November 7, 2023

ATLAS are a British, Manchester-based AOR band formed in 2017 by keys player James Thorley with the intention to create signature music that focused its roots around the 80s AOR, Prog, and melodic rock genres. James is joined by Craig Wells (lead vocals), Howie Little (lead guitars), Chris Redfearn (bass guitar), and Ryan Briggs (drums), and together they’ve previously released two studio albums.

Their second album, Parallel Love, charted in Japan at #36 and debuted in the Top 10 Amazon Classic Rock Albums Chart on release week. They have toured the UK sharing the stage with The Quireboys, Eric Martin (Mr Big), FM, Vega, Big Country, and Praying Mantis.

Their third and latest opus is Built To Last, out now on Metalopolis records. It’s a continued evolution of the band’s Prog-based AOR sound that builds on themes of survival, hope and overcoming hardships.  It looks to be the result of several years of refined songcraft and displays some nicely polished arrangements, some shredding guitar hooks, dozens of massive choruses, and lots of soaring vocals.

Twelve chunks of modern melodic AOR are hereby included for your delectation. It kicks off with All or Nothing, clearly written as a statement of intent for the rest of the album. It’s one of those big anthemic numbers that used to be called Arena-rock, or “Pomp-rock” back in the day. It’s got lots of energy, it’s quite heavy but still melodious, and features the obligatory huge Toto-esque sing-along chorus. The band describe this song as being a distillation of the whole album in four minutes, and that’s not a bad summary!

You’re Not Alone is next, it’s about coming out of lockdown and all the nervousness we all experienced with that. Very radio-friendly, and a short but shimmering solo from Mr. Little. Oh yes, and another big anthemic chorus, I suspect there’ll be a few of those on here! One More Night is built around a really prog-style syncopated guitar riff, with classic AOR vocals and chorus. Another Heartbreak breaks new ground with the level of multi-layered harmonies used, these slowly introduce a pacey, high-energy number, lots of synth, lots of rhythm and another tasty slice of lead guitar.

Craig Wells – Vocals
Howie Little – Guitar
James Thorley – Keys
Chris Redfearn – Bass
Ryan Briggs – Drums

Tears is slower, a quite balladic opening section, a very mid-Atlantic 80’s tone of guitar, hugely melodic. This is the one to get your cigarette lighter / phone light out to. The more moody nature works really well, it builds powerfully and has more depth to the arrangement. Very John Bon Jovi, it’s good!

Unfamiliar Love has a brief tinkle of the ivories before a very Def Leppard inspired riff kicks in. The chorus could be DL as well, before an unusual three-way set of solos takes place – drums, keys and guitar all cleverly trading places for top dog, and it works!

Just Like That is straight out of an “AOR Soundtrack for the 80’s”, the band wear their influences and hearts on their sleeves for this one. There’s a massively catchy guitar/synth piece of interplay, another arena chorus stacked full of harmonies and a guitar solo obviously designed for air guitarists everywhere!

There follows an interesting trilogy of Prog tracks entitle Chasing Portraits. Part I (Lonely Hearts) talks about the devastation of loss and confrontation of loneliness, climaxing with an interplay between Kansas inspired guitar and the Hammond organ. Part II (Closer to the Picture) is one of the most synth-driven tracks in the song-set, a slower vibe dealing with reflection and recovery. Part III (Painted Memories) concludes the trilogy, adding a sense of epic finale. Its central theme is how, witi the passage of time, we all have slightly unreliable memories of previous relationships, the highs and lows both becoming “tinted” one way or another. Been there….

Bury A Lie brings us well and truly back into Metal mode, possibly the heaviest track ATLAS have ever written. Big riff, even bigger Proggy instrumental section. The album then closes with a proper bang, no quietly slipping away for these guys! Best is Yet to Come is a cracker, a Journey inspired melodic rock anthem with a final go at another huge sing-along ending…

If you wanted to buy a single album that captured that melodic 80’s AOR vibe – this is The One!

Photo by Mark Ellis