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.