Review Summary: A promising step on a journey that wasn't to be
The act of finding your musical identity is quite a thrilling one, as all of a sudden the stuff that's flying out from under your fingers or out of your lips starts making sense and actually sounds pretty good in a somewhat objective manner. Some bands seem to enjoy it so much that they tend to do it all the time, flying from genre to genre like a leaf blown in the wind, but that's material for another day. It's even more thrilling if the stuff coming out isn't a blind emulation of an established sound, but rather the musicians' own take on a certain idea.
1992 saw Ater publish a horrid collection of tracks that based on trite power chord motifs, but the unbearable dissonant melodies cast here and there seemed to promise that the band wants to experiment and find its own niche... regardless of how much they detracted from an already feeble listening experience. A year later, they regrouped and launched a second assault in the form of a new demo, entitled Ors. Just how evident would their progress be, if any progress would be made?
The listener is welcomed by a somewhat mundane-sounding acoustic intro that doesn't branch out much from the area of content covered on their first demo, but then right as it's about to end the phrasing becomes somewhat more sophisticated, a prominent bass pattern emerges, and expectations soar as one realizes the band grew... rightly, in fact, as in a matter of seconds “The Antichrist” stomps all over everything The Black Abyss offered. The opening riff is very simplistic, relying on the E power chord, but the rhythm pattern is streamlined, effective, and the additional melody is very tastefully harmonized – no more feeling of the guys lacking control over the emerging notes. As the song unfolds, it becomes apparent that Ater has swallowed the doom/death hook, but instead of doing a blind UK impression they drag the fishing line down to their murky patch of sea bottom laced with standard tuning and the playing sentiment of old, creating a fresh take on the template. The musical ideas are quite adequate, and “simple, yet effective” is the name of the game here – the no-frills approach benefits the track, and doesn't prevent it from blooming in a somewhat endearing, restrained way. The verse riff is well executed, adding content to their power chord leanings of old, and the occasional flirting with guitar melodies is not something the old Ater could have pulled off. Another link with the past is a very brief return of their old dissonance... but it's only in the form of one chord in a properly structured phrase, which later gets morphed as the idea undergoes evolution. Perfectly logical evolution, in fact. “The Antichrist” is the perfect demonstration of all the potential Ater discretely hid from us in their first demo, blending their old traits with well thought-out content, structuring and musical development. The highlight of the demo.
...well yeah, but everything is pretty much downhill from here. All the other tracks fail to capitalize on all the promise “The Antichrist” shows, not from lack of trying. “Evol Enivid” attempts to become the anchor of the demo, blending a trivial acoustic pattern with an even more trivial power chord motif to form a genuinely good idea that segues into a powerful doom riff that a number of established acts would welcome in their back catalog. The song also features a fantastic through-composed part that flirts with the demo intro (see a pattern developing?) before transfiguring it into a throbbing harmonic mess, showcasing fantastic composing potential. What stops “Evol Enivid” from becoming great? The amount of repetition and lack of quality of other parts. Aside from the mentioned sections, the only thing worth noting is a cool (and badly botched in terms of performance) higher-register line that's niftily harmonized for maximum impact, but it goes away before it properly sets in. The flinging of semi-random ideas together with further repetitions of previous parts manages to bump the song somewhere into the eight-minute region, when it would have made for an exhilarating four-minute listen.
From then on, the tunes continue the trend of sounding like a batch of disjointed ideas and overstaying their welcome by minutes on end. “Moonlight Celebration” lacks any sort of impact, the lone things that stick with me after numerous listens is that the song sounded oddly happy, had a random misfit grim section glued in for good measure, and it could use less cowbell (or whatever the hell the drummer is banging on in there). “Gravelust” is the most progressive of the batch, but when the acoustic intro comes in after “Evol Enivid” and its perpetual acoustic flirting the reaction is negative. The song feels the most random of them all, mixing ballad-like sections with crawling doom riffs and the occasional speedier idea (one of the riffs feels a bit like late-80's Metallica), but severely lacking in the cohesion and transition departments. Where “The Antichrist” and “Evol Enivid” manage to segue between the different parts rather easily, “Gravelust” sounds heavily disjointed and directionless. The song lacks the tenderness of a ballad or the bite of a heavier number, and being stuck in limbo between all the options ends up making me wish the track wasn't on the demo. The fact that this is easily the most blooper-filled song doesn't serve in its favor either.
From a performance point of view, the band didn't pick up much skill on their instruments since they last swung by the studio, but at least this time around both the guitars are distorted. In semi-related news, when performance issues bog down “Gravelust”, the guitarist left behind emits a big fat yelp of feedback from his amp... maybe that's why the first demo sounded the way it did? I guess we'll never know. Whilst some tasty phrases get somewhat diluted by uninvited finger slop, the performance still retains the “adequate, but far from perfect” tag that could be applied to The Black Abyss as well.
As “Moonlight Celebration” finishes and the outro leads the listener to the exit, continuing the previous song's weird feelgood vibe, one is left to wonder what could have been. Even the worst song on here was aeons above the tripe that made up their first demo, and Ors showed an Ater that one wouldn't expect to materialize so soon. Their riffs started sounding like riffs, songs started looking more like songs, and the thing that killed some of them was an overambitious desire to cram as much content into them as possible, regardless of the content's quality. Not a bad death for songs to die if I say so myself. Maybe 1994 would show yet another incarnation of Ater, this time more focused, placing just the right amount of riffs in songs and further developing their through-composed strokes of awesome? Maybe they'd finally get thicker gauge strings and drop a fourth or so in 1995? We'll never know. All that's left is an overambitious demo that shows a lot of promise that the band's first piece of output didn't even signalize.