Two years ago, Chicago’s Atlas Moth arrived as an impressively spacious post-metal band on A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky, their foundation in Sabbath-style doom and Isis-influenced atmospheric sludge building to a promisingly otherworldly realm. As cool an introduction as that was, however, it left substantial room for growth and expansion, no matter how huge it got at times. With a move to Profound Lore and the release of follow-up album An Ache for the Distance, The Atlas Moth has built their psychedelic scaffolding even higher, carve out ample space to spread their sludgy wings and soar into new airspace.
Maintaining the juxtaposition of ominous rumble and cosmic ambience so deeply imprinted on their debut, The Atlas Moth take on more stunning feats of melody and density on An Ache for the Distance. The band’s penchant for glacial post-rock arrangements a la Isis or volcanic rumble by way of Neurosis hasn’t waned, but it’s been dipped in a swirling, multicolored psychedelic glaze. Their melodies pop with a more pronounced brightness, and their sludge sounds more refined and less, well, sludgy. All of which is not to say they’ve slackened a bit on their heavier aspects, but even at their most visceral they aim toward the heavens rather than mine the lowest depths.
The band possesses the unlikely ability to make a standard four-minute song sound positively epic, as on the album’s leadoff track, “Coffin Varnish.” With searing, effects-laden guitar harmonies, the song at times seems like all climax and no build, with just enough space cleared for low-key interludes. It’s a rare band that can pull off such a brazen feat, but The Atlas Moth succeeds via gripping and progressive songwriting. They ease into a molasses-speed Southern boogie with album standout “Perpetual Generations,” in which clean vocals and a hypnotic verse give way to a tornado of low rumbles and harrowing howls in its still bluesy, still mesmerizing chorus.
At a sliver longer than seven minutes, the album’s longest song, “Holes in the Desert,” is comparatively brief when held up to some of Neurosis’ endlessly unfolding compositions, but nonetheless seems huge on an album of giants. It’s all digital delay and ragged narration, whereas the incredible title track is a darker, more ethereal song more firmly rooted in The Cure’s Disintegration, as is the gloom and thunder of “Your Calm Waters.” And yet, one of the most impressive surprises on An Ache for the Distance is “Courage,” a three-minute dream-pop excursion that seems always on the verge of exploding, but maintains an eerie calm, its gorgeous and elegant progression carrying through to the end.
Bands of The Atlas Moth’s ilk often require a certain amount of patience, but An Ache for the Distance is consistently engaging. They maintain a slow tempo, certainly, but while intricately overlapping each fascinating and powerful piece into an awe-inspiring tapestry. Metal is often hard to separate from terrestrial or subterranean concerns, but The Atlas Moth offer a compelling reminder that lightning comes from the sky.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.