Music is capable of many wondrous things. It can arouse the senses and instill emotion in even the most hardened of battle vesters. Its melodies can spark furious debate and vehement fervor in scenic sadboys and teeny boppers alike. Indeed, music is just about the only artistic medium that has ever successfully made me shed angry, metal man-tears. Despite the many accomplishments, there are certain things that music should steer away from whenever possible. It should strive to constantly engage the listener; music should never bore. It is unfortunate then, that A Province of Thay’s Atonement is about as dull a release as they come.
A Province of Thay is a Seattle-based quintet that plays contemporary post metal, heavily inspired by the likes of Junius and Cult of Luna. Atonement is their sophomore effort, an EP containing four tracks and clocking in at a just under half an hour in length. I know, my description thus far is riveting, but really there’s not a whole lot to say about this release. From the moments that opener “Atonement” graces your ear drums it becomes obvious this is nothing you haven’t heard before. The guitar enters with a single repeated chord, setting the tempo before giving way to classic speedy, post-metal riffage. Ronald Navarro’s raspy cleans find their way into the mix as a somber piano is keyed in the background. The piano is a nice touch and adds a bit of emotional weight to the album, but a splash of morose keyboard playing isn’t enough to make Atonement a compelling listen from start to finish.
The problem is, by the time we’re five minutes into the opening track we’ve pretty much heard everything this EP has to offer. Atonement does very little to differentiate itself from the herds of other acts that fall under the vast Neurosis / Isis banner. Hell, the album barely manages to differentiate itself from itself, with each of the four tracks sounding remarkably similar. Every song plods along at the same tempo and with the same dour atmosphere as the one before it and even the most patient of listeners will have a hard time staying focused on the music. Atonement is only 30 minutes long, but giving it my attention for that full-time frame was nigh impossible.
In fact, according to my music app I have spun Atonement fourteen times, but not once did I ever feel engaged. Every listen eventually faded into the background. It’s actually a little sad that I haven’t been able to derive any enjoyment from this music because there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The instrumentation is acceptable, and the songs are not unpleasant by any means. The down-tuned undulations of the guitar mask a lot of what’s going on in a rather lackluster mix, but it’s not a deal breaker. Yet all of these adequacies don’t sum up to an interesting listen.
Atonement is not a terrible record. It’s not some abhorrent, embarrassingly unaware train wreck that irritates the senses with every note. The band members are competent musicians and the mix is not so intolerable as to leave the music without worth. Yet when searching for reasons to return to this record, I am left entirely without words. A Province of Thay is following in the footsteps of bands with a much more fascinating vision than their own, and they’re doing so from about ten thousand paces back. Music can accomplish a great number of things. It can inspire. It can evoke. It can even offend. But it should never bore. That’s exactly what Atonement does.