(This is TheMadIsraeli’s review of the new album by Immolation.)
Immolation are the godfathers of the minimalist dissonant heavy brand of death metal. I think in many ways they are the pre-cursors to the Portals, Ulcerates, and latter-day Gorguts of the world. However, those bands have all taken on a more technical, more ornamental approach, while Immolation has remained the absolute king of effective minimalism.
In the last five or so years, death metal in the underground has reveled in attempts to mimic the cavernous mixes and alien sense of melody of Immolation, but from where I sit, few have come close to getting it. In a nutshell, Immolation are one of those untouchable bands. All the major death metal players of the ’90s are, but very few bands have taken influence from Immolation and made it work convincingly. The original remains original.
I think this is important to articulate because Immolation are the only band I know of where you can hear this sound done this well. They truly were pioneers, and remain a unique anomaly in death metal.
It’s also my opinion that no one does mid-paced groove quite like Immolation, paired with loose cacophonous blasts of noise where it sounds like everything can fall apart at any second. Immolation has always been very earthen, very human-sounding death metal.
Reviewing Immolation’s music in a genuinely useful way isn’t easy. If you know what Immolation sounds like and you like them, then you like everything Immolation does. Atonement will be no exception. Atonement is another esoteric aural tome of bestial presence, atmosphere, and crushing weight — it’s Immolation mainly doing what they’ve always done, and doing it exceptionally well. However, Atonement still has a few standout aspects worth special mention this time around.
This may be the most atmospheric and weighty Immolation album yet. I was an immense fan of their 2013 release, Kingdom Of Conspiracy, a record that saw Immolation moving from their trademark methodical, plodding nature toward a more aggressive and energetic approach. Atonement is the opposite move, favoring push/pull dynamics, atmosphere, eerie and esoteric melody, and more of a slow, agonized death by suffocation than Kingdom Of Conspiracy. It’s dedicated to curb-stomping the listener consecutive times.
Atonement also really likes build-up. The songs swell to powerful explosions, sonic earthquakes, and nothing but the most bleak of funeral processions.
What sticks out the most on the guitar front is that Robert Vigna has expanded his art of metallic necromancy to include a lot of black metal this time around. Sinister chord progressions combined with the trademark minimalist dissonance and harmonic thickness of the signature Immolation riffing style add a whole new dimension and help contribute to how dark the record is.
Killer moments like the otherworldly waltz that is the closing riff of “Rise The Heretics” really lets the black metal riffing style shine. In traditional Immolation fashion, though, any time the band hits one of their signature breakdowns in all of their boulder-heaving heft is when the band’s music hits the hardest and the strongest, as it always has.
Immolation grooves have an unmistakably sinister, propulsive nature about them that almost feels like some sort of aural witchcraft in how they can get you to move in reaction to the music. This record has the most consistently hard-hitting Immolation grooves and breakdowns that I can remember hearing from the band at any point in their career. It milks their best aspects to the point of taking the music into pornography territory.
Robert Vigna’s sense of potent rhythmic, dissonant black magic is strong, but it also depends on the drums around his riffs. Immolation has always been very rhythm-centric death metal, and the band’s drummer Steve Shalaty has been the band’s strongest asset next to Vigna since Harnessing Ruin thanks to a style of drumming that’s all his own. It’s so noisy, yet it really channels that earthen quality of Immolation well; some of the runs he does SOUND LIKE earthquakes. You can envision buildings crumbling, people being crushed, the ground sinking into itself.
Not many drummers in metal can paint such imagery with their drumming alone. The album’s first single, “Destructive Currents”, sounds like the sort of seismic event that would swallow a whole city with its attention-demanding, mammoth-sized riffs, its jarring and panicked song structure, and Shalaty’s drumming style.
It should also go without saying that Ross Dolan is just a fantastic vocalist. I think this dude is the actual embodiment of what a golem would sound like if it could speak. No one sounds like this guy.
The band’s decision to approach the music from an atmospheric, slower, and more groove-driven perspective is an interesting one, given the contrast it presents to Kingdom Of Conspiracy. It is, however, possibly the most Immolation that Immolation has ever been. Atonement is a definitive statement of so much of what represents the band’s sound and their career, and undeniably an unsurpassable top-notch death metal album of this year, despite how early in the year it has arrived. Death metal is looking good this year.
Atonement will be released by Nuclear Blast on February 24. Pre-orders can be placed here:
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