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Atala labyrinth of asmedai album cover

Labyrinth of Ashmedai

26th January 2018 – Salt of the Earth Records

01. Grains of Sand
02. Tabernacle Of
03. Death’s Dark Tomb
04. I Am Legion
05. Wilted Leaf
06. Infernal

If desert and stoner rock can be accused of anything, it’s being too wholesome. A genre based around fun, massive grooves lies in stark contrast to the sinister intentions of black and death metal. However, there are bands on the fringes who aren’t afraid to blur the lines a little to create something with a bit more grit and bite.

Atala are one such band. On their new LP, the mythology-heavy Labyrinth of Ashmedai, their desert-doom approach is fuzzed-out and loose but often aggressive, like the less-defined edges of genre kings like Kyuss but with more weight and edge.

The familiar, expansive fuzzscapes are present on opening tracks “Grains of Sand” and “Tabernacle Of“, but around the edges some grainer, sinister elements are already starting to form. The record darkens with fierce flirtations with black metal-style guitar work on “Death’s Dark Tomb“.

Their sound starts to define itself as sinister around the middle of the record: “I Am Legion” shakes things up a bit with its focus on a sombre solo that wails over the second half of the track, and “Wilted Leaf” opens with one of the best goddamn riffs on the album, a straight-up stoner rock riff breaking through the grim morass; it’s one of the most involving, energetic tracks here. Closer “Infernal” features some really hooky choruses, a reminder that the record isn’t afraid to be accessible alongside their darker moments.

There’s a really astute mix of the modern sludge/doom bellow that bands like Conan favour and a thunderous approach to percussion that lends the tracks momentum. This allows Atala to let their riffs hang for longer without sacrificing any of their power. Their heavy mythological themes suit their esoteric sound, which is captivating; groove-heavy enough to capture the stoner crowd but with the weight and ferocity that defines some of the nastier, noisier elements of sludge.

Atala are establishing themselves in an interesting niche but still fall foul of some of the genres they take on; songs have a focus but the added grit isn’t quite enough to avoid the elements of their sound that meander a little. Nothing feels aimless or pointless, but for all the edge it’s the bouncier elements that are most effective.

This is a strong offering from a promising act. Atala are clearly conscious of the genre features that make their inspirations work, but it doesn’t feel like a mess at all; future releases could use a little more balancing, but their risks pay off. A frequently engaging, colourful record and an excellent start to 2018.

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