It’s bands like this that keep Pär Olafsson employed. While it appears that 2014’s lampooning of less-than ballsy artwork nearly shamed the sphere out of existence1, bands are still very much in the market for both cities and the color purple, and nobody does them better. As you might expect, Atlantis Chronicles are a modern death metal band whose bio describes them as having “a strong ocean’s mysteries theme,” although the true mystery here is how that name wasn’t already taken by a series of young adult fantasy novels. Barton’s Odyssey2 might not look like a winner on the face of it, as the band’s lack of nomenclatural sense shouldn’t necessarily reflect their musical abilities. But after spending about a week listening to this album, the best thing I can say about it is that yes, you can judge it by its cover. If nautical nonsense be something you wish… read on.
You want voice overs? Barton provides. The album’s stoic protagonist3 floats by every couple of songs for a confusing “diary entry” type of commentary on the last seven minutes of lyrics that you weren’t paying attention to. This is both contrived and quite a nice touch, clearly separating pieces of the album from each other. These diary entries link 40 minutes of death metal indebted to the iPod era. “The Odysseus” kicks things off with snappy, clean leads and chuggy riffs that you might expect from a vintage Born of Osiris album and pulls the album forward with plenty of energy. Barton’s Odyssey is anything but lethargic, and Atlantis Chronicles turn in speedy but extremely clean performances across the board, especially on “Flight of the Manta,” which turns out to be one of the album’s better songs. Sadly, even this is pretty hard to follow, since the band’s approach to songwriting is haphazard at best; a trademark of the djenty modern death metal that built the Sumerian empire.
“Upwelling,” the album’s two-part centerpiece doesn’t fare too well either, kicking down the door with some flaccid tech metal but quickly transitioning into clean vocals laden with Fleshgod-esque drama and melody. But these don’t stick around for long – nothing in the song does – and the myriad ideas thrown into the pot fail to make any real impact. There’s no clear arc between “Upwelling, Part I” and “Upwelling, Part II,” and for a two-part song, the halves really don’t have much to do with each other. Even the voice-over is poorly placed, stuck in before a short and architecturally pointless bass solo. There’s absolutely nothing to hold on to in these songs, and I found myself only aware of the album’s progression at points where the band stopped playing.
Barton’s Odyssey sounds exactly as you would imagine it to sound. It’s glossy and tightly controlled, driven by high-register leads and tapping from the guitars and constant thwap of the bass drum. The band’s bassist seems to have put his thumb on the scales of the mixing, an act which has tragically done very little towards improving the album. The occasional bells or keys sound very nice, but only because this is their domain; shining synths do not a metal album make, and after this review I have extensive plans to re-soil my cochleas with Idylls.
While the initial fun of Barton’s Odyssey impressed me, having to spend time with the album was not a pleasant experience. These Parisians could use songwriting advice from Between the Buried and Me and couldn’t sound much more boring and pedestrian. Added to the fact that, for reasons beyond my knowledge, all manner of nautical reference is hilarious to me, and this album is something of a joyous farce. Atlantis Chronicles‘ music is precisely as bad as you want it to be, in that golden realm of contrivance somewhere just far enough from the mark that it’s still clear what the band was aiming at. The entire operation hovers just above the line that decides whether I feel bad about so thoroughly trashing it; musicians are talented enough that their utter inability to pull together something resembling a compelling song – despite so, so many attempts – is, in its own way, a wonder. Barton’s Odyssey goes bad faster than guacamole in a flaming ant farm, and I’ll be cherishing its uniquely reaffirming failure for some time.
- I checked around fall last year and didn’t find enough 2015 covers to make a top 10 list, let alone a competitive one. Good job, commenters, especially André Snyde Lopes, who pointed out the meme way back when. ↩
- This was a tragically missed opportunity for The Simpsons. ↩
- His first name is Otis, and he’s a historically important blowhard; look him up. ↩