Record review: Immolation, "Atonement" (Nuclear Blast)


What's that smell? After listening to "Atonement," you may discover that the Immolation laser has burned a perfectly circular 11-inch smoking aperture right through your chest. For three decades, the New York heathens have ranked among the elite of American death metal. But this is something special.

The songs, all between 3 and 5 minutes, feel half that. Although my normal dose of death metal takes as long as chugging a schooner of Rolling Rock, when this full-length album fades to a satisfying conclusion I wonder where the six-pack went. That's what happens when musicians have nailed optimum focus.

Each track is a mini-epic, starting with "The Distorting Light" -- a dark, tolling riff, furious counter-rhythms, radical chugging accent change, two simultaneous (and complementary) guitar leads, a legato melodic line. Time: 3:14. And they're all that way: change after change, holding your ears in a ceaseless death grip, whether the mood is Nile-like Easternism ("Rise the Heretics"), massive aching density ("Thrown Into the Fire") or pain orgasm ("Above All").

The guitars of founder Robert Vigna and new conscript Alex Bouks (Goreaphobia, Incantation) are boiled down to potent essences of dread and combustion, while Steve Shalaty's tempestuous drumming counterbalances unpredictably between thunderstorm and hail; the effect on "Lower" is like furniture banging around in a tornado. All Immolation's skills are on display: squeals, chromatics, unexpected accelerations, bassist Ross Dolan's difinitive ruthless vocal croak.

So much condensed variety makes demands on the knobsters, but longtime producer Paul Orofino and mixer Zack Ohren are more than up to it, highlighting the intros, fades and interludes for maximum dynamics and layering a depth of perspective that rewards repeat listens. (To show that ears respect no genre, Orofino has done acute work on albums by Westworld, TNT, Riot, Leslie West, Vinnie Moore and, yes, jazz great Ahmad Jamal, while Ohren has grabbed me when teamed with Suffocation, Fallujah and Gypsyhawk.)

"Atonement" is a landmark for Immolation. No need to belabor the point; they didn't.

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