Right after I started listening to “Absolution”, I was reminded of a character from Airplane proclaiming, “Looks like I picked the wrong day to give up glue sniffing”. By way of explanation, “Absolution” is four tracks of abject misery and despair in aural form. This is fine, of course, but current events – about as bleak as I can ever recall them – mean that albeit not by design, “III:Absolution” has accidentally become the soundtrack to the worst bits of my Lockdown.
I will be honest and say that Atavist aren’t an act that have ever entered my consciousness before. I knew that Chris Naughton from the superb Winterfylleth featured on guitars, but other than that didn’t really know anything else. Initial track “Loss” does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a seventeen minute (yes, you did read that right) track that manages to express a huge amount in that time. It combines slow, almost acoustic sections with violins ramping up the depression factor, but it only gets more miserable as the drone doom guitar riffs come rolling in like blackened waves. Cavernous, shrieking vocals howl echoes into your ear, while the sparse rumble of the bass and dying thrashes of the drums eek out a rhythm. It’s not a good time.
“Struggle” come next. Fourteen minutes of furious, defiant, leviathan angst. While “Loss” is quite a subtle, progressive beast, “Struggle” by contrast is a fourteen minutes slog of interlaced riffs, distortion and depression. Imagine that emotion that you feel when, in the wee small hours of the morning, your brain decides that just then – at your weakest and most vulnerable – is the perfect time to replay all your failures to you in glorious technicolour. That is the sound of “Struggle”.
“Self-Realisation” is the next track on offer – at a sprightly ten minutes, it, if anything, turns down the mood-dial by a further couple of notches. As if to almost impishly ram the point home, funeral bells toll while the downward spiralling guitars pitch ever deeper in dizzying disarray. While it’s another icily slow track, there is at least here a little more energy, even though it feels negative and malevolent.
Eighteen minutes closer “Absolution” has a little more in the way of subtlety, with some clean picked guitar offering some respite from the furious slabs of negativity that the other tracks offer. Imagine very early Anathema, but high-jacked by serious looking men in leather jackets rather than maudlin kids in velvet smoking jackets and lace handkerchiefs. There are rare smatterings of things that might sound a little like…hope? Respite? Rare glimpses of sunlight through swollen clouds?
Atavist paint pictures on this album. They aren’t necessarily pictures that are going to cheer you up. It’s funeral doom with an emphasis on the doom – the (very) rare splashes of melody are really needed to keep this listenable. Maybe it’s just the time we are living through, but I found this to be a really difficult album to listen to. I had to pick the moments when I thought I would be up to doing so, because frankly it’s a massive downer. That isn’t to say it’s a bad album – it really isn’t – it’s just that you’ll need to pick your moment, because this isn’t an album that has atmosphere, it positively conjures one. You’ll need to be ready for it.
(8.5/10 Chris Davison)