When it comes to music, never write anything off. I hated hip-hop in middleschool, and just a few years ago, couldn't quite “get” Gridlink's Amber Grey upon its release. Whether it's a musical style, album or band, it sometimes takes the right moment before something you didn't get or downright hated finally clicks.
With this new LP from Welsh grinders Atomçk, whose earlier material left me wanting more, that something finally clicked like none of their material had before, and in a way that I would have overlooked entirely had I not given them a third chance after my lukewarm receptions of the split with Paucities and Yes to Alien Victory.
Vocalist Linus' delivery shifts between a deafeningly shrill cricket-chirp high vocal, a cornered-panther mid-high (high enough to be considered some vocalists' high-range scream) , a snotty, tortured midrange vocal and a raw-throated, vomit-flecked low, with gradations in between as deemed necessary. This rather dizzying array of styles is one of Atomçk's chief draws, though at times the shrillness of Linus’ highest vocals flirts with the annoying.
Luke Oram's guitar work on the album is a technical splatter of traditional grind riffs and out-there skronk that will put a smile on the face of modern grindcore fans not afraid to jump down the rabbit hole with bands like Maruta and Psudoku. While still heavy as ever, his tone has lost the too-chunky metalcore sound of their older material, which lends some badly-needed nuance to his bludgeoning guitar performances.
Aptly-named LP opener “Desert Blast” leads in with spacey, stoned desert-rock riffage that wouldn't feel out of place on a doom record. Progressing in intensity as it adds elements, the track builds into full-fledged desert doom, complete with death growls, before morphing even further into a blast-capable force of grind. With a last harkening-back to its principal musical theme, the song shifts into a thirty-odd seconds blaster that abandons the subtlety of the first section for a vital, Insect Warfare-esque grind assault. This is one of Atomçk's most impressive tracks to date, and it showcases a surprising strength for the band in its grasp of both the atmospheric and destructive elements of its sound.
“If This Peace is Fictitious… I Will Destroy It” follows a rather unconventional structure to its close at the 34-second mark. From a heavy, grinding opening five seconds, it rides over a speedbump of four micro-pause sections, the first three of which are broken by a short, death-growl-accented blast 'n' grind. The fourth pause is broken instead by a drum fill, followed by one of Linus' cricket-high screams and a riff that starts out as conventional and dissolves into an alien heat ray of Asterisk-style wonked-out fretwork.
Positioned near the middle of the album is “No Sleep Til Trutnov,” a mutating, nearly-4-minute track that serves as a sort of center point for Never Work. Beginning its life as a bile-spitting grinder, it downshifts into sludgy repetition after about 30 seconds. As it rides this newfound groove with a krautrock-esque determination, elements of noise creep in until, by around the last minute, the only remaining signifier of the song’s past is the breadcrumb trail of drummer Marzena's percussion, which keeps us from getting lost in the dark forest of the song’s structure. The fact that this track works as well as it does is testament to what seems to be an improvement in the band’s curatorial skills. “No Sleep Til Trutnov” is the kind of song that most bands would sequence at the end of an album, but as track 8 it offers a respite from the intensity of the preceding tracks without derailing their momentum. [See that, every other band ever? Slower-paced songs don't have to be bookends. I promise.]
The aforementioned noise on the album is created by Oram and Chicago experimental act Winters in Osaka, and is presented in a more smooth and organic way than on past material. Noise fans will still get their harsh, abstract kicks, but in a way that's not going to freak out more vanilla grindcore fans.
This LP is a splintering, left-field art-grind collection for those who like a little adventure in their grindcore, as well as those who like a lot of grindcore in their art. On this outing, they continue to differentiate themselves from the grind masses while sanding down some of the more awkward edges in their sound.
Atomçk manage to make Never Work both their most varied and cohesive offering to date, and it's the perfect place to start paying attention to their brand of shrapnel-laced grindcore.
Never Work is available as a pay-what-you-want download from Atomçk's bandcamp.