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Nuclear Blast (2017)
Rating: 9/10

It’s been some time since legendary New York death metallers Immolation adorned one of their album covers with their original logo, but with tenth album Atonement we once again see that spidery writing which last appeared on 1996’s Here In After.

Immolation, unlike many bands of this genre, have never been away in spite of debut album Dawn Of Possession (1991) remaining their focal point in terms of that classic death metal sound. Atonement sees a new guitarist in the form of Alex Bouks, who joins drummer Steve Shalaty and original members Ross Dolan (vocals and bass) and Robert Vigna (guitar) in completing the current line-up.

I dunno, maybe that classic logo flatters to deceive, but there’s something extra special about this new effort which I never experienced with the previous handful of outings.

While we can never expect a return to the glory days of the late 80s and early 90s, Atonement does its best to remind us why we fell in love with the band, the era and the style in the first place; offering up a set of barbaric yet wonderfully orchestrated batch of songs with hints of Eastern influence, dazzling chord progressions and, above all, that unerring brutality based on a framework of unflinching hostile riffage, devastating percussion and sinister vocal tones which showcase Dolan’s never-changing style. While many vocalists and their styles fizzle out over time due to age and a simple battering of the throat, Dolan remains a colossus – burping out extraordinary barks and gruff bellows of evil.

Immolation have never really been perceived as a wondrously technical act, and yet just a few spins of this gargantuan record should slay any notions that Immolation are a one-trick pony. There are some truly creative ingredients on offer here. Atonement acts as a bludgeoning death metal record, but one based upon a foundation that exudes progression, positivity and complexity – just check out the deadly melodies of ‘Epiphany’ and stunning lead work that flecks the likes of ‘Destructive Currents’ and even more so ‘Rise The Heretics’.

It’s thinking man’s death metal without being fancy or befuddling. But read between the lines of each steamrolling riff or hammering drum and bass combo and you’ll discover a network of well thought-out patterns and plays – evident with the excellent ‘When The Jackals Come’. As each track develops there’s always that stuffy sense of foreboding we’ve become accustomed to hearing with Immolation; especially first time round on that astonishing debut record. We can’t expect those times again – technology today will always suggest new dynamics to explore – but as tracks such as ‘The Distorting Light’ come hammering out of their trap, one can only kneel and worship the twisted riffs, gnarled passages of thick brutality, catchy segments of darkness and Dolan’s commanding coughs.

‘Fostering The Divide’ builds with evil suspense based around a trickling drum patter and jarring complexity of guitars. In fact, everything about this opus just reeks of arrogance and massive structures, with Immolation creating far darker drama than they did on 2013’s Kingdom Of Conspiracy. Atonement is a soundtrack to a world of blackened buildings and suffocating fires – the rhythmic pummelling injected with offbeat solos and cascading drums.

Steve Shalaty is a precise percussive beast indeed; his tightness indicative of a band that although streamlined remains old school and true to its identity. And with a return to the original logo, it seems that Immolation are reminding everyone of the ancient ways and how they will always remain not just present, but head and shoulders above the competitors.

Neil Arnold

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