Friday 4 July 2014

The Atlas Moth - The Old Believer (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 10/6/2014
Label: Profound Lore

The Atlas Moth – “The Old Believer” CD/DD track listing:

1). Jet Black Passenger 04:29
2). Collider 03:56
3). The Sea Beyond 06:07
4). Halcyon Blvd 04:17
5). Sacred Vine 05:46
6). The Old Believer 04:42
7). City of Light 05:00
8). Wynona 05:13
9). Hesperian 05:51
10). Blood Will Tell 04:57

The Band:

Alex Klein | Bass, vocals
Dan Lasek | Drums
Stavros Giannopoulos | Guitars, vocals
David Kush | Guitars, vocals
Andrew Ragin | Guitars, synthesizers, vocals


The Atlas Moth’s newest album is brilliant and frustrating all at once. The vast majority of what is presented works remarkably well. The aspects that don’t work came close to derailing the whole album for me, to the point that I struggled a lot in deciding what my overall view of the album was. I’ve listened to this album over and over again, trying to figure out why an album as beautiful as ‘The Old Believer’ irritated me so much. It’s essentially come down to a couple of key aspects: certain vocal choices and an over-inflated second half.

The album begins with “Jet Black Passenger” a song that almost perfectly captures everything I’ve just brought up. The song opens with a majestic but melancholy riff that transitions into a hazy verse. It does an excellent job musically of setting things up for a riveting apex, driven by Stavros Giannopoulos’ unnerving howl. That apex would have been even more effective if David Kush’s sorrowful singing been allowed to build to that moment unaccompanied by a more mid-ranged and reserved croak from Giannopoulos.

That section of “Jet Black Passenger” represents the primary issue I have with the album. Kush’s vocal contributions are something I’d love to hear more of without having Giannopoulos overpowering it. He’s mixed more loudly than Kush more often than not when, to my ears, Kush should be the focal point vocally, especially during the moments that play with softer dynamics. It feels strange to say that for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not a believer that singing is always preferable over screaming. Second, Kush isn’t always perfectly on-note when he sings. It brings to mind mid-period Katatonia; specifically ‘Discouraged One’ and ‘Tonight’s Decision’, though his delivery is different. Vocally, Kush reminds me of a more deep-throated Ronan Harris (VNV Nation), filtered through Jonas Renske (Katatonia) and Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride) and even a hint of Vincent Cavanagh (Anathema). The pairing of this atmospheric, melodic sludge with vulnerable, almost gothic singing is unique in a genre littered with sound-alikes, as most genres and subgenres are.

Both vocalists work well individually; it’s when both of them seemingly battle for attention at once that makes the album a frustrating listen at times. Perhaps they’re meant to be complimentary to each other but it doesn’t quite come off that way. Later on in “Jet Black Passenger”, both vocalists are allowed to have their own moment to great effect. Kush gets his opportunity to shine at about the 2:20 mark, and it’s glorious. After that the song settles into a wonderful, floating psych moment, with Alex Klein’s looping bass groove steering the ship before giving Giannopoulos’ snarl  takes center stage, which fits the moment just as well as Kush had earlier. Judicious use of both vocalists separately is an absolute must for this band in the future, as all too often the two clash against each other - both sonically and rhythmically - which completely takes me out of the moment. Perhaps if Giannopoulos wasn’t mixed so loudly in the moments where they do overlap it would be less of an issue, but his vocals sound so raw on this recording compared to ‘An Ache for the Distance’ that the effect is even more jarring than it might have been otherwise.

Moving away from the vocals, which obviously played a huge role in the big picture for ‘The Old Believer’ in my case; the instrumental side of the album is absolutely album of the year worthy. The concoction of sorrowful dirge, powerful sludge and phantasmagoric psychedelia that The Atlas Moth brews is more compelling than ever before. They have a truly enlightened sense of melody that other bands strive for, but never quite attain and ‘The Old Believer’ is all the proof you’ll ever need. I would also be remiss if I didn’t compliment new drummer Dan Lasek for exhibiting restraint when other drummers might feel the need to cram an assortment of fills into their work, regardless of whether it actually works for the greater good. My favorite drummers are the ones who pick their spots and realize that they’re so essential to a band as its foundation that being flashy without purpose is a sure-fire way to make sure everything else collapses as a result.

This brings me to my second issue, though it’s a far smaller point: the songs start to run together a bit in the second half. In particular, I think you could either cut or work elements of “Wynona” and “Hesperian” into other songs, get the album down to about forty minutes and really get the best this album has to offer. Even as it is, “The Old Believer” is a musical juggernaut, and there are very few who could rival its power in 2014. Now, if we could just get everyone to wait for their turn at the microphone

Words by: Daniel Jackson

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