Death metal institution Immolation have been churning out blisteringly paced albums of double bass-fueled fury since the late ‘80s. The band have plenty of notches in their discography that are considered classics for anti-religious, technical death metal, but around the turn of the century, Immolation began using contemporary issues such as 9/11, government surveillance, and human forces of evil to accompany their heavy barrage of complex riffs and rapid snare hits. Atonement is a callback to Immolation’s roots. The new record finds the band returning to the anti-religious themes that their classic albums incorporate while proving once again that guitarist Robert Vigna is a headbanging riff virtuoso.
Like great Immolation albums of the past, Atonement is technically prolific without being an exercise in self-indulgence, which bands on the more progressive and technical side can succumb to. Although each track in this collection proceeds at about the same pace, Vigna delivers numerous well-crafted and ostentatious riffs throughout the succinct 45-minute runtime. “Rise the Heretics” is a case of classic Immolation. Ross Dolan’s commanding, muffled roars rise above a pummeling rhythm section and a scorching, cathartic guitar solo. Anti-religion reigns as Dolan rhythmically shouts, “The heretics will rise!” Many tracks feature a “call to arms” moment of repetition and camaraderie amid periods of unwavering chaos. Atonement is further proof that Immolation is at their best when driven by themes of blasphemy and rejection of religion. The album creates a feeling of familiarity for longtime listeners without being too derivative of their past discography.
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“Lower” offers a welcome moment of relief from the band’s frenetic pace and massive riffs, but more tracks like this are brutally absent. Here, Dolan’s vocals are more coherent while Vigna delivers a melodic riff that would be perfectly snug in a doom metal record before letting loose a winding wah solo. The intensity of the track quickly catches up with the rest of the record. Frequently on Atonement, the band seem to push toward an experimental sound before falling back on what is familiar, even when a bit more uncertainty would have been welcome. Varying tones, a more melodic lead, or a different vocal delivery would have drastically aided this record by distinguishing tracks and creating more compelling moments. As the record goes on, the tracks’ pacing and structures begin to become predictable as Immolation seems set on delivering a certain style over and over. Four of the tracks close with an anti-climactic fade-out, which is a perplexing choice for a band so capable of demonstrating gripping flair. Still, Atonement comfortably delivers track after track of engrossing guitar solos and enthralling riffs that make the album an enjoyable listen. The album starts out at full-throttle and offers no escape from the brutality, which many will cite is exactly why they listen to Immolation in the first place.
Atonement delivers on everything you would expect from a great Immolation record. Although this album may not offer a wide, dynamic range of tracks, Immolation prove they are more than capable of writing some really enjoyable heavy riffs and battering drumbeats. The veteran metal act have refused to let age slow the unrelenting pace they’ve been maintaining for over two decades, and this latest release shows they will continue delivering the brand of technical death metal they helped define without compromise.
Essential Tracks: “Rise the Heretics”, “Lower”, and “Atonement”