NWOBHM legends Satan are one of the greatest comeback stories in recent memory. Formed in the UK in 1979, the band’s early work was part of the blueprint for what became thrash and speed metal. However, Satan themselves had a rough career, plagued by lineup issues and multiple name changes, resulting in nearly two decades of non-activity. They eventually returned to the live stage in 2004, but no one could have predicted 2013’s Life Sentence, a blast of well-crafted, authentic, damn-near-perfect heavy metal that had seemingly been frozen in amber since about 1982. Two years later, the band returns with Atom By Atom, another collection of classic metal that threatens to put all other old-schoolers to shame.
Singer Brian Ross’ glass-shattering scream kicks off opening cut “Farewell Evolution,” a speedy number that splits the difference between “Aces High” and perhaps Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica. Ross’ voice is seemingly ageless, capable of the same piercing highs and rich midrange displayed on 1983’s classic Court In The Act. “Fallen Savior” is a more midtempo rocker with a chorus so anthemic, I can already hear thousands of old-schoolers singing along to it at metal festivals next summer.
Production-wise, Atom By Atom is nearly identical to Life Sentence, which is very much a good thing. The instruments all sound appropriately raw and 1980s-vintage, Ross’ vocals are given just enough reverb to make it work, and the performances sound remarkably like an actual band playing in a room together. These are all admirable qualities in a metal record, and I commend the band for sticking with them.
“Ruination” is another extremely well-composed track, utilizing guitar harmonies and a slightly prog arrangement as buildup to a waltz riff that makes me want to hit people with a mic stand. Throughout this record, the guitar interplay between Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins is incredible to witness, and is a huge part of what makes Satan‘s comeback feel so right. The vintage tones, semi-technical riffage, and tradeoff solos are practically a clinic on how heavy metal guitar should be done.
The title track boasts yet another top-shelf classic riff and yet another monstrous chorus. At this point I’m wondering how the world didn’t already have these songs in it until now, because they feel like they’ve always been there. “In Contempt” is another master class of technical and harmonically complex guitar work, with some sections that border on thrash metal and some flashy fills from drummer Sean Taylor. (Side bar: considering Satan‘s history of courtroom puns as album titles, I’m surprised “In Contempt” wasn’t the name of this record.)
Side 2 of Atom By Atom takes a slight dip in quality from the material on Side 1. “My Own God” is a little hokey lyrically, although I certainly agree with the sentiment. And after all the ridiculously tasty guitar work preceding it, “Bound in Enmity” can only be seen as somewhat redundant. However, the band still has one ace up their sleeve: closing track “The Fall Of Persephone.” Satan goes all-out on this one, with harmonized leads, exotic guitar textures, and huge choirs of vocals, among other things. This song is, frankly, fucking stunning, and ends the album on an extremely high note.
Proving that Life Sentence was no fluke, Satan continues to churn out white-hot classic metal and make it look easy. There are very few bands from this era who are still making music this vital and high-quality. Atom By Atom is another nearly-flawless victory, and if you enjoy heavy metal music, I suggest you check it out.