ATARAXY – The Last Mirror (2022)REVIEW

And the secret of human life, the universal secret, the root secret from which all other secrets spring, is the longing for more life, the furious and insatiable desire to be everything else without ever ceasing to be ourselves, to take possession of the entire universe without letting the universe take possession of us and absorb us; it is the desire to be someone else without ceasing to be myself, and continue being myself at the same time I am someone else […]” Miguel de Unamuno, Essays on Faith

The void left by the cessation of life calls forth its fill in ghasts, nox spirits, and various daimon as they are summoned by our mourning en masse, their only point of entrance is the prismatic portal caught between an obsidian mirror and the window of the human eye. Northeastern Spanish death metal quartet Ataraxy are wide-eyed in reception of these spirited lesions unto the morbid past, peering with great wonder into the mirror’s abyss in search of meaning on ‘The Last Mirror‘ ’til their visions of the end became clear enough to report. On this third full-length album from these Aragonese fellowes they extend deeper into the death-calloused winds of mournful doom, spiriting all that they have learned into gloriously funereal landscapes which seem to stretch and soldier on forever in depiction of the end.

Formed in Zaragoza as a quartet circa 2008 there’d been no clear indication that Ataraxy would ever go anywhere with their sound when their first demo and EP released, they were a spirited yet typical ‘old school’ death metal revival band with a clear semblance of early Dutch and Finnish death metal greats who’d been able to meet the world-spreading standard as they’d began to ramp up and crowd with potential. With the release of their debut full-length ‘Revelations of the Ethereal‘ in 2012 it’d seem they’d presented said title as a literal descriptor of the act, an decidedly atmospheric touch applied to an otherwise riff-centric early 90’s death metal classicism that’d already begun to stray far from their point of origin into a unique form of death/doom influenced atmospheric death metal, one that’d not forgotten the value of the riff and of the high standards of their original influences. This mutation has been their modus set to intensify since, though these fellowes grow more bold with their experimentation of form and atmosphere with each release their classicist taste level sustains.

That first album might’ve been all about forming a variety of experimental textures within the pure death metal format, stretching boundaries but not mutating the structure, but it’d more importantly brought dramatism, a heavier mood to their songcraft. It wasn’t until Ataraxy‘s long in development follow-up, the lauded ‘Where All Hope Fades‘ (2018), that the band would capitalize upon this for their most defining statement, leaning into tense and dreadful atmospheric values. It’d been beyond the norm as a not-so-usual bout of existential/surrealist death/doom metal influenced aggression that’d sat well next to similar evolutions of labelmates Krypts and Decomposed at the time. It’d also end up making it onto my 100 Best Albums of 2018 list and, well, I’ve explained well enough what I think of the band and their discography in the review for that album. If you aren’t familiar with that album I’d suggest partaking it as vital context for ‘The Last Mirror‘ as it serves as the springboard for the plunge beyond today as the band rebalance their efforts and continue this thread of heavily atmospheric death metal that hasn’t forgotten how to cut a killer riff.

Ataraxy‘s sound today features a small uptick in keyboards as a key addition to the tragedian atmosphere they’ve leaned into, retaining the ratio of pragmatic classicist death derivation expected while leaving plenty of space to develop run-on threads of reveal, only occasionally reaching the intense existential suffering of death/doom metal. Though we can’t consider ‘The Last Mirror‘ pure iteration, there are some bold changes found within to the point of transformation, yet as inferred ‘Where All Hope Fades‘ is the basis for their herein continued path beyond plain ‘old school’ death metal aggression. Though we find some strong use of funeral death/doom metal clean guitar listlessness throughout the album’s development of a truly sombre moodiness there’ll yet be enough of a focus upon death metal rhythms to sate folks looking for an experience rather than a riff showcase. From my point of view the riffs are there, they are simply doom metal riffs and this is where my fandom for what Ataraxy has develop over the years becomes most thrilled, hearing them dive deeper into the dark scenery.

