Time was heavy metal from bands such as Satan could make the fur on the back of your tongue stand on end. Even the name, Satan, would have had a foreboding quality to it. Your heart would pound tucking it inside your jacket so that your church-minded (or even not-so-church-minded) parents wouldn’t catch sight of it while it was still in the shrink wrap. Unravelling that plastic and sliding in onto the turntable or into the cassette deck was a prelude to opening the gates of hell. This stuff was meant to scare and excite you and there would be nothing but gooseflesh as those opening notes came to pass. Problem is, heaviness and evil got “cartoonized”, if you will, for a moment there and the shock was gone. Worshiping the horned one was the new pledging allegiance to Christ. Drum triggers became the bad CGI of metal and after a while each album began to seem like Battlefield Earth.
Thank God, then, for Satan.
Atom By Atom finds the five British lads who recorded Court In The Act all those years ago (1983 to be exact) positively putting that shock and excitement back into metal. You won’t be reminded of the heaviness and the boogie-ooogie-ooogie of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal because for a moment you’ll be blasted back so far in time that you’ll forget that it ever existed and then spring boarded into the future where all shall hail the glory that is Satan. This is the stuff, let’s not forget, that was just one or two steps away from psychedelic music, an inch or two from both punk and prog, which owed more to Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy than it did any kind of allegiance to the rules of metal.
Central to that sound in the past and now is a twin guitar attack and that attack is indeed what happens on Atom By Atom. Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins waste no time in establishing their rightful place in the pantheon of heroic guitar duos. Not only do their riffs crunch, crash and shake like a tipper lorry on the back roads of Baslow, they’re aligned such that they’re tighter than a plastic surgery addict’s skin. Witness “Ruination”, which comes with the classically-influenced harmonies, “The Devil’s Infantry”, which you can also see the lighting cues for from first listen on, or “My Own God”, which is chock full of maneuvers kids everywhere are going to practice into the ground.
It’s not all on them, of course. Bassist Graeme English (is that a redundancy?) is as good as they come and with one or two more lucky breaks he might have become as prominent a voice as Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. And maybe he will. His playing is some of the tastiest, tightest and memorable in recent memory and thrills as often as the Ramsey/Tippins riffs. It probably helps that Sean Taylor helps him forge an impenetrable rhythm section, one that reminds us that this particular brand of metal was as much about laying down the rhythmic law as it was about screaming solos and (ahem) air raid siren vocals.
Of course Brian Ross isn’t in the category of the great shriek kings but boy-oh-boy has he got soul and expression: two qualities often missing from metal, contemporary or otherwise. There is, isn’t there, a blues quality in him and in songs such as “Ahriman” and “Fallen Saviour”; there’s high drama in songs such as “My Own God” and the closing “The Fall of Persephone” and Ross more than captures it all in vocal lines.
Not a moment of that song—or any song on this album—is wasted, giving Satan it’s third classic album, some 32 years after its first.
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