Upon first listen to Stella by AtmaNova my left field attraction to the musical shape of rhythm and time was immediately satisfied. AtmaNova brings in a mature level of, for lack of a better word, musical confusion. This is to say, that the spaces between phrases and patterns aren’t easily recognized and follow an unconventional formula a la progressive rock meets art alternative. And through it all, the listener never truly gets lost because just as the reins start to slack, the pulse is back whether that’s thanks to more solid backbeat or predictable progressions.
Needless to say, this band isn’t trying to do anything we’ve not heard before. Pioneering a different brand is always a great attribute, but doing it without vocals can be a stretch. If the music is good I’ve never had a problem with it – see Animals As Leaders. This isn’t quite as extreme as it is explorative. Let’s peel back the layers.
Each track follows the classical practice of theme and variation, taking a musical idea and building on it through a plethora of elemental additions and chord alterations so as to give it new mood and intensity from start to finish. “The Desperate” begins with a wandering tease riff around 4/4 before settling into an edgy romp of Coheed & Cambria meets Rush.
By the third cut, “Amygdale Hijack” things are sounding a lot more like Tool. The guitars are heavier and paired with upper neck harmonies, following a minor scale trend. The keys and progressions always sound tense and epic rather than dark and alienating. Certain moments felt almost anthemic but there are so many motifs coming and going, collapsing and regaining ground. It’s really a treat for analysis purposes.
Further into the album, the listener is taken on much longer rides upwards to 13:32 on “Magnetic Drift.” These songs are experiences and manage not to fall out of present ears, at least not as much as I was expecting. AtmaNova make it such an art form the way they take a simplistic passage and blow it up into this wall of sound stirring with chaotic beauty and casting deep shadows from their towering stature. Minds will be engaged and volumes will be increased. Just set aside some time and let Stella take you far, far away.
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