Few death metal bands today enjoy the kind of open reverence that Immolation does. Going all the way back to their 1991 DAWN OF POSSESSION debut, Ross Dolan and Bob Vigna have deservedly earned the respect of fans and peers alike through an uncompromising commitment to the kind of technically adept and no-BS death metal that they’ve been delivering since day one. On their 10th and most recent full length, ATONEMENT, Immolation manage to push the boundaries of brutality one step further with what could arguably be their most cerebral and musically challenging record to date.
ATONEMENT immediately presents itself as a methodically mid-tempo album. Immolation has never been the most hyper-speed focused of bands, but the controlled pace of the ATONEMENT is both intentional and a bit disorienting, at least initially. The album’s lead single “Destructive Currents” is pretty indicative of the greater body of work; controlled bursts of energy grounded within the confines of a finite musical structure. You don’t necessarily want to mosh in your living room, but goddam if you don’t feel every note, every drum kick, every guttural “URRGGGH” right in your chest.
But it’s the more exploratory tracks like “The Distorting Light”, “When the Jackals Come” and “Thrown to the Fire” really sell you on this approach. Each tune offers a different tonality and vibe, but each tune introduces a cacophony of various riffs, tempos and blasts that all careen into each other like a freeway crash. But the demonstrated restraint in execution allows every piece of that collision to resonate in clearly in your skull.
Admittedly, my first run through with ATONEMENT left me a little wanting. The tunes are so demonstrably powerful, I couldn’t help but wish that they’d cut loose and rage for a little bit. It took revisiting the album the next day with a fresh set of ears for it to really sink in and for me to be able to process everything that Immolation was conjuring up; total “A-ha” moment. And with every subsequent listen, I picked up new things that I didn’t hear the last time and began to really appreciate how manic and diverse ATONEMENT really is.
25 years since their debut and Immolation is still finding new ways to brutalize listeners without changing the recipe. I never should’ve doubted for a moment that Immolation knew exactly what I needed; the return of their original logo across the album cover should’ve been indication enough. ATONEMENT demands a level of commitment from the listener that other records wouldn’t have the balls even ponder, but those bands aren’t Immolation and those albums aren’t ATONEMENT.
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