[Click play above to stream Attalla’s Glacial Rule in its entirety. Album is out March 24 with preorders up now.]
If you want to get a sense for what Oshkosh, Wisconsin, four-piece Attalla are up to on their second full-length, Glacial Rule, you don’t have to go far. The opening cut of the album is “Butte des Morts,” and it lands with a swing and a stomp at six and a half minutes of the band digging their heels into what reveals itself as the first of many amply-proportioned, riff-led grooves. Their prior offering, a 2014 self-titled (review here), carried with it an abidingly raw sensibility, and while the six tracks of Glacial Rule follow suit to a degree, guitarists Cody Stieg (also vocals) and Brian Hinckley, bassist Bryan Kunde and drummer James Slater are likewise blunt in conveying the progression they’ve undertaken in the three years since. On a production level, Glacial Rule — recorded last Spring by Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Recordings in Milwaukee — is crisper and cleaner, but Attalla still have some dirt under their sonic fingernails, giving their material from the launch of “Butte des Morts” onward character and a sense of intent standing behind it.
Working on themes as shown in the Adam Burke cover art of cold and cruel nature throughout pieces like “Ice Harvest,” “Black Wolf Rituals” and the closing title-track, Attalla — who are not to be confused with California post-desert rockers Atala — come across as more confident on the whole in their presentation, surer in their footing rhythmically and clearer in their thinking of who they are and what they want to be as a band. To say they took important lessons from their debut would perhaps be an understatement, and more importantly, it’s how they’re putting those to use in the songwriting on the 40-minute sophomore outing that really conveys the growth at hand.
There doesn’t seem to be a narrative arc tying the songs together, but the already noted themes — freezing, naturalist, and vicious as they are — begin with “Butte des Morts,” which takes its name from a lake near Oshkosh named for a Native American burial ground discovered by French settlers. As it should, the opener sets the tone as well in its upbeat, noise rock-infused groove, which would border on the hypnotic were it not so active in its bounce. I’ll allow the alphabetical coincidence might have something to do with it, but in their treatment of the theme, all-in-the-room-together-style recording, fluidity between tempos, noise influence and far-back but still raw vocals, songs like “Ice Harvest” and the rolling “Valderan,” which follow, remind somewhat of Jersey Shores, the 2008 swansong from Seattle’s Akimbo.
Of course, that album had its own story to tell and Glacial Rule is clearly happening in a different time and place, but some of the brashness and roots in hardcore come through Attalla‘s material in similar fashion, even as “Ice Harvest,” which is the longest track on Glacial Rule at 8:44, digs into the righteous nastiness of its lumbering midsection ahead of a long instrumental/solo exploration that follows and leads the way out of the song. Nothing on Attalla touched that kind of length or adventurousness, but the band’s development can be heard in the restraint of the tempo on “Valderan” as well; in an emerging patience within their sound that seems to be struggling against the impulse to burst out, creating a tension that accompanies the palpable build as the side A finale marches forward. I don’t know which came first, the riffs or the notion that would tie them together, but they were right to settle on the word “glacial.” It’s not the slowest thing in the world, but the theme fits for sure, and as it proceeds into its second half Glacial Rule, feels all the more consistent for working around this central idea.
And perhaps what’s not as immediately apparent to an outsider is just how directly tied to Wisconsin that central idea is. “Valderan” would seem to take its name from Valders, a town surrounded by hills that were once a mountain range eroded by glaciers, and the state’s Amish population actually do harvest lake ice in order to preserve food without the use of electricity. Likewise, side B’s “Black Wolf Rituals” comes from the town of Black Wolf, in Winnebago County, and “Devil’s Lake” — a misinterpreted Native American translation — is in Sauk County, so even as the former might appear on the surface like mountain-man-rock cultism, it’s actually speaking to a very specific location as it unfurls its mid-paced push and more open-feeling verse, moving in its back end like “Ice Harvest” into an ending instrumental section from which the core structure opts not to return.
“Devil’s Lake” brings more stomp just when it seems to be most needed — by this point, Attalla have dug themselves pretty deep into a moraine of frozen sludge riffing — but ultimately nestles into its own solo section led by Stieg before a thunderous chugging finish. As Slater‘s drums calmly start the closing title-track, it’s hard not to feel like Glacial Rule has hit its moment of arrival. The guitars soon take hold with resonant heft backed by the bass and drive into a quick verse near the two-minute mark. There are two such verses and an accompanying chorus for the second of them, but by the time Attalla hit the third minute of “Glacial Rule”‘s total 7:32, they seem itching to launch into the solo section that will finish track and album alike, breaking after a subtle hat-tip in the riff to Sabbath‘s “Snowblind” into a more subdued progression in order to enact a last build not quite from the ground up, but close enough to make the point.
That nod to the masters — emphasis on “nod” — comes back around in the last minute of the track just before it ends, and provides a crucial moment not just of creating an analog of influence, paying homage, etc., but of demonstrating the continuing process by which Attalla are maturing as a band, since by bringing that part back on “Glacial Rule,” they’re doing what “Devil’s Lake,” “Ice Harvest” and “Black Wolf Rituals” refused to in reinforcing a sense of structure and craft at work in the songwriting. Taken in kind with the thematic cohesion so prevalent throughout Glacial Rule, that characterization becomes even more important, since it gives Stieg, Hinckley, Kunde and Slater something to work from their next time out, and as Glacial Rule shows in relation to the self-titled before it, that’s work Attalla are clearly interested in doing. How all of this intent might find balance with the rawer aspects of their style, it’s hard to guess, but they capture an intriguing moment of revelry in the interaction between impulses in these tracks, and one looks forward to finding out where they’re headed.