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We'll Fall To Ashes One by One - 83%

Evokaphile, March 19th, 2017

There’s something to be said about a band’s aesthetic principles and how they tie into the music itself. Whether it be to capture the emotive principles or intellectual underpinnings of an album, a band’s imagery is undoubtedly an intrinsic component of how the music therein affects the listener. On occasion however, it can also signal a change in direction. Such is the case with Immolation and their 2017 release, Atonement. Having abandoned their original logo after the unveiling of their legendary 1996 masterpiece, Here In After, Immolation’s sound took a noted change in direction from the ominously brooding nature of their sophomore effort to a slightly more indulgent and in-your-face modus operandi. The change was in many ways subtle but nonetheless held steadfast for over twenty years, adorning the tombstones of numerous classic releases from the band. Fast-forward two decades, and the choice stencil of yesteryear has been resurrected. With this harbinger engraved on their latest effort, Immolation have unleashed another mind bending and finely tuned machine, only this time engineered from both the salvaged artifacts of their early history and the triumphant innovations their more recent releases.

Immolation themselves stated prior to the release of Atonement that the recent switch between record labels had afforded them more time to write and record the album. With the extra creative room this gave the band, the veteran death metal sages found themselves with the opportunity to develop their ideas more thoroughly and organically. Upon hearing Atonement’s first few moments its obvious that these circumstances inspired the band to further elaborate on the more atmospheric side of their trademarked brand of darkness. And yes, Atonement is dark. Very dark, in fact. If the blistering nature of Kingdom Of Conspiracy was the urgent warning of a fast approaching Armageddon, than Atonement is the hallowed day when our fragile world is consumed by a violent eschaton. Indeed, this more eloquent velocity is the real key to Immolation’s success with this album.

Drawing inspiration from the more atmospheric developments of their back catalogue has resulted in an album that sounds modern as ever while harnessing the murky grit that made their 90’s-era releases so convincingly ominous. It is truly the best of both worlds here. Within the scope of Immolation’s present day stylings, Kingdom Of Conspiracy suffered from a lucklustre production job which did the rather pedestrian songwriting no favors. Luckily the production job on Atonement is more in line with that of Majesty And Decay’s brilliantly massive sound. This engrossing and precise soundscape truly complements the more spacious dynamics present, as each instrument comes off as robust and gargantuan. Bolstering this constituent, they really come across as a tighter group this time around. Apparently restoring the fluid chemistry that instantly made Majesty And Decay a modern classic, every articulation this album presents is done so by the entire band without ever sounding anything less than spot-on.

One would find themselves hard pressed to find a single Immolation album that doesn’t have at least a dozen memorable riffs, and Vigna’s work on the strings here is nothing less than masterful business as usual. The man has riffs. He has really good riffs. Tremendous riffs. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you, Vigna’s riffs are the best riffs. Geometric and expressive, there are many moments here, like the exemplary bangers “When The Jackals Come” and "Lower", that see the axeman utilizing the added space of a more mid-paced trot to greatly rapturous effect. On the other side of the spectrum, moments like the sexy pinch harmonics on “Rise The Heretics” or the rhythmic, pummelling movements of the title track offer that extra dose of physicality that keeps this album addictive through many repeated listens. Shalaty’s work on the kit is robust and gymnastic as always, only this time around he seems to play tighter (but no less intricately) alongside the string section, oftentimes showing a more subdued approach to bolster the emotive impact of his well placed flourishes, syncopations and all-out bursts of blasting grandiosity. Dolan’s vocals are also badass as ever, giving Atonement a genuinely grave and sagely personality, and the frontman's bass work still humbly lurks the bottom end with an authoritative diction and confidence that is both unabashed and adept. You would think after two decades of such unwavering quality the band would be showing signs of fatigue, but instead Immolation continue to hone, sharpen and refine.

Returning to the subject matter of Here In After, Immolation’s tenth full length certainly has more in common with this aforementioned antiquity than first meets the ear. True, the production here is considerably shinier and streamlined – this is simply a consequence of current times – but the songwriting itself draws many stylistic connections with their second full length. The aforementioned pacing and emphasis on emotive chord structures give way to a weight that falls like a musty and burning acid rain, utilizing visceral chemistry to inflict terminal harm rather than rely solely on the convictions of tactile violence as a means to an end. Atonement however, is far from a hearkening of past glories, as these rustic elements are used in moderate measure, carefully mixed with all the martial acrobatics they have learned over the years.

Frankly, Atonement sees Immolation being as… Immolation as ever. Its a catch-22; if you love the band, you will assuredly love how this album boasts all of the band’s finest qualities. However, those with expectations of stark evolution and re-invention will be let down by the fact that this release hardly breaks any new ground for the band, regardless of how good it is. As a whole it may not be the most earnestly fervent offering from the group, nor the starkest aesthetic evolution, but such qualms must be taken in context. Atonement is still an extremely well crafted offering on every level, and regardless of how tall it stands within the Immolation’s own discography it will definitely stand as one of the best death metal albums of 2017.

(Orginally published on http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/72999/Immolation-Atonement)