The Atlas Moth
An Ache for the Distance
posted on 9/2011 By:
Atticus Atlas is an extremely large saturniid that does not eat, has a relatively short lifespan, and is known as the “snake’s head moth” in Cantonese. It’s quite a stunning creature once full maturity has been reached, and even in its spiny and decisively alien-looking caterpillar form, an Atticus Atlas displays both terrifying and beautiful features that are as intriguing as they are unnerving. If the Pray For Tides EP was the caterpillar, and 2009’s A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky was the cocoon, then An Ache For The Distance is surely an emergence for Chicago’s The Atlas Moth, now with a new home on the much more fitting and appreciative Profound Lore label. A beautiful and terrifying creature, Ache is indicative of a band that has found the sometimes elusive ‘click’ in their sound, and wholeheartedly embraces an altogether denser, more expansive and emotionally draining new(er) direction, and the growth in quality is vast in its accomplishment.
What Goes Right: A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky was an extremely impressive and very enjoyable debut that immediately put The Atlas Moth on the map for the stoner rock/doom metal faithful, and yet their sound has so much more to it than that. I’ll go so far as to say we might have finally found the next Neurosis when it comes to deeply emotive, often harrowing and heartfelt metal that is played with both class and ferocity. Whereas Blue Sky was a more immediate and jabbing type of record, Ache expands and contracts by including so many small intricacies in their monolithic sound, to the point where it’s totally possible to hear the songs “differently” between the first listen to the twentieth. This is simplicity taken to its most eloquent, caustic extreme: soul, mind, and fingertips. They bow to the riff and place fire therein, steeping their unrushed and purposeful brew with tracks such as the loping “Perpetual Generations” with effortlessly smooth transitions between guitarists David Kush’s dry and at times exhausted-sounding clean vocals and Stavros Giannopolous’ heartstopping screams, which is how the majority of An Ache goes down. However, unlike Neurosis or many of the other Isis-type bands out there, they don’t separate the light and darkness too far throughout their songs. There’s nothing by way of lilting acoustics that suddenly plummet into the ground here, and instead, stability and flow seems to be their modus operandi as opposed to climbing the mountain with the sole purpose of jumping off it as soon as the peak is reached.
Indeed, the heft of their rock rolls along with an overwhelming sense of cohesiveness from start to finish. Opener “Coffin Varnish” features roiling harmonies right from the start which are given the sludge treatment by way of its deliberate tempo and a gorgeous despondent midsection, and the delay and reverb of “Holes In The Desert” along with Stavros’ bestial screech compliments Kush’s arid descant and the spaciously drugged-out riffs to perfection. The title track which follows is an astonishing mix of bluesy harmonics counterbalanced by Giannopolous losing his mind with the range of caterwauling he reaches, and as the two vocalists merge to close out the tune as if they just watched their best friends die in front of them, the emotional impact reaches its zenith. A metal song this simultaneously vibrant and depressing is not an easy thing to achieve with sincerity in the manner which they’ve done so: devoid of pretense, and glaringly honest.
It’s not a completely wrist-slitting affair though, as Andrew Ragin’s synths put a very exotic spin into “Gemini” which assists the intoxicated vocal patterns in creating a drawn, drawling and mystical mood supported by drummer Andrew’s subtle and tasteful percussive prowess. Likewise, “25s & The Royal Blues” trudges through stiffly-picked rhythms and further cannabinoid-drenched harmonics with substantially robust lead fills, but “Courage” exposes a gentler side with practically whispered vocals courtesy of Bloodyminded / Anatomy Of Habit singer Mark Solotroff. “Your Calm Waters” is for the guitar fan who appreciates the unobtrusive side of melody as Kush’s distant and mechanical moans waft through the layers of guitar and restrained dissonance that welcomes the steady fade, and atomic closer “Horse Thieves” drones and shuffles to the album’s end sounding spent and victorious with a solemn resolve, with just enough special effects strewn about to give the disc a firm conclusion with no loose end to tie. It’s almost enough to forgive Stavros for shaving off that glorious moustache…almost.
Clocking in just shy of forty-five minutes, the length enhances the perfection by stopping short of the dreaded 50+ minute mark that causes so many albums to end rather shakily by overstaying their welcome. They know when to stop while the gettin’ is good, and when taking into consideration the breadth of their structures and crushingly ‘heavy’ overall vibe, it was wisely planned and ingeniously arranged to keep everything at a relatively even keel from start to finish without spoon-feeding their audience. There’s a lot to take in despite the decidedly uncomplicated aesthetic, and headphones or loud volume on the ol’ stereo makes the experience even better, but also isn’t at all vitally necessary in order to peel the layers off with each subsequent listen.
What Goes Wrong: Nothing. Fuck off.
In The End: as of this writing, The Atlas Moth has created my Album Of The Year, and I say that with absolute confidence, even though the Fall and the earlier part of the year has brought plentiful ripe fruit of the vine for us to gorge ourselves on. It doesn’t matter that they live in Chicago, or that we have mutual friends; I haven’t heard a single release this year which sticks so hard, has improved so damn much, or offers more to explore that defies genre restrictions or codes of conduct. An Ache For The Distance is everything that every single other band of this subgenre aspires to and sadly fails to achieve. Power without abuse, and a stretch with no loss of focus, The Atlas Moth has utterly decimated the bar and set a new one of their own the likes of which few other releases come close to reaching in 2011. You want to talk about ‘essential’ albums? Seek, destroy yourself, and be thankful for it.
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