The Atlas Moth reach spacious new heights, dreamy passages on excellent ‘The Old Believer’

The Atlas Moth

Photo by Mark Dawursk

Bands with true, distinct personalities are not that easy to come by these days. So when you get one, it’s easy to hold them close because you know when they come at you with new music, it’s going to be a unique experience.

That’s one of the many things that have kept me tuned into The Atlas Moth over the years. The Chicago-based band has a knack for songwriting, in that their work stays with you well after it’s done playing and you remember significant hooks and melodies from their songs. They also have an approach that draws from different areas but, when put together, is all their own. You’ll hear strains of ISIS, the Deftones, A Storm of Light, and bands of that nature, and they very easily could break out into some mainstream success or stay perfectly tucked underground. The sky really is the limit for this band, and their latest opus “The Old Believer” is their most realized, enriching experience to date. Everything you’ve come to from these guys over the course of their three full-lengths is here—the spacey sludge, the doomy dreamy, the black metal-tinged rock—just in more astonishing doses and extra clarity than ever before.

The Atlas Moth coverThe band’s lineup remains pretty steady from 2011’s excellent “An Ache for the Distance,” with guitarists Stavros Giannopoulus (the harsh vocals) and David Kush (the clean vocals) handling the dual-personality singing, contributing to pieces that equally can be beautiful and volatile; Andrew Ragin handling keyboard and guitars; Alex Klein on bass; and new drummer Dan Lasek. What they create on “The Old Believer” is a record that’s as picturesque as it is sonically moving, the perfect soundtrack for late-dusk gazing when the skyline is a mix of orange and dark blues hues. The songs have their heavy, punchy spots, but they also are melodic and approachable enough that they could bring in followers from many different styles of music, even the deader-than-dead mainstream rock scene, which could use the shot in the arm The Atlas Moth could provide. And as noted at the start, their music has clear-cut identity and personality, and they’re never a threat to just blend in with background noise. You know when you’re hearing The Atlas Moth, and that’s a refreshing thing.

The record begins ringing out from the skies with opener “Jet Black Passenger,” a fluid, involved song that, like each track on the record, has the clean singing/growling companionship driving the way. Rarely are these voices not heard together, but those moments do occur on this album. The song feels like a jolt into nighttime, with the howled call of, “Can you accept this transmission?” Then it’s into “Collider,” a song that has keys dripping like ice shards, warm guitars, and melodies that envelop your headspace with weird dreams and visions. “The Sea Beyond” is a definite highlight, with keys leading into a burly, massive guitar line, and melodies surging throughout the song. The words are delivered as if they’re reaching out for some greater understanding through various planes, as Kush wonders, “If I concentrate, will you take shape again?” This is one of the best tracks in the band’s entire catalog. “Halcyon Blvd.” has a shimmering start that opens up for some of the most soulful signing on the record and passages that feel eerie and alien-like. “Sacred Vine” is another song that could help this band break out, with sunburst guitars that feel hazy and comfortable, and great vocal hooks, such as when Kush observes he’s “closer to space where the lines disappear.” This is a really strong song that could lure in anyone.

The title cut is built on crunch and new shades of colors, with the growls from Giannopoulus taking a greater role. There’s a heavy stoner feel to the song, and when it seems to be gaining momentum, it drops like a rock into the ocean. “City of Light” has classical-style synth lines that jerk you awake, followed by soaring guitar textures, and the dual vocals bringing on a sense of liberation. “Wynona” has a thunderous feel to it, with the shrieks pelting the side of your body like hail, but there also are layers of dreaminess that could make you feel drowsy like you had some strong medicine that plans to lull you to odd spaces in your brain. The song also can be jagged and fierce, making for an interesting experience that seems to be pulling you two different directions with equal force. “Hesperian” has a bizarre open that makes it feel like you’re entering into a trance, and even once the guitars open up and the vocals take shape, you can’t help but feel woozy over what’s happening. Toward the end, the guitars rise up and bubble, giving the track a compelling finish. Closer “Blood Will Tell” is sweltering and humid following its brawny open, and there are some of the heavier moments on the record on this cut. At one point Giannopoulus howls, “I feel the world crumbling down!” as if he’s seeing pieces of sky clobber the Earth’s surface, with the band playing on and fading away as the world comes to an end. Turns out the scene is not as hellish as you thought. It’s rather comforting and serene.

“The Old Believer” is another giant step ahead for The Atlas Moth, a band that’s been blowing out minds for nearly a decade now. This record needs to be in more ears, and it’s the type of album that could make people realize there still is great, stimulating rock music being made. You just need to know where to find it. This band just keeps getting better with age, and there’s no telling what their high-water mark might be. Maybe they don’t have one, and they’re going to keep making one space majesty after another. You certainly won’t get any complaints out of me if that’s the case.

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