Album Review: ATALA Labyrinth of Ashmedai
Nowadays, metal scenes aren't exactly regional. Yes, some countries may possess more of a specific metallic subgenre than others, yet as a whole, the internet allows for sharing styles on a global level. Therefore, a precedent has been created where all kinds of metal music can be heard anywhere instead of exclusively in a certain city, state, or country. Atala is quite an exception to this notion. Their music is very much defined by their surrounding environment. Although the concept of musicians inspired by the desert landscape isn't new, see Kyuss' rise in the Palm Desert, Atala revives a similar idea in Twentynine Palms, CA.
Back in 2014, the group revealed their doomy sludge on their self-titled LP with Kyuss/The Obsessed bassist Scott Reeder as producer. Their follow-up, Shaman's Path of the Serpent, featured producer Billy Anderson (Sleep, Melvins, Mastodon) and as we arrive at the band's third release, Atala continues their relationship with Anderson as a producer for Labyrinth of Ashmedai released via Salt of the Earth Records.
While Kyle Stratton (guitars/vocals), Dave Horn (bass), and Jeff Tedtaotao (drums) rip through the opening piece, "Grains of Sand," there exists a definite sense of being stuck in the sweltering desert. Chunky riffs stack upon each other like bricks as gritty vocals splatter against the wall of sound. While still a powerful piece, Atala hasn't stylistically differed from the sludgy doom predecessors like Eyehategod or Crowbar yet. The following song certainly brings some new flavors to the table though. "Tabernacle Of" still holds huge bassy grooves, however clean guitar leads and vocals appear in the mix and unveil a more melodic territory. Throughout the remainder of the record, the trio ebbs and flows between sludge and doom metal tropes as well as their own melodic experimentation.
"Death's Dark Tomb" may be one of the heaviest tracks on the record as it slowly builds through layers of low-end distortion. The latter half of the song is an album highlight in the intensity department. On the other hand, "I Am Legion" suceeds once again with clean vocals as mesmerizing as the groove transitioning into the upbeat stoner rock drum beat that drives "Wilted Leaf," reminiscent of Weedeater or Bongzilla. "Infernal" is a super solid closing piece and maybe even my favorite off the record due to its immersive quality.
For the sake of constructive criticism, I feel as if this album doesn't bring anything overtly new to the subgenre. Granted, I don't believe many sludge or doom metal acts strive to break boundaries. Yet, it's important to have an aspect of your music that separates yourself from the rest of the herd. That said, I do believe that Atala possesses a unique attribute due to their location and I wish they would push that element even further to the forefront. I don't want to just simply visualize the landscape and heat of the desert, I want to be submerged in the sand and have my skin feel the sun's stinging burn.
In the end, Labyrinth of Ashmedai is truly a banging record. Atala's duality of melodic clean vocals and doomy crushing grooves on tracks like "Tabernacle Of," "I Am Legion," or "Infernal" serve them very well. As stated in the previous paragraph, there are some areas for improvement. I hope the band will further establish their identity to the point where it hits me even fucking harder on the next release.