Review Summary: Unsettling complexity and fascinating morbidity define this seminal early tech death release.Do you know how the Orcs first came to being... They were Elves once, taken by the dark powers, tortured and mutilated. A ruined and terrible form of life. And now, perfected. My fighting Uruk-hai.
As much as I am aware that the analogy could go all kinds of places, let us for a moment indulge and replace the Elves in Saruman’s statement with early technical thrash metal, the Orcs with ‘Florida’ death metal, and the birth of the Uruk-hai with the appearance of trail-blazing acts immediately preceding classic releases such as Death’s Human
, Gorguts’ Considered Dead
and Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence
. Atrocity’s 1990 debut is one of those trail-blazing feats. When this German quintet set out to craft Hallucinations
, it is as if they decided to adopt the technical skill and the sense for experiment of their thrash cousins from Deathrow and Mekong Delta, only to inject it with undiluted morbidity, creating this unique avant-garde tinged tech death metal precedent in the process.
Leaving Middle Earth aside, what we have here is a concept album of which the soundscape aligns with the narrative of a girl traumatized by sexual abuse in early childhood, falling prey to drug addiction and leading the life of a junkie before eventually dying of an overdose. Grasping the musical mood and composition of the songs is a challenge from any perspective, but the assumption that every element on the album is functional may be your most rewarding listening strategy. Song structures, arrangements, individual instrumental scores, riff and rhythmic structures, chord progressions, tempo changes and alternating time signatures – all seem to serve the purpose of carrying this gloomy tale of progressive psychic depravation, presented as a series of manic-depressive mood swings.
A song such as Life Is a Long and Silent River
showcases the album’s creative force and level of technical mastery. Drums and bass work together to deliver staggering rhythms at contrasting paces, while the guitars offer twin lines with disharmonic accents, eerie and alienating leads, and some of the most off-the-wall and heavy riffing in metal history. “Time is running quickly / but in my brain a terrible dream never ends”, Alex Krull roars maliciously, as if further underscoring every component’s intent on being at odds with the title of the track. The same schemed unpredictability is at work in all the other songs. Added synth/organ passages are heard on the opener Deep in Your Subconscious
(which is nothing less than a sonic obliteration of the main character’s psyche), the title track Hallucinations
(some of the rhythm breaks and riff patterns of which bring to mind Voivod’s Killing Technology
), and closing track Last Temptation
. With its strangely invigorating voice chorus, Hold Out
possibly contains the most original and unexpected musical twists.
Production has the snare drum high in the mix together with an overall thumpy mid frequency accentuation, which can make the guitars sound muddy and underdefined at first, but dedicated listening on a proper sound system makes for a life-changing experience. Coming out of Morrisound Studios in the same year as other pioneering releases such as Nocturnus’ The Key
and Incubus’/Opprobrium’s Beyond The Unknown
, this album remains as adventurous and innovative as it is underappreciated. Fans of progressive, technical and experimental death metal will find it fascinating to discover how the riffs, harmonies and rhythmic escapades on Hallucinations
in several places prefigure the likes of Cynic (listen to Defeated Intellect
, for example) and later-era Gorguts (Last Temptation
!), while at the same time equaling and even topping some of Death’s best post-’90 work. If nothing else, the fact that this death metal debut immediately set out to explore and push the boundaries of the genre must have gained Atrocity the status of a band’s band.