Review Summary: This musical generation's version of Deftones deliver another excellent album.
As a massive fan of "An Ache For the Distance", I patiently awaited for the better part of three years the follow-up to the 2011 masterpiece. I just didn't see how they could possibly top it. Well, they didn't. They didn't even try, if you ask me. This is a very different piece of work, though absolutely gorgeous, there is no "Holes in the Desert" here. If you are unfamiliar with the band, they are a six-piece from Chicago employing two vocalists and three guitarists, drums, keys and bass.
0:55 of opener "Jet Black Passenger" reassures the listener: this is unmistakably The Atlas Moth recalling the psychedelic-groove breakdowns of the title track from their previous effort. This and follow-up "Collider" both brilliantly extend TAM's catalogue of swirling leads over grungy grooves, as well as hint at what is to come with far more vocals than the band has employed in the past. Stavros' trademark neo-black metal howls (is there a more instantly recognizable vocalist this side of Mike Armine??) and Dave Kushner's brooding clean vocals are intertwined wonderfully throughout. "Collider" features a very nice bridge section with rolling drums and guitars chugging and weaving through the break, eventually spiraling out of control into psychedelic heaven.
It is with the next several tracks that TAM separate themselves from what they established on AAFTD and their debut. "The Sea Beyond" begins with keys reminiscent of "Your Calm Waters" and grooves around a fat riff The Sword might have jammed on for five minutes or so in one of their songs. The song ends with what are far more personal lyrics for the band and are very representative of the direction of the album as a whole. "Halycon Blvd" will undoubtedly go down as one of the band's greatest. Entrancing guitars flow beneath Dave's crooning before plowing into one of the strongest choruses on the album and an absolutely vicious break. The final moments are preceded with one of the more melancholy melodies and vocal passages on the album "I feel safe inside the Earth, she's told me what we're made of. It feels like I'm alone now..." "Sacred Vine" continues with this mood, offering bleak leads before venturing off into the territory of jam riffs under dual leads explored in previous efforts. The song is quite strong, and one of the more memorable on the album.
Probably the biggest issue listeners may have with album is that many of the tracks resemble the previous and next. It is never more apparent than with the beginning of the title track, which seems to be leading us into new territory with an excellent, heavy jam riff. However, when the band comes in the riff is buried under leads and we're back to tradition TAM territory. After wondering what might have been we're treated to a song with infectious melodies and a first for the band, Stavros' clean singing debut. The track ends on a very high point. I'll not spoil it or compare it to the devastation of their previous effort's title track finale, but in its own way this will stick with you for days.
"City of Light" is The Old Believer's "Your Calm Waters", coming in with a gorgeous synth line that you wouldn't expect a band like TAM to employ, before plunging into far darker territory. "Wynona" becomes the equivalent musical trance by the end after some very nice dual guitar harmonies, plunging into their own distortion and leading one to believe their headphones might be on the fritz. "Hesperian" continues along the same path laid by the past three tracks and is fairly unremarkable by this point, though not to say bad. The album closer "Blood Will Tell" (featuring Joe from Gojira) is a worthy finale, though again doesn't exactly bring anything new save for a nice headbanging bridge.
Lyrically and thematically the album seems far more personal, some passages particularly depressing. The band seems far more intent on exploring those emotions that you are far more comfortable ignoring with this effort. Many of the riffs and melodies seem downright tragic, and couple them with lines like "I know you're always with me" and you have the path to tears. Comparatively, I find this a far more mature effort than "An Ache for a Distance", though it doesn't quite reach the highs attained previously. If I could compare the mood of the albums to those of another band, I'd say where "An Ache for the Distance" was The Atlas Moth's "White Pony", "The Old Believer" is right there with "Koi No Yokan".
Every track on the album holds several hooks, be it a great riff or vocal melody. I don't hear anything out of the ordinary coming from the rhythm section, which isn't to say that it is bad, just that the band doesn't seem to let that aspect of themselves take the forefront at any given time. TOB has far more vocals than previous efforts, and in that, far more interplay between Stavros' shrieks and Dave's bellows creating a perplexing atmosphere which only rarely becomes distracting (particularly if you're trying to decode one or the other's lyrics). The production is again excellent, and tracks like those in the title track showcase it beautifully. I find few flaws save that the band could benefit from a bit of versatility (Ache's tracks were all instantly identifiable and easily distinguishable) and choosing when to employ both vocalists a bit better. All in all a great success for a fast-rising band who have garnered the attention of heavy hitters like The Ocean and Devan Townsend already in their careers.
For a group that doesn't quite sound like anyone else, I'd say great things are in store....for them AND us.