Album Review – Atonement by ImmolationDate: February 28, 2017
Death Metal is my favorite genre. Being a relative newbie when it comes to metal music, I still have a lot of bands to learn about and explore across the genre. So I found it a bit surprising when I didn't know much about Immolation, especially considering the fact that they formed about five minutes from my hometown.
Immolation are legends when it comes to the death metal genre, churning out one solid album after another since 1991. Unlike their death metal counterparts, Immolation never messed with horror movie tropes or anything like that, focusing on crafting their fine-tuned ominous, dark, heavy sound that has solidified their status as icons of the genre. They haven't ever strayed from their craft, and that's part of the reason for their continued excellence and consistency. Another reason is the fact that lead guitarist Robert Vigna and vocalist/bassist Ross Dolan have been the two constant members throughout their history.
Atonement goes back to the band's roots, slowing down the pace a bit but still delivering a brutal onslaught of double bass drums, rumbling basslines and some massive riffs from Vigna. Their previous album, Kingdom of Conspiracy, went for a more fast-paced and aggressive approach. I didn't like that album as much as I did with their 2010 release, Majesty and Decay. Atonement is the band rediscovering their sound, adding a few twists and putting forth an album that's both familiar yet fresh and definitely memorable.
The first song off of the album, "The Distorting Light," kicks off with an ominous melody before the blast beats and bass kick in, followed by an awesome riff from Vigna, one that makes you want to headbang throughout the entire track. Vigna's guitar work is at the forefront here, but the rhythm section here on both the bass and guitar do an excellent job complementing each song. The band knows when to restrain their sound and when to accelerate and join the forefront. The drummer Steve Shatlaty does an exceptional job of that here, and I think his work on the album is some of the most impressive. It sounds effortless and perfectly complementing the rest of the band members.
I think what I love the most about Immolation and their sound is the fact that they are so technically sound, but they don't let that overshadow their sound. Many bands will use their songs as an exercise in self-indulgence and seeing how many chords and riffs they can fit into a solo, which takes away from the music. But everything here from Immolation is well-crafted and well-thought out, and their technicality shines through in a different way. The grooves and hooks aren't immediately apparent, and it takes a few listens to fully appreciate how good they are in their respective roles.
The band picks up the pace with the blistering tracks "Rise the Heretics" and one of the singles, "Destructive Currents," but I love how the band manages to have these songs with slower, chugging riffs that are both brutal but manage to carry an incredible amount of melody and groove. Songs like "When The Jackals Come" and "Epiphany" feature fractured melodies and amorphous rhythm, methodically switching from slow and full of melody to fast and brutal, with destructive riffs throughout . "Lower" is a great example of the band perfectly utilizing the groove and melody they incorporate into their songs, and one of my favorite tracks off of the album.
I also have to compliment Ross Dolan, as his vocal performance is as dependable and comprehensible as it was on the band's debut. He doesn't have the biggest range or the most versatile metal voice, but I think his consistent, monotone delivery fits with the band's style perfectly. He does an exceptional job on all of the tracks on this album and his style and delivery is really growing on me.
There's a reason why Immolation are regarded so highly when it comes to death metal. Atonement shows a full understanding of themselves, which allows them to continue to make create unique, consistently excellent music almost 30 years into their career. This is an album without a single bad song or low point, and it's reflective of a band that is still at their best. You'll be hard pressed to find a better death metal release this year, and Immolation are still pioneers and giants of the genre they helped lay the foundation for.
Standout Tracks: Fostering The Divide, Lower, Epiphany, Rise The Heretics, When The Jackals Come
Bobby can be reached on Twitter: @BobbyWSOU