German death metal band Atomwinter has been putting their own spin on murky death metal with some death/doom leanings for the better part of thirteen years, and while they’ve been consistent in the past, I’ve often remembered them more for their unique cover art and mascot character. I mean seriously, look at this cover art for 2012’s Atomic Death Metal! Their fourth album Sakrileg comes nearly five years after its predecessor and brings new vocalist Florian Bauer into their lineup. With some notable tweaks to the production and some strong riffs that vary things up for much of the run time, this effort pushes the band’s writing to another level and is worth checking out if you’re a fan of all things death metal.
Atomwinter has always been good at balancing murky, tense atmosphere and bludgeoning riffs that feel like they can collapse buildings, and with some noticeable tweaks to the production on Sakrileg they’ve managed to enhance how that comes through. The one-minute intro keeps things on the murky and ominous sounding side before “Ov Blood and Flesh” lays into you with dense riffs that channel that classic death metal sound. At times the group goes for speedier attacks, but they often settle into mid-tempo grooves and tempos that give off more of an Asphyx and Bolt Thrower vibe in addition to some classic Swedish death metal. The sound is much fuller on Sakrileg compared to their previous discography, allowing for each riff and drum beat to hit hard while still giving the nuances room to breathe. This is where Atomwinter has taken some steps forward, as while their overall approach isn’t that different the songs switch things up more frequently and the leads grab you from one song to the next. By the time you get to the title track the band has slowed things down significantly for some mournful death/doom that reminds me of some of the stuff Scalpture did on their album last year, and I like that quite a bit. However, despite how strong the material is overall the first half does stand out a bit more and this comes down to sequencing. The title track fades out naturally and feels like it should’ve closed the album out, which dampens the impact the remaining three songs have.
Changing vocalists can be hard for any band, especially when it happens more than once. Florian Bauer is Atomwinter’s third vocalist since their formation, but he suits the band’s sound perfectly and helps Sakrileg sound particularly monstrous. Bauer has a very deep and full growl that’s drenched in distortion, and his voice towers over the recording in a way that consistently makes the material feel powerful and in your face. It’s the type of approach that’s exactly what you’d want from death metal, and there are little nuances to the performance that keep things from becoming repetitive. There are occasionally some higher pitched shrieks and on the title track the band breaks into some singing/chanting at the end that once again reminds me of Scalpture. It’s an unexpected twist that I wouldn’t mind more of from Atomwinter should it fit with their writing in the future, and another one of those small details that has continued to draw me back.
Sakrileg is a strong showing from a band that’s continued to push forward and find their place in death metal for the past decade. With the fuller sound and riffs that hit hard but also switch things up fairly often, it’s Atomwinter’s best effort to date and there’s plenty here for fans of death metal to dig into. I do think that a bit of re-sequencing on the second half would make the material more impactful and the band still has some room to figure out where the doom fits in alongside the bludgeoning but am excited that they’ve hit this level and this album will hopefully gain them additional traction. Sakrileg is available from Trollzorn Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg