AtalaOut of the heat and dust of San Bernardino rumbles the trio entitled “Atala”.  Atala is either a 7th Century monk or an Italian make of bicycle. What is more likely in my mind is these lads take their moniker from “Atala, ou Les Amours de deux sauvages dans le desert” by Francois-Rene de Caheaubriand.  The romance of two savages in the desert sounds like a good fit for these 4 tracks of epic dusty desert rock head nodders. The fact that Billy Anderson twiddled the knobs on this album says a lot about the calibre of Atala and the standard of production evident throughout.

“Gravity” opens proceedings with a punchy blast of grindcore lasting 30 seconds. Who am I kidding? Atala keep things literal by kicking the collection off with a near ten minute opus that swirls out of the speakers like an approaching sandstorm. The guitar of Kyle Stratton (who also provides vocals) meets with the four string rumble of John Chavarria and Jeff Tedtaotao’s tubthumping to evoke the feel of The Cure at their most crushingly bleak – think Faith or Pornography before huge riffs are layered on to crush all in sweaty peyote fuelled doom. Stratton’s clean, tortured vocals give Atala a lean towards Alice in Chains as well as UK legends Moss.  The groove and sound conjured up in this opener reminds me of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth – Tad Doyle’s filthy trio whose album of last year was also produced by Billy Anderson. The man responsible for Sleep’s gargantuan riffs and the Melvins genre defining brilliance certainly knows his (wild growing) onions and this album is all the better for it.

“Levity” as you would expect from its name is a lighter affair offering a bit of psyche groove in with the green fugged riffs.  When I say lighter we are not talking fluffy though. This is still a hypnotic beast with tribal drum breaks and of course riffs that you could bulldoze an adobe house with.

“King Solomon” at 5 minutes is the baby of the bunch and opens in a truly bleak fashion. (These guys must have had some Joy Division and Cure in their collection along with Trouble and Sleep). I don’t know if I have just been listening to too much desert rock and doom recently but I am starting to hear Smashing Pumpkins in this, there is an emotion in Stratton’s tortured cries that evokes Gish era Corgan and co.  His exaltation to “Just breathe” makes me want to do anything but and King Solomon becomes a Tardis track that is at once a wide and desolate place and a claustrophobic prison. Trippy!

“Shapeshifter” rounds out Shaman’s Path… with 8 minutes of proggy space doom (you know what I mean) . By now my senses and sensibility is battered by the Californians and I am numb to their wiles. Atala have got all the hooks and big riffs and atmosphere needed to be noticed in a ever expanding soup of stoner bands. The production and the bleak moments amongst the cactus mind funks lift this above the also rans.

(7/10 Matt Mason)