Review Summary: Metal for people who want to like metal but don't yet.
Modern metal doesn’t make much effort to reach out to audiences unconvinced of its most polarizing elements. Blazing speed, Cookie Monster vocals, bewilderingly complex musicianship, and a general air of inaccessibility are staples of the genre. It almost makes one forget that a lot of classic metal, like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, or Dio, could be pretty catchy. Long before chthonic death growls and lyrics about eating fermented maggots from hollowed-out puppy skulls, metal had hooks, and it was pretty easy to get into.
Today, it seems like there’s not much middle ground between infant-cannibalism metal and bland radio hard rock that sounds like it was tailor-made for guys named Chad. What do you do if you like the ferocity and punch of classic metal, but not eating puppies?
Well, Atma Weapon might have the answer. At first glance, their 2013 debut Dark Tower wasn’t exactly accessible, mostly consisting of a spiraling prog-metal composition that ran about thirty minutes long. But nestled in the back end of the album, two relatively straightforward tracks - “Dark Dreamer” and “Miss Misery” - were arguably the best part of Dark Tower.
If these songs and their straightforward nature were your favorite part of Dark Tower, you’re in luck: Through Seas of Gray revisits this approach successfully to create an album that’s definitely metallic, but without most of the cliches. Instead, the North Carolina-based band marinate their power rock in a twinge of Appalachian grit. Through five songs, Atma Weapon showcase the range of their first two albums, now condensed into tight, sometimes catchy songs.
Of course, it’s hard to call this music truly poppy, even if Through Seas Of Gray’s songs approach conventional structures. Cameron Johnson’s guitar still rules the proceedings, and his jazzy, melodic solos wind through the thick riffs of the EP’s five songs. He plays with a natural gracefulness and commitment to melody that’s a departure from the relentless, often monotonous, shredding of many progressive metal acts. Singer Mick Armstrong sounds perfect for Atma Weapon’s cerebral-yet-catchy stylings, and even with a change of drummer and the departure of their original bassist, the band could hardly sound more natural together.
“Last Days Of Hope” starts off a bit reminiscent of Baroness’s Green and Yellow, before power riffs kick in. Like much of the EP, it’s not quite as straightforward as it first appears, blurring the lines between conventional elements like verse and chorus. “Low Chariot” is certainly Through Seas Of Gray’s most conventional song, but it’s also probably the best, with a great chorus courtesy of Mick Armstrong, who sounds better than ever. A crucial part of Atma Weapon’s success, he’s a non-stereotypical metal vocalist who represents an admirable middle ground between the high-pitched wailing of 1980s singers and modern radio butt-rockers.
Armstrong is as effective in powerful moments as in more subdued compositions, like “Walls In Bloom.” If most of the songs resemble the highlights from Dark Tower, this one is more in line with the band’s sophomore release, The Fields Where Nothing Grows. It’s a dynamic composition that artfully incorporate acoustic guitar in a pleasingly natural manner.
There’s a definite sense that Atma Weapon has matured on Through Seas Of Gray, and a sense of tightness and cohesion on songs like “Fair Weather” and “Seas of Gray” that will serve the band well going forward, wherever their progressive style leads them. Injecting their music with melody and hooks gives them a more immediately engaging sound than many progressive bands. Atma Weapon is easy to get into, but there’s plenty of substance to satisfy the listener beyond first impressions. It’s a lesson that just about any artist should take to heart, regardless of genre.