A friend recently asked me a baffling question: Is Nicolas Cage a good actor?
It’s a seemingly simple inquiry, right? After all, virtually everyone has seen one of the notoriously prolific actor’s movies. But whether or not he’s “good” is a tough question. His over-the-top characters blend with a seemingly equally wild personality (persona?), making it nearly impossible to tell if he’s playing a role, or merely playing us.
After much internal debate, I came to the conclusion that we must give Cage his due. He’s hardly a human chameleon like Mike Myers or Christian Bale, but there’s something to be said for playing a singular type so damn well that you ultimately get cast as yourself. Nicolas Cage has made a decades-long career out of playing the same gruff, outlandish antihero with varying degrees of violence to an unprecedented amount of success: Mandy: a cult hit; National Treasure: a blockbuster sensation several times over; Color Out of Space: a cosmic horror masterpiece; Face/Off: a solid action film made transcendentally bizarre by Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. Say what you will about Cage, he’s the living embodiment of committing to a singular gimmick.
Phoenix-based Atoll seems to have the same philosophy. Since emerging in 2016 with The Gathering Swarm, these outrageous slammers have continued to deliver grinding, hyperactive brutality. And their debut with Unique Leader Records has changed exactly nothing about their signature sound. Like Cage, Atoll has no pretensions about their art. Released April 15th, Prepuce (Google/Bing/DuckDuckGo it), is six tracks of relentless brutality and absurd fun. Fans of Party Cannon, Guttural Slug, and Analepsy will find themselves right at home here.
The first wave of Prepuce’s relentless assault is the devastating pace. Like earlier Atoll albums Zoopocalypse and Fallout Frenzy, I found myself double-checking the length of songs because they rage by too quickly to possibly reach a full three or four minutes. Not too worry though, Atoll hasn’t cheated us out of a single second of guttural roars, punishing drum beats, or raging riffs. Every note on Prepuce is deliberately nausea-inducing and IQ-lowering. And for those brief moments we’re not being tormented, we’re treated to samples from the American classic, Family Guy. You’ll laugh, you’ll bang your head like no one is watching, and you’ll lie to anyone who asks what’s playing in your headphones.
But don’t mistake straightforward for poorly done. On the contrary, Atoll backs their relentless pursuit of the absurd with brief, but well-executed, guitar solos that showcase the band’s musical ability. Tracks like ‘Molotov Cock Tease’ throw just enough complexity into the mix so that the extra chugging of “Hitchhiker” hits that much harder. Final track “The Gathering Swarm” ransacks both technical death metal and pure slam for an extremely satisfying finale. It illustrates why slam is easy to do, but hard to do well: the whole needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. The formula for slamming death metal isn’t complicated: squeals, blasts, and riffs. But creating truly fun and creative music that elevates this basic formula is the real challenge. New slam albums are a dime a dozen, but the ones that are worth putting on repeat are some of the most entertaining music out there. With Prepuce, Atoll seems to have created one of the latter. Each member of the band performs their role extremely well, and the result is an obscene, blasting journey that takes us exactly where we needed it.
And that, quite frankly, is the point. We’re not here to be adults and dissect Prepuce for a deeper meaning or analyze technical songwriting. We’re here to mosh about like the meat sacks we are and take a roaring, outrageous break from a depressing reality. Atoll understands this completely and delivers a brutal, guttural assault on human decency that’s the perfect escape for brutal slamming death metal enthusiasts.