“This EP is dedicated to the fight. Whatever your fight may be, you will persevere.”
That passage is printed on the inside of Atomic 26’s latest EP, creatively titled, “The EP.” If such a passage exists to embody five songs of music, that’s as good as any — at least for this body of work, which feels like the sonic equivalent of … well … fighting the good fight. Aggressive in nature and assertive in tone, this set is filled with double kick-drum patterns, earnestly metal-tastic growls and a shredding guitar that takes no prisoners in its execution.
Yet even with that considered, what makes “The EP” so lasting is its pristine production. Recorded at Antithesis Studio in Sabillasville, this looks, feels and smells like a big-time recording. Heavy music can so often be watered down by lackluster production, the bass not chugging the way it should and the vocals not dominating as much as they need to in order for the music to get the listener’s best shot. Here, though, the performances are spotless, the end product impeccable.
All that begins with “Relentless.” Stepping to the plate with only guitar and vocals, it instantly grabs your attention because of how menacing everything sounds. When the vocals expand from simply scary to downright demented, you know you’re in for a treat, especially considering how taxing such an approach to vocals can be. Sprinkle in a desolate palm-muted rock guitar middle section and the anticipation rises with each note. Once the rest of the band returns to the party with an inescapable six-string riff, all bets are off on how irresistible this stuff can be.
Which is why there’s so much to value here. Like the crunchy radio rock best heard from bands like Breaking Benjamin or Three Days Grace? Check “Substrate,” which is relatively tame when compared with its brethren. Featuring a mid-tempo alt-rock groove, this isn’t not something you could hear on DC 101 some day. Not only is the screaming half-abandoned, but the chorus opens up in ways that ought to make you nostalgic for the late-‘90s music festival scene.
How about something a little heavier, made for the side stage at Ozzfest? “Circle” might be for you, with its pugnacious vocals ticking up the angst ever so slightly. Better yet is the double-kick drum that paints the chorus, anchoring the chaos that’s unfolding around it, the singer exploding in rage before a smooth bridge takes hold and calms the production down. By the time the pedal pounding returns to close out the track, you’ll need to regroup with a long, well-earned exhale.
Even that pales in comparison, however, to the final song here, “Wrongway.” The set’s clear crescendo, it furthers the narrative that these guys chose the track-listing smartly, seemingly building to an explosion of a finale that leaves it all on the stage without a single ounce of energy left unused. Bursting through the door with a punk-rock tempo, the growls feel more worn and the guitars more assured before the halfway point changes everything on a dime, trading punk for rock in the way the genre used to before Fall Out Boy came along and messed it up for everybody.
And then there’s “Harder They Fall,” which is, without question, the poppiest these guys get. Thundering drums and a simple guitar riff can take you a long, long way, and this trio utilizes that notion to its fullest extent, crafting a song that should make early-era Papa Roach proud. “Never back down,” you hear in effects-laden vocals during the hook and the lyric cements this band and these songs as the ultimate inspirational, seize-the-day combination, tight, crunchy guitars and all.
Those words also reiterate the relevance of the opening mantra: “This EP is dedicated to the fight. Whatever your fight may be, you will persevere.” Cliched? Maybe. But with “The EP,” Atomic 26 establishes itself as a band that practices what it preaches. Unapologetically antagonistic and deliciously energetic, these are songs built for Soldierfit classes everywhere — hard enough to keep your endorphins flowing and stubborn enough to ensure you never give up.
Fighting the good fight, indeed.
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **