instead of the boring plain text! There's a lot to get excited about if you're a fan of the band. Ten albums later, Immolation's goal of making pure, unfiltered death metal hasn't changed one bit. They're occasionally criticised for being fodder for elitists and nothing more for that reason, but if there's anything I've learned in my years of metal fandom, it's that if somebody calls a band "elitist", that should probably be taken as a compliment. Indeed, Immolation is probably even a bit too jarring, heady and atmosphere-based for many death metal fans. I know I didn't really get it at first. They're pretty much the archetype for an "acquired taste" in the genre, because you kind of have to force yourself to listen to them a little bit. Robert Vigna's riff style is one that's intentionally uncatchy and obtuse. Once it clicks, though, they're one of the most genuinely unsettling bands the genre has to offer. I listen to an album like Close to a World Below and still get the same sort of chill I got when I first dove headfirst into extreme music.
They're incredibly consistent, too. I don't think they have an album that's just plain bad, because all the misplaced dissonance and sudden tempo changes work once you realize that's exactly what they're going for. That being said, if I had to pick the album of theirs that was the weakest, I'd probably go with Kingdom of Conspiracy. It was a bit too busy in the drumming, and the riffs just sounded too...conventional, for lack of a better term. Like, it was still Immolation, and it was still a competent death metal album, but it lacked a certain special something. It was very sharp and intense, but didn't really have that same sort of creepy vibe going for it. As somebody who got a lot of mileage out of Majesty and Decay, it left me feeling a little bit let down.
Much has changed in the past four years, however, so it might be good to do a rundown of what's changed. Bill Taylor, the secondary guitarist as far back as Unholy Cult, has left the band. This doesn't have huge implications for the band's sound, because Ross and Bob are the two founding members and they've got their formula set in stone. They've brought back the pinch harmonics in spades, as there was a distinct shortage of them on their more recent albums, and at times it seems like they make entire riffs out of them. The pacing of Atonement is notably different as well. Kingdom of Conspiracy was fast n'furious, this is much more slow'n'low to the point where you wonder if the band was listening to a lot of doom metal prior to writing the record. Now, don't get me wrong here, there's still plenty of sudden, jarring blastbeats and overall the album spends more time at a quicker pace. However, what sets Atonement apart is the way it plays with space. They've done this in bits and pieces on previous albums, but this is one of the first albums that uses those simple, dirge-y moments on a majority of tracks.
A more cynical listener might see this as a product of the band getting old and tired and just wanting to write something more straightforward, but I wouldn't say that's true. The intensity is still there, it's just manifesting in a less obvious form. Atonement is still just as abrasive and challenging, but dialing it back just a little bit really helps things breathe and get under your skin. The squealing riffs and sharp tempo changes become the album's strong suits, and the little forays into something a bit different (like the opening of "Lower") work really, really well. I don't think I've ever heard them write something so somber and...pretty, for lack of a better term. They're able to stray from their well-worn path, because they know what works for them and how to bring it back if things ever get too off-track. Never before has the band sounded so comfortable, and I mean that as a good thing. Sometimes their songs do have a tendency to sound like they're at war with themselves, and it's actually quite refreshing to hear them take a break from the chaos to focus on the ominous, lurching riffs.
Ross's vocals sound as good as they ever have (he kind of had this weird tinny sound going on in the early '00s but I think that was just a production thing), and this is one of Steve Shalaty's better performances as well. In all honesty, he's probably my least favourite drummer Immolation's ever had; he was always a bit too straightforward compared to the batshit "let's try and play the whole drumkit at one" style of Alex Hernandez or the pummeling battery of Craig Smilowski. Shalaty sort of sits in a middle ground between the two, but he's also the longest-standing (sitting?) drummer the band has ever had at this point, and it shows, because he follows the riffs quite closely and has slowly been adding some extra frills to his drumming style over time. Despite their first lineup change in over a decade, the cohesion between musicians is at an all-time high.Atonement is exactly the kind of album you want to hear from a veteran band at this point in their career. Is this the best thing they've ever put out? If you were already a fan, probably not. Your attachment to their older stuff will be too strong. That wasn't what Immolation was aiming to do. They wrote an album that delivers everything a fan could expect, but also threw in the occasional curveball and developed their sound a bit more so things don't seem like a shameless re-treading of older ground. If you're new to the band, this is as good a place as any to start as well. Their modern-era albums (so, Majesty and Decay onward) are a good deal more accessible, and Atonement is the best of those three albums. Might even be the best Shalaty album, period. The masters have delivered the goods yet again, and as it stands, this is one of the best things I've heard so far this year.
(Originally written for The Metal Observer)