July 20, 2014

The Atlas Moth - The Old Believer & An Ache for the Distance

Written by Justin C.

Artwork by Invisible Creature

The last two albums from The Atlas Moth, 2011's An Ache for the Distance and this year's The Old Believer, defy easy categorization. Listening to An Ache, I kept coming back to the somewhat-ridiculous label of "blackened, bluesy psychedelia," and although The Old Believer shares a lot of sonic territory with An Ache, it's also something else entirely.

Both albums use the same vocal approach: Stavros Giannopoulos provides blackened screams, and David Kush provides weathered clean vocals. Listening to them trade lyrics on "Gemini" from An Ache is mesmerizing, particularly as Kush climbs from deep chant-like timbres up to his higher range. At times--and promise not to laugh because I mean this as no insult--he puts me in mind of Peter Gabriel, or at least a version of Peter Gabriel where he split with Genesis because he wanted to make metal. Listen to "The Sea Beyond" from The Old Believer and tell me I'm crazy.

Both albums feature excellent guitar work with plenty of melodic riffs. "Holes in the Desert" from An Ache is one of my favorite examples, with a chunky low riff topped with an echoing psychedelic line. They've scaled back on some of the more psychedelic touches on The Old Believer, but that's not to say the riff writing is any less fantastic. I've listened to these two albums back to back a lot recently, but I've still struggled to find the words to adequately describe the progression, although my gut feeling is that calling the song writing more direct on The Old Believer would be as good a description as any. The songs feel tight and laser-focused, but that's not to say that they've shed any of their more experimental touches--if you like the piano and jazzy trumpet freak out at the end of "Horse Thieves" from An Ache, you'll like the piano in "The Sea Beyond" and the trippy synths in "City of Light" from The Old Believer. I think the fact that I can listen to these two albums back to back, repeatedly, without feeling drained or bored is a testament to the artistry the band put into both, and the progression they've managed to achieve.

Maybe even more important than the instrumental progression is the palpable change in mood. The Old Believer feels like a more emotional album, with a potent mix of melancholy and a sense of survival, and with good reason: You can read about the band's personal struggles from recent years, but even not knowing that, the emotion comes across loud and clear in The Old Believer.

I’d be hard pressed to name another band out there that’s doing anything near what The Atlas Moth is doing these days. Many bands take a huge array of influences and meld them together into some kind of Frankensteinian mess. The Atlas Moth stand apart from their peers and creates a cohesive, unique sound. An Ache for the Distance and The Old Believer are both must-haves.

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