Indie Recordings Norway
Norway metalcore outfit ATENA made huge waves with their most recent album Drowning Regret & Lungs Filled with Water.
Promoted as having a fresh take on the genre which blends heavy guitars, electronic samples, R&B and hip-hop influences, ATENA this Friday (September 29) release the next chapter in their musical evolution, Subway Anthem.
After listening to a couple of tracks from the album before a recent interview I can attest to the fact that the band do have a refreshingly new take on the metalcore genre, but to be able to get a proper feel for the band it’s always best to settle in for the full album, so here goes…
Album opener Ultra Ultimate Opus Power is a mouthful to say and enters the fray on the back of a tempered drum pattern before vocalist Jakob Skogli announces his arrival in brutal fashion. The vocals are harsh and threatening before a stuttering electronic sample eases things slightly.
But not for long.
Skogli snaps back to attention with a whirlwind of sounds and sonic discrepancies punctuating the space around him. There is a fuck tonne going on here with almost dreamy samples giving way to a breakdown of gigantic proportions. It’s definitely different but also highly effective.
Guitarist Vebjørn Iversen introduces Hard Day with a wicked riff that unsettles Skogli enough to entice him barking out of the gates and back into battle.
Then the chorus kicks in, and we discover Skogli can actually sing cleans as well. Which doesn’t overstay its welcome, the harsh and clean vocal tones waging an unseen battle for supremacy unto themselves.
Drummer Fredrik Kåsin sounds like he has switched to a normal kit on this track for the most part and the thunderous blows of angst elevate the track significantly beyond a typical clean/harsh metalcore outing into a beast entirely of its own volition.
Bargain is next, the soft electronics gently dictating terms initially before Iversen gets his groove on which in turn ignites bass player Ulrik Linstad. But this is definitely going to be a more electronic-based track and one which has all of the trademarks of a ballad.
Then out of nowhere Skogli snaps to attention and delivers a crushing blow to the temple that does enough to drag Bargain out of the doldrums.
The title track is next and starts with clean vocals which seem to be setting the mood for… something. It maintains this dreamy ambience as it kicks into gear and even when the inevitable chaos kicks in Subway Anthem maintains its musical integrity.
But then, what can you expect from the title? The second word pretty much tells you all you need to know…
Poison Pure is the first track to showcase the hip hop/R&B influences alluded to earlier. Underscored by a rhythmic bottom end and subdued vocal delivery there is almost a space invaders-type sensibility about this track in parts.
There is also a fair share of traditional metalcore structure woven through the song’s fabric and while I admire ATENA’s willingness to experiment in and outside the box I’m not sure if this track actually works.
Slip Away restores the balance, a rapid burst of drums and guitar forming the opening salvo before Skogli taps back into his aggressiveness and once more the battlelines are drawn.
The pace again slows as the cleans resurface but this time they enhance the direction of the song as intended. ATENA seem to be much more adept at delivering the venom but manage to find the balance beautifully here.
Not that they fall drastically short in other areas, and I’m sure many people will be rightfully captivated at certain junctures on Subway Anthem. I just think those moments will require repeated listens for me to be able to fully comprehend.
Peeling Skin has an airy sense of longing to start, but that quickly dissipates under a cloud of drums and guitar.
Which showcases another of ATENA’s subtle nuances that for the majority of the album works.
Timing and tempo changes abound throughout, usually with a measured and more structured undercurrent that brings each piece of music hustling back into line despite constant distractions.
There is a constant sense of menace that threads each song at its core, with even the quieter touches of serenity seemingly prone to violent twists of fortune at any given time.
Leave sounds like it could be a ballad and delivers from the outset with mimimal instrumentalization and maximum vocal clarity. Which is heightened even more by a soulful string section that continues even after the inner anger and turmoil spills to the surface.
Well-timed rapid-fire bursts of menace from Kåsin threaten throughout, sometimes tempered by the sounds of strings, others by the soothing vocals of Skogli. It is a well-constructed piece of music that is strangely captivating and further proof of the abundance of sonic riches at ATENA’s disposal.
Somebody begins with a comforting guitar riff that folds back into itself as the drums break the calm over the top of tempered keys that make the track float more than rumble.
The anger has been quelled on this number as Skogli circles his vocals in time with regulated drums that give Somebody a sense of longing and despair. Another track to be put into the repeated listens folder.
Oh My closes the album and judging by the soft strains of piano that introduce the song we are set for a subdued final act. Skogli outdoes himself in terms of vocal harmonics before the rest of his bandmates join the party – albeit with seeming trepidation.
The orchestral arrangements rise to the fore once more but despite my best intentions I just can’t connect with Oh My on any level. But it is a brave and individual way to finish.
Overall, Subway Anthem succeeds in delivering every ounce of experimentation and originality that it promises, and, for the most part, works.
But that’s the very essence of the term experimentation, isn’t it? Not everything will work and not everything will be for everyone.
But you have to respect ATENA for daring to try.
*All reviews in HEAVY are just one person’s opinion of the album. We encourage honesty in reviews but just because our reviewer may or may not like/appreciate an album, that doesn’t mean their opinion is right! We encourage you to have a listen for yourself and make up your own minds!*