Sound — 9
"Atonement" is the tenth studio album by revered American institution Immolation. Being at the very epicenter of USDM way back in the early '90s, the band and the scene itself has changed in a myriad of ways since those nascent days. "Dawn of Possession" may be a piece of history but having a look at what the band does now, where in the world have they landed?
"Where" because that '90s sound is so far behind them.
"Atonement" is a bit of everything in a way: a bit of tech death, a bit of atonal nonsense a la Gorguts, a bit of Behemoth, all bound to a sturdy death metal base.
The first song - "The Distorting Light" - runs the gamut of these sounds within the first minute, starting with a discordant and atmospheric riff that goes into a heavy '90s groove then back to the first. It's easy to pinpoint the differences between each riff and section but what's intriguing is how seamless the movement between each one becomes. Not that the styles were necessarily discordant with each other but they do craft some very fine songs out of these parts. So seamless is this songwriting that it wouldn't even be remiss if the band turned the first two songs into one 8 minute death metal opus, for example.
Dynamics are put to good use too. Deathcore often gets a not entirely undeserved amount of mud flinging for reliance on breakdowns but the key thing about the concept is that it works. While certainly not breaching deathcore on this album, Immolation use dynamics to great effect. "Fostering the Divide" splits up its grander moments with drum breaks that empty out space but also build tension. It leads to a more fulfilling listen that lets you fall for surprises more easily.
Production-wise, there's little to fault in the eyes of the audio purist. The delay-heavy lead tone is a much welcomed DM trope, as well. However, fans of the more "raw" or "vintage" sound of death metal probably won't be so pleased with the ultra-clear, low-drive guitar tone and punchy drum sounds.
Thing is, this album is good. Good for a death metal album as well, but it only just about reaches "good." It's memorable in the same way a cup of luxurious salted caramel hot chocolate with cream might be: you'll remember it for the feeling it gave you but you'll have trouble describing and recalling the flavour. It just felt good, you know? You'd probably buy it again but still struggle to remember the taste. However, the warm feeling in your guts will last a long time yet.
Lyrics — 8
Listening to the latest Six Feet Under album shed some light on what the nadir for vocal ability of '90s DM bands could be. Bands from that era are all reaching their mid-to-late 40's at this point and there are few vocalists from that time that can pull off what they put down on tape all those years ago. Ross Dolan is very much at the top of his game here. Although a little monotone in pitch and expression, his rhythmic control and his delivery feels almost like oratory in it's performance. There's a little bit of the '90s simplicity still clawing its way back in such as in the Bloodbath-ish title track of "Atonement." However, it's more of a mild annoyance in the grand scheme of the albums whole.
Lyrically, "Atonement" appears to have a focus on division, external hidden forces and self-realization with a healthy dose of apocryphal phrasing in there. Songs like "Fostering the Divide" are allusions to modern political climates, condemning the overall systems in place rather than any one part of it. Written in that gratuitously grandiose way of death metal, the concepts in lyrical form work exceedingly well with Dolan's vocal performance. So many bands in the subgenres of DM tend to overextend their ability to the point where too much is packed into to a short space and Immolation has avoided that problem while delivering a punctuated and commendable message.
Overall Impression — 7
To revisit the "hot chocolate" analogy, Immolation has definitely brought out a strong and varied album. It's just that while its cohesiveness and varied, well-used writing techniques makes a great baseline, there's a lack of memorability across the board. Some riffs and atmospheres will catch your ear and probably lodge itself in there for a good while but much like the hot chocolate, you'll wonder what it tasted like several hours after ingesting it.
Songs to look out for: "The Distorting Light," "When the Jackals Come," "Rise of the Heretics," "Epiphany."