Album Title: Athemon
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 11 October 2021
When the opportunity arises to hear a new progressive metal venture that features the talents of Tom MacLean, I will jump at the chance. And that’s what I have done here, even if it means listening via the free stream on the band’s Bandcamp page. I won’t pay for Spotify for two reasons: firstly, it doesn’t fairly reward artists, and secondly, the founder Daniel Ek is a fan of that football team from Woolwich. There’s really no recovering from that kind of double strike as far as I’m concerned. In the fullness of time, I’ll make a purchase, but having understood there are a few delays on a physical CD pressing, Bandcamp is my only current option.
Anyway, back to Athemon, for that’s the name given to the new entity brought to life by ex-To-Mera & Haken musician Tom MacLean and Brazilian Adriano Ribeiro. Tom plays the bass and has produced this self-titled album, whilst Adriano handles the guitars and the vocals. Essentially just a duo, they have been joined by drummer Gledson Gonçalves as a special guest. According to the information on their Bandcamp page, the aim of Athemon is to “forge the perfect alloy of darkness and beauty”; it’s a noble and admirable aim and certainly caught my attention, as did the striking cover artwork that’s a clever visual representation of their musical aims.
I know very little about Adriano Ribeiro as an artist, but I know all about Tom MacLean, and his prodigious musical talents. It comes as no surprise then, to listen to ‘Athemon’, and discover that the performances from the duo, and guest Gonçalves, are out of the top drawer. I’d expect nothing different, frankly. It means that the record has a slick professionalism about it; an air of undeniable quality, which only serves to increase the enjoyment that is derived on each listen. It’s also a concept album, dealing with the ideas of self-awareness and taking care of your emotional state. As such, the duo want you to think of ‘Athemon’ as a 50-minute suite, divided into nine individual tracks.
I’ll issue a word of caution at this juncture, because ‘Athemon’ has not been the easiest of albums to get into. It’s a dark, dense, often claustrophobic affair that appears reticent to let anyone into the inner sanctum that’s their musical vision. I’ve had to really persevere, but with the effort, I have now been rewarded. As much as I’d want it to be, ‘Athemon’ is not the perfect album though, for it has some quirks that will either work in your favour or against, depending on your personal tastes.
Firstly, for all the talk of ‘beauty’, there’s a lot less overt melody than perhaps I was hoping at the outset. Listen carefully, and don’t give up on the first or indeed the fifth spin, because there is melody to be discovered. However, it’s often subtle and hidden within the cloak of darkness and oppression that permeates the Athemon sound throughout. Then there’s Adriano Ribeiro’s vocals themselves. Ribeiro is in no way a bad singer, but his style and delivery is relatively unique and won’t be to everyone’s taste. Indeed, it was yet another ingredient on this debut album that had me working hard initially.
The opening heavily distorted, almost discordant guitar notes that signal the beginning of the album via ‘Perception’ are a portent of things to come, as it’s a dark and foreboding instrumental opening. As the song gathers pace, the bass of MacLean comes through loud and clear, an ominous, deep rumble that sits at the heart of the song alongside chugging riffs, mournful leads that make this sound like it could be part prog, part doom metal.
The extreme metal battery that greets us at the beginning of ‘Whispers’ is striking, but is tempered slightly by a more playful bass, whilst Ribeiro lays down some thick riffs. When his vocals finally emerge, they are tentative, whispered, with only a dancing bass for company before drummer Gledson Gonçalves joins in for good measure. Eventually, Ribeiro lets loose with his full vocal repertoire, his deep crooning delivery accenting the first really strong melody nicely, making more sense with several repeated listens under my belt. The occasional growl adds another dimension to the music, underlining the fact that this is arguably extreme metal first, and prog second.
I have grown rather fond of ‘The Glass Hindered Us’, thanks to some subtle melodies that do creep into your subconscious after a while. Again, the dense, cloying heaviness is at the forefront but, just like the song before, it is tempered by reductions in pace and intensity, creating a nice flow and an increased sense of drama as well. The drama continues with ‘Different From What Was Missing’, a composition that benefits greatly from lashings of atmosphere, demonstrating that this is eminently possible without layers of synths and electronics. All three members bring their ‘A’ game with them here and the feeling of pensive gloom is dovetailed with just enough beauty to make it a stand-out track for me.
‘Seed Of Change’ has a demonstrable death metal feel to it in places, thanks to chunky riffing that works in tandem with uncompromising blast beats. However, the track also showcases some of the most ‘progressive’ ideas on the record, with complexity at every turn and Ribeiro almost resorting to talking rather than singing to further test the boundaries. By contrast, ‘I Voice Of Mine’ is a much more immediate track, with great instrumentation all round, and some much more pronounced melody. In fact, this track and it’s immediate successor, ‘Reaching Deepness’ are two of the tracks that actually demonstrate the ‘beauty’ side of Athemon in a more pronounced way. I really like both and should the band return for a second album, I’d very much like to hear more of this side of the band.
That said, Athemon’s finest hour arguably occurs right at the end, in the form of ‘Birth’. The churning groovy riff that emerges early on is wonderfully addictive, but the song evolves wonderfully, incorporating the odd solo, as well as the strongest melody that’s made even more rousing thanks to the inclusion of some orchestration and intriguing electronic sounds. It’s a fabulous way to end the album, a debut album that holds a great deal of promise for the future. On this showing, I sincerely hope that Athemon stick around for a while because album number two could be even better. If you’re a fan of dark, heavy, and oppressive progressive metal, then you could do an awful lot worse than give ‘Athemon’ a listen.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: