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Lower - 69%

Larry6990, March 2nd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak, Limited edition)

Death metal mainstays Immolation have cranked out one of the most consistent bodies of work in the metal community. But as the sub-genre has evolved, so have they - though it might not be obvious upon first glance. The primal raw energy of albums like Here In After has been focused and channelled into a more focused package here in 2017. Atonement still retains their characteristic haunting dissonance, but with maturation comes the dilution of energy. It's still there, but in short bursts.

Immolation have never been one for blazing straight-up blastbeats start-to-finish. This isn't Aeon, for God's sake (pun intended). Strong, solid grooves and eerie ambience will always be the prime focus. And, once opener "The Distorting Light" gets over its rapid, messy introduction and settles into a crushing riff 20 seconds in - we, the listeners, feel in safe hands. It's these moments where Atonement shines. The guitar tone is just the right amount of meaty to be both destructive and clear - making riffs like the 0:43 point in "Lower", or the 3:21 mark in the title-track so effective (the latter of which is my favourite point on the album).

The rest of the production job is pleasing indeed. No over-compression, no over-triggering - just a simple, raw, death metal sound that doesn't need to prove itself. The only mixing issue lies in the vocals. Mainman Ross Dolan is buried a little; once the blastbeats in the title-track start up, he is barely audible. He also is starting to sound worn - a remark I'm very hesitant to bestow upon death metal vocalists. I won't put it down to age just yet, but lets hope he goes the way of George Fisher, not Chris Barnes.

The atmosphere of this album is held up impressively by many factors. The treble guitars that pile themselves on, layer after layer, atop the chunky riffs create an extra dimension of chaos. The menacing ambience between songs (see the opening of "Thrown To The Fire") tides the listener over in a sense of foreboding anticipation. And the apocalyptic artwork by Pär Oloffsson ties it all together to make a cohesive whole.

In no way do I seek to disparage the songwriting talents of the death metal veterans (well, veteran), but Atonement reaches a point of tiredness. Once the hammering ending riff of "The Power Of Gods" comes to a crashing finale - you're ready to stop the disc spinning. Alas, there is one more (the slightly lacklustre "Epiphany") to sit through. And if you have the digipak version as I do, there's even a modern re-working of their title-song from the quartet's very first album. All in all, Atonement is a more-than-worthy addition to Immolation's shining catalogue. But don't expect it to wow anyone who isn't already a fan. Just enjoy those hulking riffs when they come beating down on your puny face.