Album Review: The Atlas Moth – “Coma Noir”

“With ruby-scaled wings that stretch almost a foot and a luxurious fur coat, she is simply stunning. Now she must put her beauty to the test. Her time is short and each moment is precious.” —National Geographic’s Wild Thailand, “A Marvelous Moth.”

The atlas moth is all epic grandeur and creeping death. Emerging from its brawny cocoon—Mental Floss once noted its human neighbors in Southeast Asia will sew zippers into abandoned husks for use as readymade purses—the fantastical saturniid survives only a few days, never eating or meandering or stopping to smell whatever it is busy gargantuan moths should be stopping to smell. Rather, it focuses on forward motion. On procreation. On surrendering the majestic splendor of its already meager life to the annihilation which it somehow intuits will begat majestic splendor which will begat annihilation which will begat majestic splendor.

Few are the bands that could adopt this namesake and do its wondrous, singular existence justice. Yet over the past decade—from the sludge-y Neur-Isis caterpillar-in-transition cocoon shredding of A Glorified Piece of Blue-Sky (2009) to the increasingly expansive and ornate wing-spreading of An Ache for the Distance (2011) and The Old Believer (2014)—an ever-audacious Chicago quintet writing and performing under the moniker has refracted its iconoclastic, psychedelic take on a diverse array of metal subgenres through an Attacus atlas prism with strange, beguiling success.

Still, the Atlas Moth’s claim on the appellation has never felt more legitimate than on its stellar fourth full-length, Coma Noir, a triumphant distillation and refinement of the band’s already superior attack. Whether hewing to the celestial (“Galactic Brain”; “The Last Transmission From the Late, Great Planet Earth”), terrestrial (“Actual Human Blood”; “Smiling Knife”) or, impressively, both (“The Streets of Bombay”) the Atlas Moth never appears as if it is hedging: Every riff is dragged upward to apotheosis, every song an act of self-immolation, every improbable stylistic melding which a lesser band might milk for an entire album or career instead given over to annihilation which begets majestic splendor which begets…

This isn’t to say the Atlas Moth lacks a signature sound—the synergistic, kaleidoscopic channeling of its members’ considerable talents and visions is, indeed, instantly recognizable, whether a given track resembles, say, Neurosis uniting with Protestant era Rorschach to jam Jefferson Airplane, Flock of Seagulls covering post-Clandestine Entombed, Seasons-era Slayer by way of Watain, Jesus Lizard hitting the stage with Gojira, Ufomammut getting its Judas Priest on with Nick Cave on the mic—no, seriously, check out album closer “Chloroform”—or a Halloween performance in which the Failure dudes can’t decide whether they want to dress up as Life of Agony or Paradise Lost.

Of course, all of the above is merely an imperfect attempt to employ well-known touchstones to illuminate an enigmatic release, the intricacy and potency of which suggests that in creation the band truly took to heart the truth of its kindred moth: Now she must put her beauty to the test. Time is short and each moment is precious.