I’d like to open up this review with a very sincere apology to the band Atma Weapon. I actually came across this album months ago on one of my Bandcamp fishing trips, and had every sincere desire to review it. But as things happen here, my personal desires and the path of life don’t always coincide, and sometimes personal commitments get left behind. It’s not the first time and it surely won’t be the last. With the tremendous amount of incredible music that crosses the desks of Lady Obscure, sometimes a gem will slip through the cracks. I am pleased to make some sense of restitution to one that definitely falls under the ‘gem’ category, The Dark Tower by Atma Weapon.
Atma Weapon, a name derived from the Final Fantasy video games, is a progressive metal band formed in the Raleigh and Greensboro areas of North Carolina, USA. Their members consist of Mick Armstrong on guitar and vocals, Brandon Allen on drums, Billy Guynn on bass, and Cameron Johnson on lead guitars. Additional vocal work was provided by Alan Peterson. The band was initially formed in 2011, and spent the better part of two years creating their own niche in the progressive metal arenas. Something that would be fresh and new, yet still maintained a great deal of integrity, not selling its soul solely for production’s sake. The resulting album is The Dark Tower, a fifty plus minute fiery beast that will beat the listener into submission with a relentless barrage of riffage without sacrificing melody, or for that matter, a bit of soul.
The opener, and the heart of the album, is the thirty one minute, six part Dark Tower epic. Now let me just go on record as saying that I have mad respect for any band whose debut product is a lengthy and complex epic. It’s the prog metal equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet, challenging for the prize with your biggest guns hanging out. This takes huge, stainless steel clad balls folk, and they open Dark Tower with those shiny monsters hanging out, hard chords pounding and running in before Armstrong’s vocals kick in. Armstrong has a powerful and emotion filled voice, capably handling all the ranges with power and strength, yet with enough timbre to let the power of the story he’s telling not get lost. The alter ego scream vocals are solid as well. I personally am not a tremendous fan of the style, but when they still reflect range and comprehension, they are a great tool for displaying different emotional vibes in a story, and Atma Weapon uses them to perfection on this epic. Another highlight is the guitar work of Johnson. He gets every ounce he can out of his axe, and maybe pulls a few notes that it wasn’t meant to play. From the hard pounding metal chords to the dreamlike melodic strumming as in Part II, his versatility shines beginning to end. Not to take away from the other musicians of course, this band is strong on all fronts, and they let that talent shine throughout the six parts of this song. It all comes to a peak in Part V, where after a few minutes of a battle-esque vocal exchange, they dig into an instrumental section that can only be described as punishingly brilliant, beating the listeners soul repeatedly with a thousand pound sledgehammer of awesome before ripping into a blistering solo that flows into a stunning climax in Part VI. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment beginning to end, and my hat is off to the band for executing it flawlessly on every aspect of the production.
Filling out the rest of the album are two tracks, Miss Misery and Dark Dreamer. Though both solid tracks, they seem almost a letdown after the Dark Tower epic. Miss Misery is a quickfire rock tune with catchy riffs and big hooks, and a chorus that digs into the ears and stays there. Also in this one is some guitar magic that could challenge anything in the Dark Tower epic, just some brilliant work. The final track Dark Dreamer is an even quicker number, with an almost single feel to it. Though a great stand alone track, it ‘s somewhat a shadow of the rest of the album.
A bright future is in store for these gentlemen. They got the chops musically, they write a straightforward tune with intenstity, complexity and grace, and can also bang out thirty minutes of epic brilliance. Stunning guitars, thunderous rhythms, and a vocalist with intensity and shocking versatility, it seems the only thing Atma Weapon needs is time to flourish.
Dark Tower is available at http://atmaweaponnc.bandcamp.com/