2017 brought with it many things. Chief among them was the debut record by Italy’s Atlas Pain. Featuring speedy, bombastic folk metal, it was enjoyable and stuck with me more than its 3.0 may suggest. The passing of two years has brought a sophomore release called Tales of a Pathfinder at a make-or-break stage in any band’s career. Atlas Pain have approached this challenge with all the bright colors, zany attitude and symphonic trimmings which I enjoyed on the first go around and I’m delighted to write that their Italian charm has not been lost.
I described What the Oak Left as folk metal and while this arguably stands up as an overarching description, this over-simplifies a sound which fuses power metal, melodic death metal, folksy elements and symphonic instrumentation. There’s an energy and buoyancy which is often reserved for the folk or power metal genres but this is power metal with balls; there are strong riffs across the board and the principle vocal style is a harsh rasp. Said rasps are diversified with cleaner shouts and choral chants, often coalescing into fun rough and clean “harmonies.” The symphonic layers principally utilize strings and a piano but traverse a range of classical instruments; they’re largely designed to accentuate the core melodies conveyed by the guitars and vocals, rather than take the lead themselves. Although Tales is very melodic, which could belie simplicity, there’s actually a lot going on in the music which merited repeat listens for me.
At its core this is a metal record so I’m pleased to report on excellent guitar work generally, across groovy rhythms, noodly higher-pitched melodies and emotive solos. The lead on “Ódauðlegur”1 hits hard in a similar fashion to Mors Principium Est, while the fantastic lick at 2:20 on “The Great Run” segues deliciously into a magical solo. The longest track called “Homeland” uses an incredibly uplifting refrain which confers a whole and wholesome feel, capping things in an appropriately larger-than-life manner. The harmonized leads and softer noodlings are exceptionally expressive and emotive; in fact, the verse lead on “Hagakure’s Way” is so expressive that melodic vocals would be entirely superfluous which further highlights the nifty combination of heavy vocals with light instrumentation. In all, I have nothing but admiration for Fabrizio Tartarini and Samuele Faulisi on the guitars.
It’s easy for a record driven by emotive melodies to cross the line into “too cheesy.” Atlas Pain are certainly cheesy; I previously used the word “Disney” and I will use it again here, such are the big emotions and deceptively simple melodies which will sink hooks deep. “Homeland” represents the album’s climax, featuring 11 minutes of symphonic bombastic and rangy crescendos which evoke the fictional, fantastical landscapes evident in many Disney hits. Indeed, the back end of this track rounds out a story begun on the introduction, “The Coldest Year,” which opens with a cheap, carnivalesque show replete with polite applause and an overenthusiastic ringmaster/narrator. It’s this tongue-in-cheek approach which ensures that the “too cheesy” line is not crossed on account of the self-awareness. “The Moving Empire” has a short steel drum passage while “The Great Run” boasts a Eurodance interlude, both of which further demonstrate that these guys are completely unwilling to take themselves seriously—this is a great quality.
I know the comments were not on my side last time but I dare to not just stand by that score but also bump this one even higher. I appreciate that pairing words like “Disney” with “power metal with balls” appears an oxymoron, but if you can accept that these guys are somewhat ridiculous then you’ll notice that they also have real song-writing chops. Perhaps it’s the surprisingly sincere and somber final note on the short closer called “The First Sight of a Blind Man” which ultimately leaves me with a sense of satisfaction, but this is a satisfying album. It’s an improvement on an already-strong debut and more than deserves your time if folk, power metal or even melodeath are your jams.