Atavistia – Cosmic Warfare Review

It’s no secret that I was a little harsh on Canadian black metal outfit, Atavistia’s last album, 2020’s The Winter Way. Call it COVID-19 induced burn-out, call it black-metal fatigue, or simply call it being right, but that album grated this reviewer’s proverbial carrot. Far too long, bloated like a corpse in the sun, with a focus on sheer epic-ness at the expense of all else, I dropped the hammer on it and moved on. But a swell of opposition arose declaring that I had been too hasty; that I should take it back for one last dance. So when the follow-up, Cosmic Warfare, arrived, I changed our status from “Splitsville, Population: Atavistia” to “It’s Complicated,” and dived in. Was I being too kind or have these canucks found the key to my withered heart?

For those unaware, Atavistia are a black metal outfit in the vein of… Wintersun mixed with a dash of Wintersun and served with a fine glass of Wintersun. Specifically, Time I-era Wintersun, when Jari Mäenpää was thinking big, not about his jacuzzi. This is orchestral black metal where Everything. Is. Massive. I criticized The Winter Way for being obsessed with its massive sound at the expense of all else, and I was worried Cosmic Warfare was heading the same way when the first song proper (“Cosmic Warfare”) started. Choirs! Swells big enough to surf on! Blastbeats! Meandering melodies that don’t accomplish much! The Doom knives were out. But then “Ethereal Wanderer” came on and something very weird happened. Atavistia suddenly decided to become good. Very good. And they stayed (mostly) very good for the next 40 minutes. What the hell happened?

Songwriting, that’s what. I’ll never know if the band ever actually read my review, but outta nowhere we get a semblance of structure and coherence, and the effect is astonishing. With an actual structure to work within, Atavistia suddenly shine. Riffs stick, emotions resonate, heads bang. Don’t get me wrong, we still get the violins, the howls, the chorals, but instead of blindly bumping into each other, they now work together to create actual, ya know, songs. And boy, on Cosmic Warfare are there some bangers. “Ethereal Wanderer” is over 8 minutes, and it flies by, building momentum as it goes. “Spectral Rebirth” zooms throughout the cosmos but never loses its grip on the melodies. The great thing about this massive improvement is that the music now tugs at the heart-strings while also engaging the auditory canal. It’s also all packaged in a very manageable 49-minute collection which never wears the listener down.

Yes, it’s not all perfect. I still think the band apes Wintersun a little too closely for comfort. I would still like them to occasionally dial things back a little more to increase the impact of the big moments. When even your downtime is dramatic, it dulls the impact of the climaxes. There is also still room for bloat trimming; the longer songs are still prone to short bouts of meandering. But whereas these were deal-breakers on The Winter Way, they’re minor nit-picks on Cosmic Warfare. Which demonstrates just how far the band has come.

Cosmic Warfare is the sound of a band correcting its issues without compromising its core sound. Atavistia have always managed to sound massive, but little more. Now, we have the massive aesthetic wedded to actual songs, nestled within an album composed with structure and discipline. The result is impressive. Scarily, there is still room to improve. Whereas before I wrote these guys off as cheap Wintersun knock-offs, they have now brought themselves whisper-close to their heroes. If Jari doesn’t get his act together, his band could be overtaken soon. Perhaps they have been already.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: CSquared Music
Releases Worldwide: April 21st, 2023

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