White Moth Black Butterfly – “Atone”


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White Moth Black Butterfly’s second album, Atone, is an album of ambient styled pop songs filled with echoes of prog and djent. The band is a collaboration between members of TesseracT and Skyharbour, as well as other artists, with the goal of creating music outside the realm of the djent and progressive metal that their primary bands are known for. Atone explores sounds and textures of post rock, ambient, alternative, and pop music with some beautiful moments, but overall mixed results.

The vocal performances of Daniel Tompkins of TesseracT and Jordan Turner are the real highlight here. Tompkins demonstrates emotion and range that I haven’t heard from his work in TesseracT and Turner’s voice complements his perfectly as they trade verses, melodies, and counterpoint throughout the album.

Another highlight is the variety of instrumentation. The expected guitars and drums are mixed in with some excellent low key synth work. Acoustic and folk instruments ranging from harp to traditional Asian instruments are weaved through many of the songs, adding unique textures.

The album opens softly with “I Incarnate.” Emotional vocals and minimalist piano and strings provide a taste of what’s to come. The opening melody in particular is the one I most often find myself humming days after listening. “Rising Sun” follows, picking up the pace and adding your first hint of the progressive pedigree behind the album, with some djent sounds slipping out on the chorus. It makes effective use of trading vocals as well.

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“Tempest” reminds me a bit of what was happening on Steven Wilson’s To the Bone – a 21st century interpretation of 80s alt/pop – but it’s a much different interpretation than Wilson’s. “An Ocean Away” follows, delving deeper into pop with a sound drawing from house music; portions of which might not be out of place on the dance floor.

While the opening two tracks show a stronger influence of prog and rock, and the second two delve into pop and dance sounds, “Symmetry” takes a turn towards world/new age and ambient music. “Il Penitence” continues the trend with ambient sounds and a prominently featured harp, eventually fading into sounds of war at the end. “The Sage” closes out this little block of new age sounds on the album with heavy use of traditional East Asian instruments.

“The Serpent” turns it back around with the proggiest sounding song so far. This song also features some of the best vocal arrangements of the album with good use of alternating vocals and counterpoint.

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The next two tracks, “Atone” and “Ill Deep Earth” feel like another pair – both building up anticipation and tension with vocals over a rhythm section evoking heartbeat for “Atone” and marching for “Ill Deep Earth.” But both also feeling a bit like the tension never resolves. “Evelyn” is the closer, a more upbeat rock song with smatterings of the different sounds featured throughout the album. In another interesting musical twist, operatic vocals are featured throughout the song, creating an interesting juxtaposition with the alternative rock sound of the song.

Personally, my favorites off Atone are “Rising Sun,” “The Serpent,” and “Evelyn” and perhaps that colors my view of the album as a whole. Having not heard the band’s first album, I was expecting an album that had a core of TesseracT and Skyharbour behind  some of the band’s stated influences like Massive Attack or Sigur Ros. Instead it’s an album focused on experimenting with post rock, pop, and ambient music while elements of djent and prog slip in from time to time. If you’re here primarily for prog, you won’t find much on Atone.

Expectations aside, the experimental nature of the album detracts from it’s overall cohesiveness. Taken all together, the album is more like sets of 2-3 songs than a cohesive whole. Each block left me somewhat unsatisfied. I’d really like to hear an album from them which focused on any of the individual sounds, or even a more cohesive fusion of all of them, but instead you get a bite-sized serving of each.  Ultimately, I think it’s a good album, which explores a variety of genres and musical textures, but the best moments fade a little too soon.

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