Cinema-worthy soundscapes from ATEM, a solo project by highly regarded black metal guitarist Jan Korbach.
ATEM’s (“breath” in German) genesis was a plan to record an acoustic version of a song by guitarist Jan Korbach’s band néander, the acclaimed “post-rock-meets-stoner-meets-doom-metal” instrumental band based in Berlin. With unexpected free time provided by the pandemic, an album of original Americana instrumental tracks started to take shape, resulting in a collection of dramatic, sometimes dark images from an unexpected quarter.
Korbach has an impressive resume of instrumental work and an eclectic taste in music: rap (he plays in German rapper and longtime friend Casper’s touring band), classic rock, punk, various subgenres of metal, and country music — the darker and more outlaw the better. He has mentioned listening to William Tyler’s ‘Modern Country’ and Johnny Cash, especially his ‘American Recordings’ series. Among his many tattoos are tributes to Thin Lizzy and AC/DC.
Musicians have long been inspired by the classic western film soundtracks of Enrico Morricone, Korbach included, but few emulate that genre as well as Korbach does. His work in néander, with some of their sweeping, cinematic songs topping ten minutes, prepared him well for making this record.
Korbach’s guitar skills are precise, robust, and expressive without overplaying. With dropped tunings and weighty arrangements, he evokes desolate snow-covered prairies, windswept Western plains, bleak desert ghost towns, and mysterious post-apocalyptic cityscapes. They can be described as foreboding ballads without words. ‘Concrete Americana’ brings to mind the menacing environment of brutalist modern American cities, which must inflict a particular kind of pain in someone who grew up in western Europe. Further shades of solitude and longing in ‘Cold Flow’ and ‘Velvet‘ are rich and shadowy.
Rather than a tribute or a tongue-in-cheek novelty project, ‘Concrete Americana’ goes a long way toward celebrating acoustic guitar virtuosity and redirecting Korbach’s career into new territory.