Review: The Atlas Moth – Coma Noir

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Chicago’s premier sludge-psyche outfit comes into their own on their 3rd full length.

It’s been a hot second since The Atlas Moth gifted us with new tunes. They released a great single track two years ago (accompanied by an awesome video), but that wasn’t quite enough to fill the five year void since The Old Believer. But now we have Coma Noir, the band’s 3rd full length album and first on new label Prosthetic Records – and it’s quite the evolution for the band. If 2011’s An Ache for the Distance stranded us in the desert with its strong bluesy stoner vibes and arid minimalism, then Coma Noir takes us back into the city to dwell in shadow and decadence among the cabalistic elite or in the gutter. Though not strictly a concept album by any means, guitarist Stavros Giannopoulos has this to say about the narrative thread running through the album’s nine tracks:

“I personally wrote the lyrics from the perspective of a cult leader, almost playing a character. […] The overall idea of the story was basically Maltese Falcon with a horror element.  A detective is brought a case by a mysterious woman in regards to this supposed doomsday cult, Coma Noir” (via Chicago Reader).

And with the album cover depicting a dark and dapper gentleman in pinstripe suit seemingly made of shadow, the homage to 50’s detective noir is complete.

And as goofy as a cosmic mafioso sounds, the boys in The Atlas Moth are deadly serious. The music is razor sharp, invoking an edginess that was absent on the band’s previous full lengths. I’m sure this next descriptor gets plenty of abuse from reviewers, but I can’t help but feel a desperate sense of urgency as I listen to each song make its brief (by doom standards) but powerful statement of purpose. “The stakes are higher than they were when we were young,” as guitarist David Kush proclaims on “Galactic Brain” in an unusually lucid and terrifyingly sober moment – as opposed to the smokey haze that shrouds most of the band’s past catalog.

And with this newfound clarity, the band comes across as supremely confident in their purpose. The Atlas Moth have something to say, something to scream to the gods. They are here to shake you by the lapels and tell you that resistance against the void is anything but futile – it’s necessary. Whether they take form stalking the oil-black streets, proclaiming the nihilistic glory of the cult of Coma Noir (as on the title track) or fighting back against the machinations of an uncaring universe (“Galactic Brain”), The Atlas Moth make their retro-futuristic vision clear.

2013’s The Old Believer is a great sludge album, but over time it seemed to stagnate, lacking the kind of force that ensured that I didn’t return to it very much in the almost five years leading up to Coma Noir. My biggest gripe with The Old Believer was that it sounded static, each track blurring indistinctly as the album marched ahead.  That criticism was rooted in tempo (i.e. every beat, rhythm, and cadence of songs sounds too alike).

What the band does with Coma Noir, however, is make a more exciting album – one that is at turns more rhythmically diverse and just more fun. With the addition of new drummer, Mike Miczek, the band seems to be far more “locked-in” and ready to experiment with structure and form beyond simply adding atmospherics. The title track features what could be considered the band’s first breakdown and even features a section where the vocal cadence invokes *gasp* nu metal. Coma Noir speeds things up a bit and, again, gives purpose to the riffs on display.

And oh boy are there riffs for days: the off-kilter hardcore riffage of “Smiling Knife” should have Converge fans smiling, and the swirling madness of “Chloroform” recalls the pondering stomp that came to characterize An Ache for the Distance. But each of the nine tracks on Coma Noir breathe with independent life – some volatile from start to finish, others pensive and transcendent, brooding in a way that only they know how to do.

Speaking of transcendence, that’s exactly what The Atlas Moth does here; the band lifts themselves from the mire of stoner and sludge tropes to occupy their own niche, like Mastodon and Baroness before them. Coma Noir will go down as the album when the band came into their own – when they came out of their frozen chrysalis to do battle against the cold apathy of the universal cult.

Rumor has it that the band plans on expanding the world of Coma Noir too – the near future will purportedly see the release of several short films, and even a graphic novel, that explore the cult and the city in more detail. To that I say this: just take my money now.

4.5 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

 

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