Atrocity have to be the most confusing band in Metal given how many stylistic changes they have shown over their 25 year career.
However there is one thing I will give them: for all their amorphous nature, and that is that more often than not their changes have come ahead of the curve.
In 1990 they left behind their Grindcore roots to release Hallucinations which along with Nocturnus’ ‘The Key’ was a real harbinger of the advancement in Death Metal complexity that was blown wide open by the Technical Death Metal explosion the following year.
‘Todessensucht’ from 1992 should’ve cemented their legacy as one of the real trailblazers of the style but somehow, perhaps because of what came next, they have never really been truly counted alongside the likes Death, Atheist and Pestilence.
With 1994’s huge swerve ‘Blut’ they pre-empted Nu Metal, sounding as though they wanted people to “jump da fuck up!” before Max Cavalera had even begun writing ‘Roots’, nevermind Soulfly.
The following year they turned their attention to the emerging Folk Metal style with ‘Calling The Rain’ and forefronted a female vocalist more than Skyclad had done up to that point- and all this 2 years before Cruachan began doing the same with their 1997 demo.
In the same year they also managed to find time to collaborate with German EBM meisters Das Ich on Das Liebe- helping to define the Neue Deutsche Härte sound just ahead of the explosion of Rammstein.
With 1996’s ‘Willenskraft’ they furthered their mechanical Metal by becoming an early disciple of Fear Factory and then in 1998 inexplicably releasing their first volume of Dance Metal covers of 80’s pop hits in the shape of ‘Werk 80’- a few years ahead before doing so became mandatory for the likes of Marilyn Manson, Orgy and Spineshank.
Looking back to that, should we be really surprised by Morbid Angel’s similar “fall from grace” in recent times?
Kudos may be given for always seemingly being in the right place at the right and spearheading new Metal mutations (both good and bad), but one has to question the integrity and devotion of a band that seemingly can’t sit still or focus for 5 minutes.
How is there ever going to be a believability factor if a band is so insecure with being a blistering Technical Death Metal band that they need to spend the next 2 decades going through a series of identity crises instead?
‘Okkult’, band leader Alexander Krull claims, is a rebirth for the German band.
Nevermind that the same was probably said about 2004’s return to heavier (but not necessarily better) form, ‘Atlantis’.
Since then they’ve done a follow up to the 80’s pop fetishism with ‘Werk 80 II’ and gone back to the folky symphonic/goth warbling with ‘After The Storm’- something they also do in Krull’s wife’s band Leaves Eyes.
This time though he seems to be adamant about going back to the heavy stuff- so adamant in fact that this is going to be the first part in a trilogy. Without meaning to be too cynical, it’ll be interesting to see how long Metal’s most hyperactive fairweather band can hold to that.
Chief amongst Krull’s claims is that this new album will appeal to fans of old and is their hardest material since 1992. Indeed he is right in the respect that there is a much higher percentage of Death Metal going on here than on any album Atrocity have put out since that time.
‘Death By Metal’ and closer ‘La Voisine’ are the biggest barnstormers with their up-tempo Autopsy-influenced polished filth, whilst “Haunted By Demons” ranges from Amon Amarth to Insomnium in its melodic Scandinavian influences.
‘Masaya (Boca Del Infierno)’ goes even further into the realm of heaviness and even begins to hint at the bands complex and technical past but really lets the album down on the ‘concept’ front.
The very Queen Of The Damned-esque album cover (also strongly reminiscent of their own 2000 effort Gemini) is apparently representative of a dedication of the album’s general occult and magical theme to “her”- presumably a conflated deity comprising of ancient goddesses like Isis and Astraea and judeo-christian antagonists like Lilith.
In typically distasteful fashion for Atrocity though 5000 years of feminine worship and fertility cults are reduced to a song about a woman described as a “bitch of hell.” Definitely avoid this if you’re looking for Metal with serious leanings towards ancient religion.
These tracks might be heavy enough to validate Alexander’s claim, but they are still sure to disappoint fans of the first two albums. There is no real technicality, no complexity- all Atrocity can offer as a substitute is a genre-bending sensory overload that feels like the musical equivalent to a sugar rush.
‘Murder Blood Assasination’ evokes Atrocity’s mid-90’s Nu Metal flirtations with its bouncy chug, a million miles away from the Amorphis-meets-Wintersun atmospheric Metal of ‘Beyond Perpetual Ice.’
The pop sensibility of their female-fronted albums returns in a big way on “When Empires Fall To Dust”, except with choirs now rather than Krull’s own sister backing his growls up as on previous efforts.
Whether a fan of this style or not though, this is the one track on the album you may find it impossible not to smile and nod along to thanks to its incredibly evocative poppy synths that get right under your skin- think of the atmosphere present on Rotting Christ’s A Dead Poem album for a rough reference point.
Suitably for its Scottish themes ‘Haunted By Demons’ boasts a little of Grave Digger’s anthemic flair but for the most part there’s nothing on here that hasn’t featured on at least one of Atrocity’s previous albums.
‘Satan’s Braut’ serves as the self-proclaimed “club hit”, but for a band who were once pioneers they seem to have devolved now into sub-Rammstein Dance Metal by numbers.
Along with preceding track ‘Necromancy Divine’ this is exactly what all Metal would sound like if the nazis had have won the war- cheap, uniform, instantly reproducible, mechanical, sleazy, a little bit homoerotic and with a beat just made for goosestepping to.
What draws all this genre-hopping together is the symphonic strain running through every track but in spite of Victor Smolski from Rage leading the Belarussian Lingua Mortis Orchestra and the involvement of Canadian sound designer Katie Halliday from the later Saw movies the atmosphere more often than not falls flat on its face.
From the very start it comes across like mid-period Cradle Of Filth shtick minus the sense of humour and from there variously goes from like something from the last King Diamond album (good) on the intro to ‘Murder Blood Assassination’, to Nightmare Before Christmas (bad) on ‘March Of The Undying’, and even to ‘Wee Willy Winky’ (ugly) on the chimes samples in ‘Haunted By Demons.’
It really is as bad as it sounds.
Face-ripping Tech Death with symphonic overtones and even a strong desire to be catchy can work- bands like Hate have been proving that for years.
Atrocity clearly have the tools to do the same, but the desire or the wherewithal doesn’t appear to be there any more. Once at the forefront (whether by accident or design) of some of Metal’s biggest innovations (whether universally accepted or not) Atrocity now are at last most definitely behind the curve, overtaken by their contemporaries and treading water.
Not even a gimmicky crossover into “geocaching” (apparently if you follow the clues in the liner notes you can unravel the code of the GPS location of the literally buried bonus tracks at an undisclosed location in Europe) can make this as interesting as it needs to be. I shudder to think of what parts 2 and 3 of this trilogy will bring.
0.8/5 – Matty Moore ::: 24/06/13