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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Atlas : Empire

The Stratosphere Beneath Our Feet

Review by Gary Hill

This is a concept album from a band that plays a form of alternative rock based prog that's along the lines of Radiohead. The music here is quite dynamic and steadily changing. There are parts that feel like Tool and other things that are closer to shoegaze. It's generally on the dark and heavy side of the equation. I'd have to say that I'm not completely sold on the vocals, but that's more a function of this my feelings toward the whole genre than this one act.

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Track by Track Review
As Yet Unwritten
Pounding in noisy and insistent, this drops back to a more melodic alternative rock based jam from there. The cut builds outward as it continues with more of a progressive rock edge to it. This gets quite intense at times. It has a definite post-prog edge to it. There is a lot of variety and dynamic range built into this cut. It's a real powerhouse and a great way to start the set.
Diminishing Returns
Another intense number, this one really gets into some screaming loud territory at times. It's very hard edged, but also very proggy in terms of the shifts and changes. It's rather weird, but also very cool.
It's All In The Reflexes
Starting mellower, this works out from there to more rocking alternative rock based progressive rock. I have mixed feelings about a mellower section later in the track. It is recorded in a sort of distant way, like via a microphone across the room. On the one hand, it makes this feel almost demo quality. On the other, though, it adds a sort of charm to the piece.
The Moment We Were Exploding
Another dynamic piece, this has a lot of energy. It is quite hard rocking and alternative, but it still manages to grasp the melodic. This has a lot of Radiohead in the mix, but there are plenty of other elements in the mix, too. The awesome powerhouse section later in the piece makes me think of Tool quite a bit.
Gethsemane
Some rather intricate acoustic guitar starts this. The first vocals come in over the top of that motif. While other elements come in after a while, the bulk of this remains much mellower than anything to this point, yet it still rocks. I'm not as enthused about the sound of this one as I am some of the rest, though. It's a good bit of variety, but feels a bit awkward to me. That said, as it shifts toward more psychedelic stuff later it works pretty well. From there it works out to more of shoegaze kind of sound that just keeps building upward as it continues. Further down the road it drops to a pretty and quite mellow movement. That section eventually segues into the next track.
The Entire History Of You
Starting with a mellower, ambient movement from the last piece, this rises up gradually turning out into some melodic alternative prog. It works out to some more shoegaze like stuff as it continues to build. At over eight and a half minutes in length, this is of epic proportions. In terms of the range and variety here, it's also epic. This is mostly an instrumental, but it's also one of the most captivating and effective tracks of the whole disc.
Hostess
Coming in with more of a mainstream alternative rock movement, this grows out to heavier, more prog based stuff as it continues to build. The changes and shifts are frequent on the cut. This is a real powerhouse that again calls to mind Tool at times to me. The section around the four minute mark is particularly Tool-like and compelling.
The Year of the Four Emperors
A bit mellower and more melodic at the start, this does get a bit more powered up and intense at times along this road. There is really a wide dynamic range on this cut, shifting from really slow and mellow stuff to harder rocking, driving sounds. Radiohead is a valid reference point on this number.
Our Hands Part the Waves
Pounding in heavy and intense, this is distorted and insistent. It's very much in your face. Yet it also has a melodic element at play. It does drop way down at times, but then seems to get even more powerful and loud as it comes back up again.
Cenotaphs
Mellower and more melodic, I'm again reminded of Radiohead on this number. This cut actually remains mellower than a lot of the rest, but still manages to soar. It feels a bit less dark than the rest of the album, too. Near the half-way mark the song seems to end. After a short period of time it rises back upward in a great reinvigoration of the themes. That movement takes it through to the end.
 
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