Ah, death metal. It seems like no matter how often I take a hiatus from listening to the heavier stuff, I end up back in the pit. This year is starting off strong with plenty of great death metal from heavy hitters like Nothingness and Obituary‘s new albums, and from the looks of it the hits will keep coming. That is, if Atomwinter has anything to say about it. Hailing from Germany, Atomwinter are a band that have flown under the radar for a while, somewhat due to a long time between albums and somewhat to how much music emerges from that scene on a yearly basis. Death metal is getting to be a crowded field.
After a quaint (but sadly unnecessary) intro track, Sakrileg gets right to it with “Ov Blood and Flesh”, a hellacious opener that feels both old school and fresh at the same time. My only complaint with this track (and a few others) is replacing an ‘f’ with a ‘v’, that fad should just die already. I digress. Atomwinter show right from the jump that they know how to write a dynamic metal track that winds through various tempos, shifts, and most of all, riffs. “The Lungs Ov Hell” follows suit with more great Asphyx-esque riffage, and the drumming by Patrick Walker (no, not that Patrick Walker) takes a ferociously delicious old-school approach and snare that feels like Bill Andrews from Death’s seminal record Leprosy.
One of the things that I really enjoy about Sakrileg is how one song effortlessly flows to the next without necessarily having a compositional connection. These songs aren’t written with interludes that lead from one to the other, but moving track-to-track feels quite natural and effortless. This sort of thing really makes listening to these types of records feel better. Pacing-wise, this record keeps its foot to the floor for a while before slowing things down a bit with the very Bolt Thrower-esque “The Dark Void”. The mid-paced song really lays it on thick with lots of weight and keeps things low and slow but the aggression is ever-present. Things stick around in this space for the title track, which feels just as dense but the addition of choral vocals and some genuinely oppressive atmosphere make this the standout track of the album.
As always, production can enhance or detract from an album, and Atomwinter made the right moves with this album in this department. The tones are crisp throughout, and that buzzsaw guitar tone is harsh enough to fell several trees and the vocals are rough enough to sand off any rough edges from that fresh-cut lumber. There are a variety of approaches to songwriting on Sakrileg from the all-out war of the opening tracks to the B-side tracks like “Until The Loss Ov God” everything just works together extremely well to showcase the chaos and the rare moments of respite.
Atomwinter have a real hit on their hands with Sakrileg. There are some familiar aspects that pull from tiresome tropes but in spite of this, the songs feel alive, vitriolic, and fresh. There are riffs and grooves all over this thing, and the vocal performance from newcomer Florian Bauer is excellent and fits this band’s vision perfectly. If you miss bands like Bolt Thrower or Hail of Bullets, you need to listen to Sakrileg. There’s no denying that there is a bit of an oversaturation of old-school death metal at the moment, but the cream, as they say, will always rise to the top. Atomwinter have been quietly ascending that heap, and with this new album under their belt, I think the time will soon come when they are mentioned in the same breath as some of the modern greats.