It’s perhaps a testament to the sheer volume of quality extreme music that’s been produced in 2018 that an album as outstanding as The Atlas Moth’s Coma Noir was released early this year to only mild and fleeting fanfare. Yet, here we are, and—while there are certainly worse reasons for a record to go unnoticed— it’s an absolute travesty that such a fantastic release should continue to be overlooked.
Whereas 2014’s The Old Believer, and even 2011’s landmark record An Ache For the Distance, saw The Atlas Moth lashing out in a number of directions to create something overbearing in its eclecticism; Coma Noir sees the Chicago five-piece spending more time occupying those pockets where they feel most comfortable. The end result is the most focused and, arguably, most potent release of their career. While the band’s previous releases—especially The Old Believer—reveled in their ethereal qualities there’s something explicitly tangible about the tracks on Coma Noir that renders them at once more accessible and impactful all at once. The emphasis on atmosphere has been replaced by a foundation of rhythmic textures, whose accentuated grooves result in a palpable heaviness, at whose epicenter stands: the might riff!
The more riff-based approach displayed on Coma Noir sees The Atlas Moth finding themselves closer bedfellows with the likes of prog/sludge overlords Mastodon and Baroness. The endings of both “Last Transmission From The Late, Great Planet Earth” and “The Streets of Bombay” take on a distinctly Baroness-like tone as they near their climax; while the bulk of the latter, along with “Furious Gold” and especially “Smiling Knife” hark back to a time when Mastodon were both heavier and a bit rougher around the edges (i.e Remission (2002) through Blood Mountain (2006)). “Smiling Knife” also takes on a Converge-like quality, primarily due to its distorted vocals; and the epic “Galactic Brian” comes off like the lovechild of High on Fire and mid-period Corrosion of Conformity. The lyrics are also embedded with the bones of an abandoned noir narrative centered around the activities of an elusive cult. Think of it as the soundtrack to the ending of True Detective, we all deserve for sitting through what ultimately came to pass.
The Atlas Moth’s blackened sludge aesthetic remains in play primarily due to the record’s overdrive production and Stavros Giannopoulos’s distinctively shrill vocal tones. However, there’s no denying that Coma Noir marks a departure from the band’s traditionally more atmospheric approach, and the more simplified, groove-driven approach of the record may prove off-putting to those fans more steeped in those genres. Yet, this new direction proves hypnotic in its own way and it’s foolhardy to deny the sheer power and control shown on this fourth outing. In what has been an absolutely phenomenal year for heavy metal music, Coma Noir stands among the year’s best. Don’t let it pass you by.
Coma Noir is out now via Prosthetic Records.