Modern metalcore is such a tease. For every killer band like While She Sleeps, there’s a dozen more that leave me unmoved. Nonetheless, I always hold out hope that a new metalcore band will show up and blow my balls off, and that’s exactly why I grabbed Primitive from the promo bin. Primitive is the debut album of Atlas, a Finnish quintet who label themselves “Northcore” and claim to possess a “truly unique mix of different genres and sounds.” You’d think I’d know by now not to fall for promo blurb rhetoric, yet something in me still believed Atlas would guide me to a place where metalcore still feels fresh and inspired. Instead Primitive makes me feel more like the Atlas of yore, forever bearing the crushing weight of misplaced hope.
Simply put, Atlas sounds like every modern metalcore band got together for an orgy and no one walked away happy. Their most obvious influence is Architects, particularly with the frequent chuggy riffs that are occasionally embellished with jumpy melodic flourishes. The desperate screams, emotional chords, and occasional scream-singing further this comparison, while the wailing clean choruses sound something like Bring Me the Horizon’s latest material. It’s all layered with a variety of atmospheric synths and electronics that call to mind Feed Her to the Sharks. The end result is something that feels contemporary and engrossing, and while that certainly counts for something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.
The biggest issue here is the lack of riffs. Say what you will about the metalcore of olde, but at least As I Lay Dying knew their way around a good melodeath lick. By contrast, songs like “On Crooked Stones” and opener “Skinwalker” are essentially a jumbled mix of chugs, thrumming electronics, and strained chords, with not a proper riff in sight. “Feel” is even worse, with its entire runtime consisting of chuggy breakdowns and glitchy synths that sound like someone traveled to the future and recorded a bunch of Terminators having a farting contest. The album’s rifflessness is exacerbated by a first half that’s filled with plodding tempos, not to mention some frustrating songwriting choices. The band seems to love dropping out the guitars and leaving the electronics pulsating by themselves, and while that’s not a bad way to transition to a new passage, it feels overused and often stifles a song’s momentum. Likewise, several of these choruses feel tired, while the loud and compressed production is like someone crushing a can of Mountain Dew against my ears.
For all its flaws, Primitive does improve a bit around its midpoint. The instrumental title track combines trance beats and a plaintive piano melody into something that sounds like a Break My Fucking Sky song, ultimately serving as a decent break from the core. “Pendulum Swing” and “Bloodline” bump up the energy with quicker tempos and more memorable guitar parts, with “Swing” employing sweeping tech melodies and “Bloodline” utilizing rushing and uplifting riffs. Sadly, it ultimately feels like these parts are only memorable because of how banal everything else is, and even the songs they’re contained within are still decent at best. The overlong closer “Rust” drags things down even further, with a false ending that’s immediately followed by another iteration of a chorus that was already repeated too many times.
I actually feel bad being so harsh on Primitive, because it sounds like the band really poured their hearts into this material. The one truly good song here, “Kaamos,” features a gripping refrain and actually tastefully employs all elements of the band’s sound. It ultimately shows that their style itself isn’t bad, but their songwriting choices often are. Too often the guitar parts are unimaginative, the choruses are dull, and the electronics do little more than make things feel busy. I wish this band the best and it’s entirely possible they have a bright future ahead. But for now, Atlas feel like just another modern metalcore tease: all style, little substance.1