This particular album landed in my inbox a few weeks ago with the descriptor “apocalyptic post-rock metal,” and it’s hard to think of a set of words more likely to immediately grab my attention when it comes to music. It made its way to the height of my listening queue when I found out that Atoma shared the same members as Sweden’s Slumber, whose 2004 release Fallout is a pretty excellent slab of melodic death/doom. And my hopes were raised even higher upon seeing the album art – seriously, just take a minute to look at that stoner-meets-power-metal monstrosity. (Is that C3PO and R2D2 down there? Wicked.) And once the opener “AtomA” kicked into gear, with bleepy synths and quasi-Juno Reactor thudding drum machines washed in a mess of reverb with chugging guitars underneath, I was fully expecting to get my ass kicked out of nowhere. This was exciting! I was psyched as fuck for one of those left-field albums where you have absolutely no idea what the artist is doing, but it ends up working miraculously well. But upon finishing listening to Skylight, I found it kind of disappointing that these questionably metal parts were what Atoma does best.
This isn’t to say that Atoma does metal badly, oh no. It’s just that they don’t do it well enough to distinguish themselves from the pack. Most of the album is typified by an over-reliance on huge sweeping synth orchestrations bathed in copious amounts of reverb, which I have no problem with whatsoever if the composition’s good enough to back it up. There are a few moments, like on the quasi-trip-hop “Solaris” or the slow build of “Bermuda Rivera” or “Saturn And I” where you can feel enough of the epic atmosphere that Atoma’s trying to conjure up, and you just might be enthralled enough to keep listening. But few of the songs are arresting enough to really hold my attention. Despite the immensely layered production and soaring melodies of cuts like “Skylight” and “Highway,” the songs only manage to meander around in a sappy, saccharine nebulous realm best described with the onomatopoetic representation of the sound I made when listening to the majority of the album: an uncomfortably lengthened and drawn-out eeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhnnnnnnnnn. Everything about the songs, the album, and the band’s own descriptor screams epic and world-shattering bombast, but I could not be forced to care for what I was listening to the vast majority of the time. In fact, aside from a few standout left-field interludes, this feels a lot like the soundtrack to a latter-day JRPG – if you listen hard enough, you can almost hear the spiky-neon-haired androgynous waifish porcelain dolls with comically oversized weaponry and superfluously-belted costumes whine about their problems to each other in unskippable cutscenes you don’t give a single shit about.
Again, this isn’t to say that Skylight isn’t a good album. It’s just not nearly as world-shattering as it makes itself out to be. I’m sure that devoted fans of Slumber and other likeminded melodoom acts interested to see the next step in the band’s evolution will enjoy this far more than I did, and if you actually enjoy late-period/contemporary Anathema,* you’re even more likely to dig this. I myself, however, couldn’t help thinking for the entire time I was listening to this that if Atoma’s going to call this “apocalyptic,” it could have been just a bit heavier.** If Skylight spells out the new direction for the band, then I guess I’ll just keep holding out hopes for the inevitable Slumber reunion a few years down the line.
Label: Napalm Records
Release Date: March 28, 2012
*How the fuck can anyone enjoy late-period Anathema, by the way? I’m honestly curious.
**Take a page from Anaal Nathrakh. That’s where you can get away with calling your music “apocalyptic.”