Atrium – Ancient Spells Review

Wolves are neat critters, but their portrayals have gotten a bad rap. The gift shop t-shirt of choice for angsty teenagers who listen to Five Finger Death Punch’s “Jekyll & Hyde” and convince their friends that they have a “dark side,” the symbol has lost its teeth. Toss in that one individual who identifies as a wolf and barks at a lake, these canines have often become a symbol of try-hards rather than the courageous and loyal representation with which it is traditionally associated. Gazing upon the howling wolf that graces the cover of Ancient Spells, does Atrium offer strength and courage or is it upended by its own insecurities?

In spite of being signed to Signal Rex (the Portuguese haven for all things raw), Atrium’s atmosphere is its main selling point. The Colombian one-man act offers its debut Ancient Spells, a breed of blackened fury presented alongside layers of ethereal synthesizers and keys, akin to acts like Evilfeast or Paysage d’Hiver. Avoiding the pitfalls of modern atmoblack or post-black acts that sacrifice their teeth for beauty, Atrium’s mastermind L. Magister instead balances ferocity and atmosphere for a listen that utilizes its retro palette extremely well. Ultimately, while Ancient Spells does nothing to step out of atmoblack shadow, it’s an overwhelmingly pleasant listen that excels in its evocative atmosphere.

When I say that Atrium sounds a lot like Evilfeast, I mean that I had to check a few times to make sure I wasn’t tuned into Wintermoon Enchantment by mistake. Ancient Spells offers a similar atmospheric arsenal of icy synths, blastbeats, semi-raw guitar riffs, and distant shrieks. Its saving grace, like other similarly situated acts like older Ancient Wisdom, Vinterriket, or even Drowning the Light, Ancient Spells is extremely evocative in its atmosphere: the aural experience of a midnight walk through haunted forests. Invoking the spirit of Immortal, there is a wilderness about Atrium, its icy synth textures a frigid wind, guitar riffs a rustling in the trees, and its screams the howl of a distant wolf. While “The Iron King” and “Overture” offer a crash-course on how to sound like Evilfeast, and “Despair of Silence” and “Crossing the Norther Sky” make good use of doomy percussion to provide a destination, interlude “Lands of Hyperborea” is the most unique cut, overwhelmingly atmospheric with saturated synths while unpredictable percussion and subtle spoken word make enigmatic appearances. While arguably inconsistent, Ancient Spells’ use of nearly dungeon synth textures is the common thread that keeps the whole unharmed.

Percussion does a bang-up job of keeping the album rolling, but the track-lengths would not do individual songs any favors otherwise. “The Iron King” and “Overture” are particularly at fault, as they tend to stagnate in blackened meandering, particularly the directionless synth textures. While it’s frankly easy to forgive because of its inviting mood, it forces Atrium to settle into one particular soundscape and dwell on it for too long. In addition, the strangely symmetric approach makes Ancient Spells extremely predictable. Separated by interlude “Lands of Hyperborea,” bookends “The Iron King” and “Overture” are the most stereotypically blackened of the bunch, while the second and fourth tracks “Despair of Silence” and “Crossing the Northern Sky” rely on doom tempos.

The most potentially damning element of Atrium is its similarity to Evilfeast, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The retro synth approach is downright tasty and the balance with blackened fury is well established, even if Ancient Spells is ridiculously predictable and its uniqueness lies in its interlude. Otherwise, Atrium feels astoundingly safe in its debut, and while it will garner repeated spins for me, it will depend on your blackened taste. In spite of its faithfulness to atmoblack, it recalls the older style, refusing to sacrifice its kvlt fury for pretty sounds. While it does justice to the mysterious and commanding symbol of the wolf, it offers little to the style it professes.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Signal Rex
Releases Worldwide: June 11th, 2021

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