Atavist – ‘III: Absolution’

By Ash Bebbington

Brutal, horrifying, unrelenting. Whatever way you look at it, the long-awaited third album from Mancunian extreme metallers Atavist is a progressive and challenging listen. If you’re looking for something uplifting, look elsewhere. If you want the soundtrack to your summer, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a gateway into extreme metal, you won’t find it here.

If you’re a fan of all things extreme, however, and you’re willing to wallow in the bleak misery of ‘III: Absolution’, you’ll find something absolutely magnificent. Atavist have crafted a progressive, bold record with a brilliantly realised concept that rewards those who keep going back for repeat listens.

Both thematically and sonically, this is an unapologetically heavy album. Consisting of four desolate doom metal epics across an hour-long runtime, ‘III: Absolution’ is very much an album to get yourself lost in. That’s not to say it’s an easy or pleasant listen, but that’s kind of the point. Guitarist Chris Naughton explains that the album is a “soundtrack that travels through the depths of human emotion, from losing everything, mourning loss, realising your own mind, right through to finding your way again.” This vision is perfectly realised by the sonics of the record, with each track symbolising a stage on that journey – from loss to absolution.

Opening song ‘Loss’ sounds sorrowful, but tinged with a slight feeling of hope. Throughout the track, Atavist continue to switch between heavy extreme metal and more melodic sections, which are played on either the guitar or violin. The inclusion of these more melodic sections is a masterstroke. They make the heavier sections hit harder, the song feel more unpredictable, and add to the emotional weight of the track. The best example of this melding of extremity and melody is the beautifully haunting clean guitar part that comes in at the 10 minute mark, which then continues as drums and distorted guitars play underneath it.

The second track, ‘Struggle’, is a very different proposition. Right from the beginning it is completely horrible, as a slow drumbeat gives way to a shrieked vocal and a slow, downtuned riff. Unlike the song that preceded it, there’s very little that’s melodic or pleasant to cling on to here. It is slow, heavy, and relentless, like you’re trudging endlessly through quicksand, never quite able to pull yourself out. This track is a brutal, unforgiving pit of despair. On first listen, you may find yourself begging for the song to change pace, or introduce a melodic stringed section to provide respite from the slow relentless doom. In the 14-minute runtime of the track, that respite never comes.

This displays a high level of confidence from Atavist in their own vision. A less confident band might’ve cut the length of this song, changed the pace halfway through, or introduced more melodic elements. Instead, they stick steadfastly to their concept, creating something visceral that evokes the feeling of struggling with having lost something you held dear. It is suffocating, all encompassing, and seemingly never-ending, making it by far the heaviest and most difficult song on the album. However, given the song’s name and the context of it within the record, that makes sense. This is the merciless low point on the emotional journey from loss to absolution.

‘Self-Realisation’ is the shortest song, clocking in at just shy of 10 minutes. While there are similarities to ‘Struggle’, Atavist add far more melody here, making it less suffocating, and a much more palatable track. However, it still makes for a bleak listen, and the addition of church bells only intensifies the grim soundscape.

Final track ‘Absolution’ is the longest song on the record, clocking in at almost 18 minutes.  While it’s certainly the most pleasant track here, it keeps threatening to be uplifting but never quite moves into a happier place. It is still incredibly heavy and sorrowful, and only seems pleasant when compared to what came before it. The string section that comes in at around 14 minutes sounds beautifully cinematic, packed full of haunting melancholy. This was a bold creative choice, and one that pays off in a big way. It is one of the most striking and memorable parts of the record.

Describing the inspiration for the track, Naughton says “there is no joy here, only relief at the end of an arduous voyage”; a feeling that Atavist convey superbly. There is no joy here, indeed. Naughton’s use of the word ‘voyage’ perfectly describes the album as a whole, taking the listener on a journey throughout. For this reason, it is impossible to pick a standout track. ‘III: Absolution’ is a body of work that has to be experienced from beginning to end, taking you on that journey from loss to absolution. The pure brutal suffering of ‘Struggle’ and the relative relief of ‘Absolution’ wouldn’t have nearly the same impact if removed from their context on the album.

‘III: Absolution’ is an excellent album with a strong and superbly executed concept, and without even knowing the details behind the events that inspired the album, you can feel the suffering laced through every single second of it. If you’re a fan of extreme metal, you owe it to yourself to check this out. So steel yourself, get a good pair of headphones, and embark on a journey from loss to absolution. If the first listen doesn’t scare you off, you’ll quickly start to see just how wonderfully crafted it is. Just find something fun to do when it finishes – you might need it.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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