Tuesday 19 March 2024

Atrophy - Asylum (2024)

Country: USA
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Mar 2024
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There are two new thrash albums out by American bands releasing their first studio work in what seems like forever. My son was very impressed by the new Morbid Saint and I'll catch up with that soon enough, but I remember Atrophy from back in the day, even though I wasn't living in Arizona then. I was on the other side of the pond in rural Yorkshire while they fired up Tucson in the wake of Phoenix bands like Flotsam and Jetsam, Sacred Reich and Surgical Steel. I'll be seeing Flot live in a couple of weeks time. Maybe I'll get the chance to see Atrophy soon too.

The only constant from the band back then and the band nowadays is Brian Zimmerman, the lead vocalist, because everyone else joined during the latest reformation, which is their second. After a split in 1993, three founder members came back in 2015 but that only lasted until 2020, and no new album emerged during that period to sit alongside the two from their original run. This revamp is only three years old now, but they've already knocked out this album and are apparently writing another one, so Zimmerman has clearly got the bit between his teeth and his new colleagues are happy to work with him and get things done in the studio.

And they are certainly getting things done. This album kicks off well with a string of tracks that do exactly what late eighties thrash did, mostly in the Exodus or Testament vein. They're fast but not obsessed with speed. They're technical without being progressive. They're tight and reliable. They have a carefully defined tone to the guitars that gives it a vicious edge but one that's controlled nonetheless. As all that might suggest, this album is all about balance and the bottom line is that this new Atrophy seem to have nailed that their first time out. All the things any thrash fan could want are here wrapped up in nine decently sized chunks.

There are catches, of course. Most obviously the style is very consistent throughout, so there's not a lot of variety between the nine tracks on offer. The only one that truly tries something different is Distortion, a slower track when it starts but one that drops off hard into much slower material still, initially giving a spotlight to Zimmerman's voice, which ventures more into speak-singing on this one than usual, but then becoming almost doomy in nature.

There's also an unusual intro to The Apostle and both an unusual intro and outro to Close My Eyes, but otherwise both explore the sort of material that we expect. The bottom line is that this isn't a progressive metal album where Atrophy try to forge a new direction for thrash metal; it's about a band who are happy to be back in business doing what they do as well as they can and throwing the results onto an actual studio album, no fewer than thirty-four years since its predecessor, Violent by Nature in 1990.

For the most part they succeed, but the faster songs are better to my way of thinking. Punishment for All is an excellent opener and Seeds of Sorrow matches it. I do like the first half a lot more than the second, but the latter is growing on me. American Dream is a chugger, but it's emerging from its peers after a few listens as a superior example of its type. I tend to drift away from chuggers on thrash albums unless they feature riffs or melodies or other components to elevate them. I didn't drift away much here, because slower songs often speed up and examples like American Dream or Five Minutes 'Til Suicide, a kinda sorta title track, are catchy enough for me.

The end result is that this is a capable return. It may not be the classic Atrophy line-up but it's still Atrophy and I'm happy to hear Zimmerman's voice again. This is a solid album that bodes well for the future but it's neither a glorious resurgence for the band nor a disappointment after so long away. It's a welcome album that does its job and moves on. The more they gig and write, the more likely the next album or the one after—and it seems pretty likely that we'll see more at this point—will be a gem. All the promise is there. Welcome back, folks and I hope to see you on stage soon!

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