Without wanting to descend too far into the kind of terminology that lends itself exclusively to classical music - because there’s much more to A Winged Victory for the Sullen than that - the fact that this second record is effectively split up into a collection of suites means that plucking one of them - “Atomos VII”, to be precise - and releasing it as an EP with which to preface Atomos allowed the duo to both give listeners a representative taste of the album proper and encourage them to use their imaginations with regards to how “VII” would sound in the context of the record itself.
Sonically, of course, it slots in seamlessly; Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie are primarily concerned with using classical instrumentation and composition faithful to that genre’s fundamentals - the way the strings are cut on Atomos, they wouldn’t sound out of place on Radio 3 - and then incorporating that approach into what essentially amount to ambient recordings, although that’s not to say that there isn’t the occasional, subtle nod to Wiltzie’s drone background in Stars Of The Lid. What’s genuinely intriguing about “Atomos VII”’s relationship with the rest of the record proper, though, is the way in which it actually only represents one point on an incredibly broad emotional spectrum that is pretty much covered in its entirety over the course of the album’s hour-plus running time.
“VII” is placed at the midpoint of Atomos, and wisely so; the strings flutter in and out, hinting at a state of flux. In the build-up, opener “Atomos I” flits between the dramatic and the mournful, “Atomos III” brings in piano and hints of shimmering electronics to augment the sense of tension, and “Atomos VI” brings in flickering synths that are taut with apprehension one minute and washed-out, practically glacial, the next. The pace at which the record moves is probably its key characteristic; everything feels so deliberate, so well thought-out, that even the tracks that run to just four or five minutes feel expansive enough to get lost in.
The core of the pair’s sound, meanwhile continues to revolve around the sheer audacity of blending classical sounds, played totally straight, with electronic flourishes that are clearly modern, but not jarringly so. The latter is carried off on Atomos with real delicacy; the squelchy, almost glitchy backing on “Atomos X” runs alongside what sounds like garbled speech samples, but they’re presented in such a way that they almost play the role of a barely-there beat. At some points, the piano is placed front and centre - see “Atomos XI” - and at others, it’s used sparingly, for punctuation, but in both cases, there’s nothing obvious about the approach to the keys; the emotional palette is a muddy one, with “XI” in particular veering towards the uplifting just when it seemed to be heading for melancholy.
Both O’Halloran and Wiltzie have solid enough track records that there was never any question that Atomos - or any of their Winged Victory output, for that matter - was ever going to come across as particularly gimmicky or opportunist in its crossover of styles, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t take guts, and some genuine intelligence, to have a stab at something like this. The beauty of this record lies primarily in its poise and composure; that it sounds fantastic, at times, just feels like an added bonus.