A Sense Of Gravity – Atrament – Album Review

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Artist: A Sense Of Gravity

Album Title: Atrament

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 18 November 2016

An album like ‘Atrament’ from Seattle metallers A Sense Of Gravity is almost certain to raise a few eyebrows and catch significant attention. Prior to this review, I’d never heard of A Sense of Gravity but on the strength of ‘Atrament’, they are well and truly on my radar. More than that, they have given me cause to reassess my opinion of the whole tech/djent genre.

Going back a step, A Sense Of Gravity are, as they state on their social media pages, ‘six polite, well-educated gentlemen that make metal’. They formed in 2011 and have since been dedicated to playing ear-catching extreme metal. Their ranks are made up of vocalist C.J. Jenkins, guitarist/programmer Brendon Williams, guitarist Morgan Wick, keyboardist/guitarist Brandon Morris, drummer Pete Breene and bassist Chance Unterseher.

And, whilst I can’t attest to their politeness yet, I can certainly believe that they are well educated if their music is anything to go by. This isn’t simple paint-by-numbers stuff, I can tell you.

And on that note, with the background information dealt with, I can now get back to what I’m chomping on the bit to write about: the music on ‘Atrament’, the sextet’s sophomore independent release.

I’ve been growing a little tired and jaded of late with the whole tech metal, djent genre. There are plenty of good exponents of this kind of music and plenty of good albums have been released during 2016 by some of the biggest hitters, from Meshuggah, to Textures. However, it is a type of music that has to be done very well in order for me to take it to my heart.

With A Sense Of Gravity, they have used the tech/djent style of music as their core framework sound and then built upon it expertly, adding plenty of other styles, sounds and textures to it to create something very exciting indeed. Not just exciting – thoroughly enjoyable and immersive too.

There is an overt cinematic influence at work on these ambitious Americans, as demonstrated most eloquently on the opening track, ‘Drowning In The Ink’ for example. It is a piece of music that could easily be part of a film score, such is the tangible drama within it. The tension is increased as the composition builds, accented by C J Jenkins’ more-than-solid clean vocals.

But it’s not just symphonic, cinematic content that’s added. Also included is a very sophisticated progressive element, post rock, a touch of ambient and lots of subtle little inflections that become more evident the more I listen, be they nods towards the realm of death metal, jazz or metalcore. Polyrhythms feature, as do impressive sections of melody and plenty of mind-bending solo instrumental flamboyance.

‘Reclusive Peace’ takes over and, from the off, it is a roiling, tumultuous composition that is bold, expertly technical and grandly melodic and epic in scope. I hear faint echoes of Haken in the surprisingly deep and emotive repeated chorus whilst the instrumentation, not to mention the tightness of the band is impressive to say the least.

‘Echo Chasers’ is more down the line tech/djent meets death route which demonstrates tremendous instrumental abilities, from the bursts of warp speed drumming from Pete Breene, to the blistering riffs of Williams, Wick and Morris, not to mention bold synth work and a plethora of vocal styles, from a caustic rasp, to a more guttural death growl via more clean, melodious singing. In fact, it is the vocal delivery which is one of the strengths of the A Sense Of Gravity. C J Jenkins is hugely adept behind the microphone, acting like a vocal chameleon, effortlessly moving from one delivery to another as the compositions demand.

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‘The Divide’ features some of the best death vocals this side of Omnium Gatherum, but begins in a very different manner. The quieter intro is more classic prog metal in sound and approach but it remains dense, atmospheric and almost claustrophobic in tone. In fact, the entire track is one of the most diverse cuts on the album, flowing organically from one idea to another with aplomb. Slow, monolithic riffs give way to bursts of faster paced material, shifting between heavy and softer passages seemingly at will.

Mind you, this modus operandi could be thrown at many of the songs on this album. No single song is easy to define as the whole thing is a multi-layered, multi-faceted beast. ‘Artificially Ever After’ is a cracking song that’s all-out aggression one minute and then soothing , atmospheric and highly melodic the next. The keys of Brandon Morris are all over ‘Revenant’ as it juxtaposes a bludgeoning riffs and complex beats with moments of soothing clarity.

‘Guise Of Complacency’ briefly features some classic NWOBMH wails but they fit perfectly into the much more modern and dystopian-sounding soundscape that surrounds them. In fact, this is one of the most challenging and daunting tracks on the album, liberally channelling their inner Meshuggah one minute and then trading supersonic guitar and keyboard solos the next in some hedonistic display of dexterity and prowess. And yet it comes together and works.

By contrast, ‘Shadow Lines’ is one of the most immediate tracks on ‘Atrament’. It begins quietly where the guitars and piano shine, alongside a very self-assured and subtle vocal performance from Jenkins. It builds in intensity as it develops and, in the process, offers some of the strongest melodic refrains anywhere on the album.

I really enjoy the nonchalant swagger within ‘The Projectionist’ which also features some of my favourite bass playing on the album courtesy of Chance Unterseher. And the classical guitar intro to ‘I, Recreant’ is a thing of beauty, particularly when coupled with such a cool beat and given the way the song builds from such modest foundations to explode with barely contained bursts of epic and highly memorable melody. This has to be my current favourite track on the entire record.

Oh and the near nine-minute closer ‘Manic Void’ is too huge and epic for words. It is a grandiose conclusion to the album and offers A Sense Of Gravity one final opportunity to batter the listener with an intense composition that features just about every positive aspect of the band’s sound in one hell of a rousing finale.

I feel churlish mentioning anything negative at this point. However, to maintain a level of honesty, I must. Therefore, if I have any gripes with A Sense Of Gravity’s latest release, it is that the album feels just a little too long, particularly given the intensity and complexity on offer. At around the 70 minute mark, I get the feeling that the record might have been better served being a little more succinct. It’s a sad indictment on the human race but at a time when attention spans are decreasing at an alarming rate, I fear that ‘Atrament’ might be too much for some, thereby putting them off.

Everything else about A Sense Of Gravity and ‘Atrament’ however, is very positive and as such, it has genuinely grabbed my attention. I’m really surprised that a band as good as A Sense of Gravity isn’t signed to a decent metal label. However, if this level of quality is maintained and their creativity is not stifled, it surely cannot be too long before the situation changes. If you’re a fan of ambitious and challenging modern extreme heavy metal, the progressive sounds of A Sense Of Gravity come with the highest of recommendations from me, the latest convert to the cause.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Devilment – Devilment II: The Mephisto Waltzes
Maschine – Naturalis
Brutai – Born
False Coda – Secrets and Sins
Pretty Maids – Kingmaker
In Flames – Battles
The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream
Memoreve – Insignia
Enbound – The Blackened Heart
Blind Ego – Liquid
Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
Hammerfall – Built To Last
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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