As admired as they are in death metal circles, Immolation have never received much recognition beyond the underground, which would be reason enough for most bands of this vintage (they formed as Rigor Mortis in 1986) to lose interest along the way. Instead, Ross Dolan’s hugely influential crew continue to aim higher and hit harder with every album, and Atonement is yet another concussion-inducing triumph in a career littered with them.
The secret lies within Immolation’s trademark sound: a gritty but woozy maelstrom of swarming, dissonant riffs and explosive percussion that somehow always seems to indicate some malevolent force lurking in the shadows. Unlike many of the bands that have taken that same idea into more sonically impenetrable realms, the arguably overrated Portal among them, the New Yorkers’ strength lies in the clarity and precision of these songs’ execution. Their sound is of musicians channelling morbid fury via their collective chemistry, rather than relying on insane amounts of reverb and cardboard-box drum sounds to evoke thoughts of Cthulhu erupting from the depths. The end result is that Immolation sound absolutely colossal throughout their 10th album: as epic, grandiose and otherworldly as anything the genre has produced, and yet still irresistibly unpretentious and believable.
As ever, they are at their most formidable when powering forward at mid-pace or slower. Thrown To The Fire is an object lesson in the atmospheric potency of simple riffs, as it veers from stultifying snail’s pace to bursts of high-velocity blasting. Rise The Heretics is a masterful display of “Last one to the end’s a Christian!” death metal militancy and the lurching, ominous ooze of Above All would be the perfect soundtrack next time Satan’s Army fancy a march.
In an age where creative haste often results in albums full of generic filler, Atonement feels like a meticulously crafted body of work: 11 songs exerting the same abyssal force, but each possessing a charisma and insidious hooks of its own. Ultimately, class is eternal and Immolation have it pouring out of their wartorn faces. A part of the death metal furniture they may be, but you wouldn’t sit on them for fear of being eaten alive.