Often regarded as a cult favorite, Satan is a relatively obscure heavy metal band that arose out of the NWOBHM period that never quite caught up steam with the general populace at the time (as well as being the answer to the question “is there a metal band that’s literally just named Satan”). While their most famous album Court in the Act has recently gotten more fame as the news of it’s greatness spread throughout the internet, they have still remained relatively unknown compared to many other Heavy Metal giants of the time. It doesn’t help that they don’t exactly have a consistent release schedule, the gap between their 3rd and fourth album being 15 years. However what they lack in consistent timing, they make up for in consistent quality. Satan has produced great album after great album, and Atom by Atom by just be the best of them all.
I’m going to start this off by making one of the strangest comparisons I think you make make between metal albums. Atom by Atom reminds me a lot of the Animals as Leaders debut. I know, that sounds insane, but bear with mere here. One of the things that makes the Animals as Leaders debut one of my favorite albums of all time is it’s evolution and progression of a theme throughout a track. It’ll take one idea and through logic and natural progression, evolve the track into a final product. Sometimes you end up right back where you started, other times you end up in an entirely different place. Most tracks on Atom employ the former, however you have examples of the latter, such as on the track In Contempt, which ends in an entirely different key as it began. But again, most of the songs on this album go full circle. They take a theme, and then explore that theme, while occasionally repeating it at appropriate times. To use In Contempt as an example again, there is a staccato arpeggio to begin the track, working as a bit of a warm-up for the main meat of the piece. The track goes on and right before the conclusion you hear that same apreggio, bringing the track to a fitting conclusion full circle, until as I mentioned before, it just says fuck you and ends in an entirely different realm (not a bad thing I’ll say). However what’s magic about all of this is that this repetition of a theme doesn’t feel tacked on or forced. It doesn’t sound like they drew 60% of a circle, and then drew a diagonal line to enclose it and call it complete. It feels like it just naturally evolves out of what came previously. As if that same theme just happened to be appropriate for that moment, just as it was at the beginning of the song. Of course, in comparing these two albums, it’s pretty obvious that Satan does this with about 1/4th of the notes as Animals as Leaders, but the general principal is still there. Every track has a beginning, and every track has a conclusion, with everything in between connecting the two.
Speaking of circles and conclusions, my absolute favorite track on the album has to be the last track, The Fall of Persephone. It feels funnily enough, like it’s the logical conclusion to the album. While unlike the individual tracks being a circle, as the album as a whole feels more like a collection of songs rather than on coherent slow of them, The Fall ties in all of the tricks the individual tracks use into one epic track. While this isn’t your stereotypical 10 minute behemoth to end the album, the 6:50 run-time is far and away the longest track on the album. From again reusing multiple themes, using solos that both act as a break and a transition to the next segment, and utilizing slight tempo changes to give it that progressive edge that’s a bit reminiscent of later Iron Maiden. The track feels like the final confrontation of a hero’s journey, a battle in which you must use all that you had learned in order to face the demo that awaits. This is all metaphorical of course. The Fall is anything but a final boss, rather it’s about the downfall of the queen of the underworld. However regardless of lyrical content, it acts as a fitting conclusion to a record full of that’s full of them.
Satan has much matured it’s sound since the days of old, and in my eyes that’s for the better. This feels like a record made by those who have grown a lot since their absence and have now created a sound that takes the good elements of their old work, while still improving on what they have made before. Atom by Atom is classic, yet with a modern twist, and safe, yet with a bit of a bite. The soaring scream at the very moment the album begins ushers in a soon to be 2015 classic, transcending, in my opinion, Court in the Act on it’s way to being the heavy metal album of the year.