Of course we are talking about death metal here, so, the vocalist sounding a bit like late 80’s/early 90’s Mark Grewe/Martin Van Drunen should be enough to get a quick thumbs up and a cursory listen out of most. You’ll feel this most up front as the earlier Evoken-esque intro to “The Bell That Constantly Sounds” features a vocal tirade or two up front before the song kicks into its heavier mid-paced roll. Paired with its couple minute entrance (“Presages”) this opening piece serves to convince and immerse by initiation as it fills a nearly eleven minute chunk of the album up front with several tombstone-scattered hills to climb. Meandering with a scythe in hand and the purpose of developing the morbid, surreal moodiness of the full listen “The Bell That Constantly Sounds” reeks of death to start, fuming with patient malevolence to the point of awe and, well, it’d been such a grand reintroduction to what Ataraxy do that I’d had to go back and re-listen to it a few times before proceeding through the tracklist. Of course the full picture comes into view once we step immediately into “Decline” the first riff-directed death metal song proper and a showcase for how they’ve built their texturally mutated rendition of classicist death metal guitar rhythms beyond ‘Revelations of the Ethereal‘. It’ll be easy to take the graceful flow between ideas for granted here since they’ve worked both of the 5-6 minute pieces beyond the opener into such twisted forms; I’d been on the edge of my seat for the first several listens as the passage between mid-paced and slower movements eventually found their speedier pushes here and there. “Visions of Absence” was particularly dramatic in this sense as the guitarists pushed back into their doomed aspect in conclusion of Side A.

There is a fluency, or, an ease of confluence between loose-shouldered attack and surrealistic rhythmic phrasing that comes to define the first half of ‘The Last Mirror‘ yet as we move on to Side B Ataraxy begin combining these realms in more intense display, particularly featuring their keyboard work on “Under the Cypress Shadow”, taking even more of a step into the beyond than expected. Twenty-five years ago use of synth in this way might’ve garnered a comparison to Nocturnus and/or been seen as black metal influence but the way they’ve used them in this particular song reads as a step into arcane and/or obscure extreme doom metal to start, the songs last third hits its a jogging pace and early 90’s death metal riff quotient but either way here we see the depths of Ataraxy‘s sojourn beyond 2018 in full, equaling the spectacle of Side A‘s opener and again making the argument of self-characterization rather than iteration or ‘worship’ even more than the previous album had. If you’ve not felt it by the time the solo plays out the end of the song, it may not be the record for you but I’d found “Under the Cypress Shadow” and its tonal bleed into the start of “Silence” a new point of mastery for the band. In fact “Silence” managed to be my favorite piece of the lot after countless listens, the momentum of the album having reached its apex therein. The fleeting elysian respite offered within this song served as a sort of payoff for musing upon the tormented landscape depicted throughout ‘The Last Mirror‘, it’d be the glowing white flame of the triptych rather than a walk into a pure black void, which closer “A Mirror Reflects our Fate”, summing the greater impact of their exploration on Side B into a commanding, heaviest finale.

You’ve not gotten neither a thousand riffs a minute nor any cockish pieces which are instantly memorable but instead an steadily disturbing immersion unto endtyme by way of ‘The Last Mirror‘, a painterly treatment of gloriously doomed, morbid death metal. This third time around Ataraxy‘s approach isn’t avant-garde, or, altogether unusual in terms of modern death/doom metal standards yet ‘The Last Mirror‘ is the product of good taste applied to an distinctly atmospheric vision of illustrative death metal. They’ve managed to deepen the knife-turn of their signature in a way which isn’t trendy or pandering to an obvious modern trait and in this way we’ve gotten an earnestly death-driven experience beyond even that of ‘Where All Hope Fades‘ herein. The listening experience here’d floored me time and time again, an imagined landscape cursed with the sensation of our own mortality drifting away. Another fantastically stylized, irreverent and evocative death metal record from these fine Spanish fellowes. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:The Last Mirror
LABEL(S):Me Saco Un Ojo,
Dark Descent Records
RELEASE DATE:June 17th, 2022

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