You need two points to define a trajectory. A single point, no matter how high it is, doesn’t go anywhere. How is this relevant? If we imagine a debut album as an original point of genesis, then the sophomore album is what completes it, building a band into more than just a singular event. This puts enormous weight on a sophomore album, essentially making it the “make or break” point for many bands. Seattle’s A Sense of Gravity released their debut Travail in 2014, and many of us here at the blog consider it to be one of the best albums in progressive metal to date. Their follow-up, Atrament, is coming out this Friday, and it has a lot to live up to. With a band whose sound is so varied and complex, there are many directions they could have taken their sound to, and many of them would have been disappointing. Thankfully, Atrament is as good a follow-up we can get to Travail without retreading ground, and the trajectory for the band is looking pretty good.
What is Atrament? It’s not the band slowing down for sure. Travail shined because of its combination of modern technical metal with the grandiose flair of old school progressive metal. Balancing those two can’t be easy, but Atrament continues the baseline established in the debut. Each song is a technical showcase of cutting-edge prog creativity. What’s perhaps more impressive is that it’s all improved from its predecessor. The solos are more over the top, the playing more intricate, and the vocals more varied. There’s a clear sense of improvement to the raw musicianship and songwriting, with everything perhaps blending even more smoothly than it did on Travail. Where that album was all unfurled power and rawness, Atrament is a more refined and accomplished release.
There’s really no cop out on this album, a risk which every sophomore album runs. There is an abundance of tracks, each of it with a good amount of length and variety to them. None of it is filler, and the band bring their best to every track, pushing its ideas to their natural limit. There are hooks, impressive vocal lines, memorable riffs and more to every single song. Pretty much any choice for a set of singles would be a good one. This is the product of a band that is trying harder than ever, firing on all cylinders. Of course, with such deliberate writing, the band have come to define their own melodic texture, their trademark style of riffing. While Travail was a combination of dissonant, melodic and neoclassical playing, Atrament adds more to that by including some more fantastical sounds as well. The intro, “Drowning In The Ink”, almost sounds like a score to a Disney film with its upbeat, dreamy quality.
Is everything a notable step up from Travail though? Perhaps not. If there’s one thing the debut album did very proficiently, it was giving each song an entirely distinct identity. No song had the same structure or character as any other. There were fast songs, an instrumental showcase, a ballad, moodier songs, etc. whereas Atrament is a lot more homogeneous. A notable amount of the songs have a structure that feels rather similar, and that involves returning to sections to emphasize them, juggling several different styles. As a result of this, the album feels less varied than its predecessor, while individual songs are more diverse than ever. While this in a way creates a more consistent album, it also creates a less dynamic and surprising one. This isn’t to say the album as a whole isn’t pleasantly surprising. It’s more that, once one starts listening to the album, they can see how it’s going to play out. This is effectively the only difference in approach between Travail and Atrament. In the end, it comes down to one’s opinion as to which style is preferable, but it does make one wonder whether the increased cohesion was worth the trade-off.
In the end, Atrament is an excellent progressive metal album that is several cuts above the rest. Combining the best of both old and new world of the genre, it’s as strong as a sophomore album from a band whose sound is based on intricacies can be. A Sense of Gravity have passed a test that stumps so many bands with flying colors. The approach it takes is a bit different – while there is less variety between songs, each song in itself contains more variety. Regardless, it’s a great album that yet again reinforces the band as one of the most exciting names in metal.
Atrament sees release this Friday, the 18th of November. You can head on over here to pre-order it as well as grab some merch. We recommend the t-shirts from experience, they’re super comfortable!