Some months ago I listened to a couple of minutes of a track by Dutch project Atlantis and made a mental note to have a proper listen. Of course I completely forgot until the EP in question was released in Australia on red vinyl by Birds Robe Records and an email turned up with the news. A week later I got a tweet from the driving force of Atlantis, Gilson Heitinga, suggesting I have a listen, so finally after months of good intention and these two reminders I sat down to listen to “La Petite Mort”. Who would have thought I had such a gem sitting under my nose all this time.
This four track post-everything EP is just awesome. In a short space the songs use a broad variety of sounds and styles, including electro, post-rock, post-metal, doom and more, pushing out the limits about as much as you reasonably can in that time without losing cohesion. In that sense it reminds me of the stellar release by Flies Are Spies From Hell, one of the few instrumental rock releases this year to really cover vast ground successfully. But to simply deconstruct this to its musical parts misses the point, for this is a relentless rollercoaster of emotion. You don’t listen to this record, you feel it in every cell of your body.
The opening/title track (named slightly differently – ‘Les Petites Morts’) suggests it is about the male orgasm – the metaphorical “little death” found in literature over the centuries (the first time I encountered the idiom was in the poetry of John Donne). If this is the case it gives new meaning to the more modern term “guitar face”. Alternatively it could be about the notion that something dies inside you at a time of great loss. I will ask Gilson when I interview him, but for now I’m going with what the record makes me imagine.
Opening with the electronic hum of approaching mechanical armies that march to military snares and crashing cymbals, you try to hide but there’s no escape. These monsters see everything and they take no prisoners, using searing guitar and synth death rays they kill with surgical precision and explode skyscrapers as if they were houses of cards. Behind lies an ironically beautiful soaring and uplifting passage before the mechanised killers swing around in your direction to another burst of violent noise. Soon they are upon you and you pass out.
With no sense of passing time you wake with the next song, ‘Everest’, to find by some miracle you are still alive in the in a post-apocalyptic landscape that’s been left behind. For the moment there is time for melancholy, time for reflection, time for sorrow set to a soundtrack of quiet reverb-filled guitar and luscious mellotron. At first you blame yourself as you sit there sobbing, ashamed that you have survived, but you snap out of it and collect your thoughts, the guitars launching into a series of melodic riffs and the drums and bass lifting. You stand to survey your surroundings and the horror really starts to sink in. The wall of noise almost hides the drums of the marching army in the distance but it’s then you see the body of your loved one lying in the rubble. You drop to your knees with despair for a few moments before you are overcome with a fiery rage. You will seek revenge. You don’t know how, but you will, and you set off on the monumental trek that lies before you.
Time has passed as we enter the third song; ‘Breathe Slowly’. Your head is spinning, your heart beats out of your chest and the adrenaline is wearing off as you stumble dizzy and disoriented in the direction of your target. You need to slow down, to take a break, to sit down. This is a short song but the record would not work without it. I get frustrated when people talk of “filler” tracks as in this case when they are clearly designed to connect two main acts, as in a film.
With the final, and genuinely epic track ‘Esther’, you take a deep breath and stand again. Everything hurts – your legs, your feet, your mouth and lips, but most of all your heart. You wonder if it’s worth continuing in the desolate wasteland but without making a decision you find yourself stumbling along. Left, right, left, right, left, right you trudge exhaustedly, oblivious to your surroundings as your head starts thumping, thumping, louder and louder.
Heitinga uses stabbing discordant guitar as the layers of sound build up behind until they reach a point of eruption, heralded by the astonishingly good growling of guest vocalist and Cult of Luna singer Johannes Persson. It’s an explosive climax to the record – to the story. Sometimes when I listen to the EP this finale signifies a violent disoriented awakening from a nightmare, at others it’s a clash with one of the monsters in the doomed attempt for revenge. There are other alternatives that are far, far darker and this is the brilliance of this record. Not only does it take you on a monumental journey of emotions, the journey is different every time you indulge. How it does this so completely in a relatively short space of time (24 minutes) is a triumph.
I can only imagine how awesome Atlantis are live – add another name to the list of “Please come to Australia!”