Album Review: Atrium – “Constant Variables” 7.5/10 (Progressive Metal)

Written by Ellis Heasley

AtriumConstant Variables
Instrumental progressive metal from Utah, USA
Releases May 7th, 2021
7.5/10

One of the major upsides of a solo project is that a lack of excessive cooks in the kitchen often allows for an especially high level of prolificity. That definitely seems to be the case for Atrium, the one-man project of Utah-based musician Vince Ochoa. According to Ochoa’s Bandcamp, he released no less than six EPs in 2020 alone. This year though, he seems to have slowed down a little bit, with Constant Variables, out on May 7th, marking his first release of 2021.

As on Atrium’s previous releases, Constant Variables is probably best described as instrumental progressive metal, or, as Ochoa himself refers to it, “progressive timey-wimey core.” What that means is if you like the sound of bands like Periphery or maybe even Between The Buried And Me but without vocals, you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy here. There’s also a decent dose of technical melodicism that’s reminiscent of the likes of Chon and Polyphia. As primarily instrumental bands, these two may feel like more obvious comparisons, but Atrium definitely feels heavier than both of them.

With the comparisons mentioned, and as you might expect if you’ve heard Atrium’s previous releases, the technicality on display on Constant Variables is impressively high. Presumably, Ochoa plays everything, and it’s hard to fault any of it. The guitar work shines especially over the record’s six tracks, with plenty of soaring leads, crushing riffs and more delicate clean noodling and textural work. Highlights in this regard are definitely the EP’s fifth track “Colorcode”, where Ochoa seems to outdo himself on the riff front in particular, as well as the frantic melodic lead work heard on the record’s closer “Citrus.”

Behind the guitars, the drums hit just as hard as they need to, with double kicks, intricate fills and more all in the mix. As is often the case for music like this, the bass seems to play more of a background role, but it still gives everything the required low-end grounding. Perhaps even more impressive than the musical skill on display on Constant Variables is the record’s production. This, again presumably handled by Ochoa himself, is absolutely impeccable. Everything sounds crisp and clear, and fits exactly where it should.

One criticism of Constant Variables, and this may be a little nitpicky, is that the EP could probably benefit from the presence of some vocals. Obviously instrumentals are Ochoa’s M.O., and it’s something that’s worked well for bands like Animals As Leaders and some of those mentioned above. The issue however is that there aren’t loads of obvious hooks, and as such it can be hard for the record to stay with listeners afterward. Some of the melodies do start to stick after a few listens – those on the third track “Crepescule” and the already-mentioned “Citrus” being some obvious examples – but you do wonder if a couple of huge choruses would’ve made things more memorable.

At the end of the day, that’s a minor gripe with Constant Variables. It doesn’t take away from the fact that this is still a technically impressive, well-produced, and consistently cohesive 20-minute EP. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, and never really struggles to keep its listeners’ attention. Instead, it’s another record which provides further proof of Ochoa’s wide array of talents, and one that fans of the more technical side of heavy music should be pretty happy with.

7.5/10

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