Atavistia – The Winter Way Review

Do you miss Wintersun? Are you hoping Jari Mäenpää gets his groove back soon? Have an epic melodeath itch that no amount of black metal shenanigans can scratch? Well, Atavistia is here to take your mind off Jari’s attempts to convince you to build a recording studio for him to finish Time II. A quartet from Vancouver in Canada, these guys make absolutely no secret of their Wintersun worship. On their first album, 2017’s One with the Sun, they went full Wintersun by way of Ensiferum. The guitars were epic and melodic, the themes grand, the scale purposely massive. At times, the line between homage and outright imitation was dangerously blurred; everything from the vocal style (which alternated low growls and a slightly strained tenor) to the use of instrumentation, mimicked Wintersun so closely, that occasionally it was legitimately difficult to tell the bands apart. Now they’re back with sophomore effort, The Winter Way. The good news? It sounds a lot like Wintersun. The bad news? It sounds a lot like Wintersun.

Atavistia is absolutely aiming for The Winter Way to be as epic as possible. Guitars swell and soar all over the place, choral arrangements barge in, orchestral effects are omnipresent. But the fundamentals simply aren’t in place to support this kind of grandiosity. If your songs lack any basic hooks, like “The Winter Way” does, no amount of technical virtuosity, artificial classical instrumentation, or bombastic drumming, can hide that the core is hollow. Similarly, the relentless aural assault can’t disguise that too many tracks are bloated and ill-disciplined: ideas meander, filler appears, and progressions are bewildering rather than surprising. I still have no idea what’s going on in “The Forbidden One,” for example. It jolts around with all the grace of an overpowered bumper-car, with drums and guitars appearing actively at war with each other. When ideas and progressions don’t flow, when baffling passages insert themselves at random (like the drum frill in “Dawn of the Frozen Age”), when logic flies out the window (chorals, violins, synthesizers and tenors at the same time in “Eternal Oceans”), the listener is left feeling irritated rather than satisfied.

The Winter Way is also long. Very long. Clocking in at around an hour, every epic note is so thoroughly hammered into your ear drums, that by the end the listener feels like they’ve just run a marathon and need a stiff drink.1  There simply aren’t enough ideas to sustain this length, and judicious editing was badly needed. The bloat and boredom are only part of the problem, however. The other is the lack of dynamism. Everything is so LOUD and GRAND, augmented by needless sound effects, that sensory-fatigue sets in rapidly. Even the quieter passages are “epic and important™”, filled with a wearying dread that your ears are about to be drowned in an inelegant aural smoothie consisting of violins, drums, guitars and growls. The result is that you feel the 61 minutes of The Winter Way. Every. One. Of. Them.

On the plus side, the technical virtuosity of the musicians is impressive. Dalton Meaden and Mattias Sippola show applause-worthy skills with their guitars, and new addition, Max Sepulveda, is a beast behind the kit. His blast beats and kicks are on point and provide impetus when the songs appear to be drowning (which is too frequently). Some parts of The Winter Way also really land: both “The Atavistic Forest” and “Through the Hollow Raven’s Eyes” have compelling, catchy passages, driven by smart riffing. They end too quickly, but there’s definite promise hidden beneath the bombast.

Atavistia is a young band with a boatload of talent and a love for the epic. Unfortunately, in striving to be big and bold, they’ve forgotten the basics: tight songs with logical progressions, catchy hooks, and memorable melodies. People (including myself) love the first Wintersun album because all of these are present, and it was played with verve and purpose. Most folks love the latter efforts less because tightness was sacrificed for grandiosity; ego replaced solid song writing; human warmth was wanly mimicked by computerized trickery. Atavistia  has built a sophomore album that embraces (too closely for comfort) all the weaknesses of Wintersun, while forgetting its strengths. It’s impressive spectacle that uses dazzle to cover a lack of compelling substance. Initially, the trickery is deceptive. Eventually, however, the album collapses under the weight of its sheer overblown excess. The result is a meandering, overwrought, and exhausting misfire.


Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: atavistia.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/officialatavistia
Releases Worldwide: May 29th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Why not try Jari’s brand new Mäenpääle Ale®! It’s like a big swig of time. – Steel’s Curated Ad Space
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