In a few short years, The Mute Gods – the trio of Nick Beggs, Roger King, and Marco Minneman – has assembled an impressive catalog of songs that showcase not only the collective musicians’ advanced musicianship but also a persistently grim lyrical outlook that could rival the heaviest industrial act. While 2017’s Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth was a darker and more aggressive outing than the 2016 Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me debut, Atheists and Believers marks a shift toward an even more esoteric but no less accusatory or cautionary mindset; holding true to the band’s very name, this third album touches on the dishonest and outright slanderous nature of religion and politics, while also pointing the proverbial finger at a populace all too content to relinquish rational and intelligent thought for false comfort. This is especially so on the epic and symphonic “Twisted World Godless Universe,” with the lyric “You’re designed to screw, it’s all you do” taking on the dual meaning, not only referring to the liars, but also those quick to believe them. Such has been the modus operandi of Begg’s diatribes across the band’s three albums, the thematic venom offset by the lush and progressive arrangements that bely the inherent catchiness of the tunes. For example, the stuttering rhythms of “Iridium Heart” enhanced by chunky guitar, smooth bass, and King’s fluid synth leads evoke a pernicious yet decidedly poppy tone beneath Begg’s throaty vocal, while a spacey hook and some intriguing and rather off-kilter melodic passages reside very much in the realm of progressive/rock, the song ending with the line “Look at what you were taught” as if to accuse the listener of the kind of complacency this album criticizes. Similarly, songs like “Envy the Dead,” “Knucklehead,” the instrumental “Sonic Boom,” and even the opening title track incorporate elements of various forms of electronica, from drum & bass to beatbox and a bit of industrial, to add some tonal color amid the purer rock stylings, with “Envy the Dead” being particularly inspired as the bridge takes on a carnivalesque flippancy with a sinister spoken word that gives rise to a lovely keyboard solo straight out of the ‘70s prog scene. The legendary Alex Lifeson of Rush lends his skills with crystalline layers of acoustic guitar and mandolin on “One Day” as Beggs sings “Life is a chemical reaction,” making for one of the record’s instant high points, while the serene tones of Rob Townsend’s flutes, saxophone, and bass clarinet on quieter moments like “Old Men” and the closing “I Think of You” keep the proceedings from descending too far into the kind of wistful rage that defined much of the previous album. Although not a dramatic departure from the earlier two albums, Atheists and Believers is probably best perceived as the conclusion of a trilogy, an introductory cycle to The Mute Gods’ brand of progressive pop/rock. The lyrical urgency is no less apparent, though this album does well to allow for the musicianship to shine with a brighter, more reflective tone that calls attention to Begg’s sense of irony and ire; still, one can’t listen to The Mute Gods and say they haven’t been warned.