Album Title: Cosmic Warfare
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 21 April 2023
Sometimes, the name of an album is just perfect. I mean utterly perfect. It’s rare, but when it happens, it can be a cool thing. Like ‘Cosmic Warfare’, the new album from Atavistia. Listening to this record is literally like sitting in the cockpit of some spacecraft, experiencing a raging battle out in the far reaches of some galaxy beyond our puny human minds to comprehend.
‘That Matt, he’s gone mad’, I hear some of you shout. But wait, although you might be correct, on this I beg you to hear me out. Have I ever steered you wrong before? Actually, don’t answer that.
To the beginning, and Atavistia is a Canadian quartet from Vancouver, British Colombia. They began life as a bedroom project apparently, but in 2023, they unleash this, their third full-length upon the world. ‘Cosmic Warfare’ isn’t my first taste of the music courtesy of Mattias Sippola – (guitars and vocals), guitarist Dalton Meaden, bassist D’wayne Murray and drummer Max Sepulveda. However, I wasn’t immediately sure to be honest. When I reviewed ‘The Winter Way’, I wasn’t that impressed. It showed flashes of brilliance, and of things to come, but was heavily reliant on the machinations of Wintersun as I recall. It is delightful to report, then, that those portents of greatness have been proven correct. ‘Cosmic Warfare’ is quantum leaps forward in my opinion, vastly changing my opinion of the band and their musical endeavours.
Described as melodic symphonic death metal, I actually believe Atavistia go further than this, musically, here. Within this reasonably accurate core description, the quartet weave elements of black metal, power metal, folk, prog, and strong cinematics to create their own particular sound. And, in keeping with the title of the album, the music does come across as the soundtrack to an interstellar war. Whereas some bands conjure up images of windswept and barren vistas from their homelands on Earth, listening to ‘Cosmic Warfare’, it does feel very much like Atavistia looked beyond our atmospheres for inspiration this time round. The final content that assaults the ears definitely has an otherworldly feel to it, a bold, impressive soundscape that attacks, mesmerises, and beguiles from every angle.
The 50-minute album spans just six tracks, but whatever guise the music takes, it’s an intense affair. That even stands when discussing the opening instrumental composition, ‘Omega Nova’. A small part of me wonders whether it is entirely necessary, despite its over-the-top cinematic scope. However, it does build the tension well, and it is an early indication as to just how much care and effort has been put in by the band with ‘Cosmic Warfare’.
From there, all hell is unleashed, as the title track wastes absolutely no time in tearing my ears in two. The battery of warp speed blastbeats is insane, but that’s just a small part of the recipe. The drumming may create a formidably powerful foundation, but the rest of the music isn’t for the faint hearted either. Riffs swirl, lead lines add melody, and the orchestration adds further depth and texture by the bucketload, all merging to create that otherworldly quality. I particularly like the choral effects that give the music added grandiosity. When the gruff vocals enter, they are the higher-pitched raspy growls and I’m reminded more of Dimmu Biorgir, although the Wintersun references remain. The song never sits still, with changes of pace frequent and smoothly executed. There are also bursts of clean vocals that provide the power metal similarities, as Mattias Sippola sings to the heavens, surrounded by a glorious cacophony of sound. Lead guitar breaks feature too, some of them impossibly fast and dextrous, whilst very occasionally, the extreme metal backs off to allow the listener to take a breather before the next surge of brutality. And yet, as fast and as extreme as things get, the track never loses focus or spirals out of control; it’s just a cracking song.
If I had any kind of criticism at all at this juncture, it’d be that I’d have liked an even stronger production. At times, when Atavistia unleash the full attack, the music does become just a touch muddy and indistinct, with the bass and the drums losing out most of all. That said, for an independent release, presumably on a reasonably tight budget, it is a pretty decent effort that doesn’t hamper my enjoyment too much. I just wish it was even better than it is.
The third song, ‘Ethereal Wanderer’, which features a guest appearance from Vincent Jones, is a more nuanced affair than the title track, with an even greater variety, especially where the tempos are concerned. It starts out at a mid-tempo, allowing the riffs to resonate more strongly as they are given more room to breathe in the mix. Those Dimmu references are there again, as the gruff vocals join the strong orchestration and chunkier guitars. The folk elements of Atavistia’s sound come through more prominently in a mid-song break that sees acoustic guitars used to great effect, before the song dives headlong into a wonderful galloping rhythm. Were it not for the choral orchestrals, it’d be pure NWOBHM/power metal territory, but instead it feels like a more playful form of melodic death metal that’s infectious and thoroughly enjoyable.
If anything, though, it is the final two songs that make the biggest impression on me. Already smitten with what I’m hearing, Atavistia then unleash ‘Divine Destruction’ and ‘Forgotten Silence’ to ensure that I love ‘Cosmic Warfare’ even more.
The former of the two begins with the sound of thunder, before the drums come in on top of subtle orchestration. The sound of the drum rolls across the toms is brilliant, speaking to something deep inside me. From there, it’s Atavistia on full attack musically, with bursts of blasts, fast-picked riffing, and the symphonics dialled up to ten or eleven on the scale. Interestingly, there’s a spoken-word section to bolster the cinematic sci-fi vibe that I hear so strongly, but the ensuing clean singing and accompanying melody is the definition of epic. Again, the band use variation to increase the intensity, so the mid-section calm and swiftly returning storm adds intrigue and further texture to the song. But it’s the increased, beautiful melodic intent that really carries this song to the heights it does. Tinkling piano, stunning fast-picked lead lines and passionate solo breaks all play their part in creating a simply stunning composition.
The latter, the album closer, is also the longest track on ‘Cosmic Warfare’ at over eleven minutes. But not once does it feel like it’s that long, such is its quality. Blessed with all of the positive attributes I’ve described up to this point, it is the epic and melodic second half of the track that really gets my juices flowing, bringing the album to a close in impressive, powerful, and stylish fashion.
Comparing ‘The Winter Way’ with ‘Cosmic Warfare’ is like comparing night and day, or a toddler with a fully-grown adult. There is, for me, no comparison whatsoever. The former was ok, but this is another level entirely. All of those flashes of brilliance have turned into prolonged and full compositions of brilliance, where the technical abilities of the band, the songwriting prowess, and the originality, have been built upon so that what we’re faced with is an exceptionally good album, full of extreme metal goodness. Call it melodic death metal, call it symphonic extreme metal, call it blackened death with a twist; it doesn’t matter one iota. At its heart, the music on ‘Cosmic Warfare’ is just plainly and simply superb. Highly recommended.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%