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While The Atlas Moth has a bit of a black metal pedigree (guitarist Stavros Giannopolous has done time in super groups Twilight and Chrome Waves, been a touring member of Altar of Plagues, and did some guest vocals for Krieg, while Anthony Mainiero currently drums for both Von an Venien), their second full length release doesn’t really have much to offer in the way of tremolo picking, blast beats, or lo-fi wintery atmospherics, though some particularly blackened shrieks do rear their ugly heads from time to time.
The band seems rather more inclined towards the mid-tempo riffs and deliberate drumming of sludge metal. But that category doesn’t really fit either. Something to do, maybe, with the group’s tendency to have two-if not all three-guitarists spending most of every song wandering around the higher end of their fretboards. The effect of this intricate finger work is unquestionably heavy, but it’s not necessarily brutal. In fact, it can be quite stirring.
And then there’s the vocals, which run the gamut from the aforementioned shrieks, to death metal growls, to almost hardcore bellows, to a gruff but almost soulfully melodic style that falls somewhere on the spectrum between Alice in Chains and Mastodon, assuming such a spectrum exists. These radically alternate vocal styles frequently pop up simultaneously, playing off each other in the same fashion as the guitar lines, frequently to similarly moving effect.
If I had to pick one band that The Atlas Moth remind me the most of, it’d probably be Kyuss, even though I seriously don’t think they particularly sound anything like Kyuss at all, or any other band out there. And to their credit. It’s just that the two acts share a common urge to produce grimy (but not ugly) sunset-over-the-desert soundscapes. Bonus points additionally awarded for what could be the most lovely (if NSFW) album art of the year, marred only slightly as it is by some of the ugliest typesetting.
An atlas moth is a giant bug from southeast Asia. Its wingspan is nearly a foot. Its coccoon is big enough to be used as a purse. Cool, huh? One would appear to be an absolute beast of a creature, but upon closer inspection they are quite fragile.
Perhaps that's why Chicago's The Atlas Moth have taken it as their moniker. On the surface, this is heavy, doomy sludge, and the blackened rasps on the opening track appear to be frightful and aggressive. But as the album title suggests, there is a longing behind that aggression. Delicate, mournful psychedelic leads play over the sludge, and soon a husky, droning clean voice comes in. There is a lot more than meets the eye.
After fully taking in their sound, it becomes clear that the heavy and harsh sections are not manifestations of aggression, as you find in most metal. Instead, they are a reaction to pain, a defensive mechanism. But you can clearly see through it to the pain inside. This is manifested not only in the clean/harsh vocals, but also in the music. The common heavy music/clean vocal formula is even turned on its head with "Your Calm Waters": the vocals are harsh, but the music is mellow.
Aside from doom, stoner, and sludge metal, you'll also find influence from the school of Isis. That makes them perfect candidates for fans of labelmates A Storm of Light. I just hope this doesn't mean the label is going to start repeating itself.
The Verdict: The mood is drawn from post-, doom, and maybe even a little grunge, but the music is definitely stoner/sludge, making it an atypical combination of elements. Kind of like a moth--you've seen one before, but who's seen one that big?
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Chicago’s own brand of sludge/stoner metal needs no further push for greatness than in the confines the The Atlas Moth’s newest entry, An Ache for the Distance. Not exactly down-tempo to the point of boredom, the slow and methodical approach to this music is a welcome change of pace for those of us sick of the incessant droning guitars of many contemporaries.
What attracts me to the sound of The Atlas Moth is the paced setting of the music; it doesn’t rely on an overused need for speed or vocal hyperventilation and just flows evenly and finds the carved niche with relative ease. Expertly produced by James Murphy, the groove-inspired feel might as well be 70’s made, but the contemporary mood is the charm and winning element as it finds the marriage between the eras seemingly tailor-made. It’s easy to see how a band like this can assuage the masses with heavy hard rock that never needs to embellish or belabor the point being made; this is one of my hometown’s favorite underground sons right now and deservedly so.
That familiar ugly guitar tone is so encircling and comfortable that a song such as “Holes in the Desert” fills the room effortlessly and harbors an ill will that hangs like a battered tapestry overhead. The airy vocals don’t necessarily say ‘black metal’ as much as they do ‘ethereal longing’; the breathy delivery is the perfect accompaniment to the music. Maybe if more black metal bands took a page from this playbook there wouldn’t be so many boats on the lake, but that’s neither here nor there. When “Gemini” begins with its haunting tone and hymnal-like vocal you feel the ambiance in the room immediately shift and you adjust accordingly to take in this musical sorrow. While I wouldn’t call this album depressive or sorrowed in the barest sense of the words there is a feeling of forlornness that sort of attaches itself to your psyche, but it’s something warm and welcomed. “25’s and the Royal Blues” is my favorite track with its post-rock feel that doesn’t weigh on the obvious and lets the music speak for itself without benefit of underwhelming explanation.
The tracks on here are songs you can easily revisit, as they are simply well-crafted pieces of the larger puzzle that is The Atlas Moth. Sludgy, doomy, tempestuous rhythms loom large in this collective of often overpowering and mood-stabilizing music. Without giving in to pretension and derivative nuances, An Ache for the Distance capitulates on the positivity in stoner metal and ascends to the top of the hill with intelligently-worked music that finds comfort in simplicity and despair in hidden crevices of the mind. Either path you choose will directly lead you to a point of utopian bliss too easily lost to over-estimation or lackluster imaginations.
(Originally written for www.MetalPsalter.com)