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Am I the only one who thinks that it’s a strange choice for a band with strong psychedelic influences to draw inspiration from film noir traditions? That’s not a criticism of The Atlas Moth or their newest album, ‘Coma Noir‘ in any way, merely an observation. Personally, I think the old PI gumshoes of the 50’s would call a band who writes songs about ayahuasca to be a bunch of lousy beatniks who need to cut their hair, wash their feet, and get real jobs. Not that that’s my opinion, of course, if the fine men from The Atlas Moth got real jobs, then we wouldn’t have the outstanding song that is ‘Holes in the Desert‘, which ranks just below “My Chilli Recipe” and just above “the touch of a woman” on my list of totally awesome shit in life.
Put simply, I really like this album. Particularly the opening song, first single, and titular track, ‘Coma Noir‘. The song starts out with mid-to-fast paced instrumentals, then evolves into the rhythmic, sludgy, powerhouse sound that longtime listeners will be more than familiar with. However, that isn’t enough for me to rank this among the band’s best songs, but what does, however, is the outro to said track that really seals the deal for me. The guitar in this final section reminds is more old-school thrash metal, which is always fun, but then the chanting, repetitive (not a criticism) vocals kick in and leave me unable to tear myself away from the entire post-metal soundscape. It’d make one hell of a workout song, even though I only jog, because “working out” involves spending time with around other human beings. Then, those chanting clean vocals are replaced with the absolutely ferocious screams, the drumming kicks into high gear, and the song works up to a wonderful climax. I’m not even going to make a joke about the word climax – that’s how good this song is! I can see this song being a particularly solid crowd-pleaser in a live setting for a really long time.
Besides the amazing opening track, I was also quite a big fan of ‘Actual Human Blood‘ as well. The derivative opening guitar riff is simple, metal 101 stuff, but is effective in introducing this song as a classic headbanger. Not just that, the instrumental transitions between the intro, the verses, and the choruses get a massive thumbs-up from me. Another notable sound on this record is the guitar riff that starts about three minutes into ‘Smiling Knife‘. The riff plays over and over again several times, but it always feels as though it’s building tension in a very dramatic, cyclic way. The only other music that I can think to compare it to would be the Space Invaders theme song, not in exact style or sound, but in the idea of a constantly-building, tightening sound that is the auditory equivalent of a fraying piece of rope, stopping someone from falling off a steep cliff while Snidely Whiplash looks on from afar.
Not everything that the band experiments with works, however. I started my first listen to ‘The Streets of Bombay‘ with a massive smile on my face. The weird as hell, psychedelic production makes the song sound like it’s wobbling on an axis. Then, the band introduces some icy keys that almost sound like a darkwave record, followed by a very clunky transition into the “metal” section of the song. (What’s the opposite of ‘seamless’? ‘Seam-filled’?) The transition between psychedelia and darkwave works strangely well, but the transition then from darkwave over to sludge metal does not work at all, and it sounds as though the band simply tacked on the bizarre and interesting intro as a lazy means to inject some experimentation into the song and record.
Now, I know I used the word ‘repetitive’ to speak highly of songs like ‘Smiling Knife‘, but sometimes repetition just doesn’t work out so well. Of course, repetition doesn’t necessarily make a song good or bad, but it’s an incredibly risky idea to work with because there’s no middle ground. Repetition, when done well, is wonderful. It can draw you into hypnotic states (Swans, Darkspace, most psy-trance), and it can make some incredibly catchy choruses (bangers for days). However, when done badly, it is pretty much universally considered incredibly annoying. As for that negative repetition, we have the repetition heard in ‘The Frozen Crown‘. The song starts out fine enough, but only half a minute in, the repeating lyrics “Do you ever wonder…If your brain’s been disconnected?” rear their ugly head. It frustrated me that the band felt it necessary to include these lyrics as clean vocals as if we simply had to clearly understand that god-awful line. This is the kind of pseudo-profound lyrical nonsense that the world’s shadiest drug dealer says to you in-between bong hits that only he knows are laced with PCP. If this lyric was screamed, I could kinda look past it, but I can’t look past such dreadful, boring lyrics that taint my perception of an otherwise fine song that early on in the game.
Don’t despair though, as there’s plenty more to like here. For instance, the album concludes very well on the closing song, ‘Chloroform‘. The song starts out with a really cool, relaxed guitar riff that sounds like a combination of sad country music, psychedelic rock, and weirdly enough, the guitar that opens the rapper Danny Brown’s most recent album. However, the song quickly turns into a slow-burning beast, combining churning, heavy guitars with the intensity of the band’s familiar screamed vocals to create a sound that I’d compare to the likes of Pallbearer. Well, if Pallbearer were angry instead of sad. ‘Chloroform‘ ends on a strange production note, with what that sounds like The Atlas Moth are playing behind an injured mouse trapped in an old-timey kettle, but even that works in the context of the whole album, as it serves as one final dark descent before the album wraps p.
‘Coma Noir’, while definitely being more consistently enjoyable throughout the track listing than any other album I’ve heard from The Atlas Moth, it is still not quite their best work. But it’s close. The album lacked the – and I do hate to say this – “epic” sound that made the first half of ‘An Ache For the Distance’ so goddamn great, and some of the songs (particularly ‘Furious Gold’) did seem to adhere to what could be loosely called The Atlas Moth formula, but all in all, this is a really good album. You should listen to it.
1. Coma Noir
2. Last Transmission From The Late, Great Planet Earth
3. Galactic Brain
4. The Streets of Bombay
5. Actual Human Blood
6. Smiling Knife
7. Furious Gold
8. The Frozen Crown
‘Coma Noir’ is out now via Prosthetic Records.