Written by: LF on 21/04/2016 11:54:07

For their ninth studio album, the Scottish post-rockers in Mogwai have chosen to release an expanded version of their recent soundtrack for the BBC documentary/archive movie "Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise" by Mark Cousins. The album thus consists of music that attempts to communicate a fairly clear theme, as opposed to most of their previous recordings that don't develop a unified idea in the same way or at least don't try to communicate something as specific as this. The tracks of the album span the huge subject matter of the human race's history with nuclear energy quite well, varying from very hopeful, optimistic sounds to more sinister ones that convey a sense of fundamental devastation in connection of course with the use of atom bombs and various power plant accidents, events which the track titles also refer to directly.

The album opens on a more fundamental level though with the uplifting "Ether" dominated by a ringing and busy synth theme as well as a grandiose use of horns and dramatically echoing drums. The track points towards the scientific promise of nuclear power and seems to simulate in its riffs the nuclear reactions on atomic and subatomic levels that this relies on. This side of the matter is represented as well in the later "U-235" and "Weak Force", the latter of which interestingly recalls some very distinct synth sounds that were used as well on the band's previous album "Rave Tapes". "U-235" with its firm tempo is reminiscent of the noise from a Geiger counter and gives an eerie sense of the very long decay process of uranium with its dragging and ghostly electronic sounds.

The mood that dominates the first part of the record is however mostly a darker one that immediately alludes to catastrophic events with most tracks prominently featuring heavy bass notes and rumbling melodies. "SCRAM" thus starts on a somewhat lighter note but evolves slowly into more unsettling harmonies before it is taken over by a dominating beat while the noisy "Bitterness Centrifuge" steadily builds further on this same atmosphere. This culminates in the slow echoing vibrations of "Pripyat", referring to the city that is now abandoned due to the Chernobyl power plant disaster. Some of the later tracks feel very light and airy compared to this heavier first half and they blend together more. "Are You A Dancer?" does stand out through the appearance throughout of a striking Asian-sounding string-instrument that adds a distinctly melancholic feeling and activating the connection to the bombs that fell on Japan. The surrounding tracks also refer to this with the song titles echoing the bomb names of "Little Boy" and "Fat Man".

While "Atomic" doesn't have recognisable catchy melodic elements that make it stand out to the same extent as some of the band's previous work, it does a great job of providing an inspiring soundtrack to some specific historic events in our era. While I was a little sceptical about some of the singles that were released on their own, the album in its entirety makes for an immersive listening experience and it certainly doesn't feel like it's lacking the visual element to fulfil its purpose, as some soundtracks have a tendency to do. Rather it tackles this heavy and complicated topic while promoting open-ended thought in a way that the post-rock genre seems uniquely equipped to do.

Download: Ether, SCRAM, U-235
For The Fans Of: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 65daysofstatic, This Will Destroy You

Release date 01.04.2016
Rock Action Records

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