Atheist Nation epitomizes the idiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover;” in this instance, though, one shouldn’t judge a band’s music by its name. Instead of chain-saw guitars and guttural vocals—tropes of any archetypal death metal band, Atheist Nation beguiles with acoustic chording and Dylan-esque singing. So, it’s a folk outfit masquerading as a metal group? Clever girl.
Folk as a genre has progressed immensely since the likes of Dylan, Guthrie (Arlo) and Young (see: The Tallest Man on Earth, Sufjan Stevens and Ben Howard) but Atheist Nation’s The Road is almost entirely a flashback to last century’s folk. Blonde on Blonde, Alice’s Restaurant, and After the Gold Rush aren’t relevant to most listeners, but The Road emulates the classics well. It just doesn’t offer anything new.
“The Abduction of Edward” is a rehashing of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” with a touch of catharsis— same vocal delivery, stronger guitar tempo. Likewise, “Lost Saloon” would be right at home on Neil Young’s Harvest. Even though Atheist Nation shows their cards often, many songs can still be enjoyable as homages.
The group finds themselves in trouble though when they try to blend yesterday’s instrumentals with lyrics about today. It’s their attempt at topical lyrics that expose their ugly side. The third track “Nobody’s World” is a fine example: “It’s nobody’s land. He’s nobody’s man/ He dreams tomorrow to his fill/ It’s nobody’s game. The rules never change/ The timeless watcher standing still.” These words lack the poignancy and the specificity listeners expect from today’s artists. And “The Surrogate’s” “Oh mothers teach you children of the evil in this world/ The kind of thing they really out to know” will never work, regardless of the time period. Ben Howard’s “Where We Were” speaks to the urgency of today’s world: “Oh, hey/ I wasn’t listening/ I was watching Syria blinded by the sunshine strip/ you, you were in the kitchen/ your mariner’s mouth the wounded with the wounder’s whip.”
With such obvious musical ability and a plethora of supporting musicians (The Road utilizes eight guest musicians), it’s a shame to waste it all in an effort to replicate the past. Perhaps it’s time Atheist Nation put aside the ‘60’s and ‘70s folk and embrace the sound of today. A death metal tinge would be interesting.
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