Over the years my listening habits have slowly drifted away from some of the grittier, hardcore music I used to love, but occasionally something special comes along and exorcises my inner rocker. Atlas : Empire’s EP Somnus certainly managed to drag my inner teenage self to the fore, at times leaping out like a chest-burster from Alien that had spontaneously combusted! Somnus is by no means a blunt instrument however as it features some truly hypnotic and intriguing tracks with real depth and soul. It is an incredibly versatile and enjoyable collection of tracks that surpassed my expectations and the band’s already impressive portfolio.
I feel the key to why this particular EP is a real breakthrough for the band is down to the fact that they have injected a wider variety of their musical influences and demonstrate a clear progression, compared to their similarly awesome debut EP To The Astronaut. Bassist and vocalist Dave Stephen cites his influences as including The Clash, The Who and Pink Floyd which are very apparent in some of the riffs and more expansive, mellow segments that characterise a few of the tracks. In terms of comparable contemporary bands it’s clear that they share some similarities with giants like The Mars Volta, Mogwai and Modest Mouse and, like those guys, Atlas : Empire’s strength comes from how they utilise their eclectic and expansive range of styles.
The EP itself is beautifully constructed with each track leading into the other almost seamlessly. Keep This in the Shallows sets the scene fantastically by gradually building with some nice Modest Mouse sounding riffs and great overlapping vocals. My favourite track is probably Mitchy Valentino Sleeps With the Fishes purely because of an epic (roughly) 30 second segment of the lead section about half way through the track; I swear I must have replayed those same 30 seconds about 20 times because it was that good. In the Arms of the Abyss features the strongest vocals on the EP and is very reminiscent of early Mars Volta, the result of which is a loud, raw tune that leaves an impact crater. Off the Map is a beautiful, ambient little anthem that acts as a nice cushion between two very lively and intense tracks, the latter being Binary Lung. This track brilliantly draws the EP to a close with dramatic, lunging guitars and aggressive vocals that up the ante in terms of sheer volume and energy.
This is one of the standout pieces of music I have heard this year and perhaps the most surprising as I did not expect to like it as much as I did, despite the fact I enjoyed To the Astronaut. The band truly have stepped forward in a big way. I really want to see these guys live now and see if I can shoot laser beams from my retinas again; they’ve helped rekindle the post-hardcore fan in me that I thought old age had killed off! However, Somnus’ most impressive feat is that it has managed to peel me away from Explosions in the Sky’s Prince Avalanche, and that’s saying a lot.
Somnus by Atlas : Empire is out on the 12th August via Cold War Legacy Records.