CD Review: ATHEIST - Jupiter
by: James Zalucky
ATHEIST has a history that is both triumphant and frustrating. Triumphant due to their glorious artistic feats and enormous influence. Frustrating due to their all-too-short run as technical death metal visionaries. Aside from various early demos, their catalog consists of three genre-defining classics: the raw, blistering debut, Piece of Time; the brilliant, essential masterpiece, Unquestionable Presence; and of course the mind-blowing jazz-metal of Elements. They only went on a few tours, and lost founding bassist Roger Patterson relatively early in their career. Misunderstood in their own time, ATHEIST has since become a favorite for many fans who never had the chance to see them in their original form. However, in 2006, Kelly Shaefer and Steve Flynn reformed the band for a few shows and soon enough, they began work on a new album.
So here it is: Jupiter.
Chug…Chug…Chug: Second to Sun starts out riding on a fast drum beat, with a slow palm-muted chug every few beats, alternated by dissonant guitar screeches (if you don't know what I mean, listen to 43% Burnt by DILLINGER and you'll catch on real quick). I was a little surprised at first, and from what I saw on a few forums, many listeners where outright alarmed. Now I know what you're thinking- but give it a chance. Besides, if you don't like chugging- then I guess you don't like Enthralled by Essence do you? Of course you do. Anyway, after listening to the song, it seems ATHEIST is still ATHEIST, but with a higher amplitude and a few new elements thrown in. The song contains plenty of ATHEIST trademarks and immediately reveals Shaefer's intentions: to make a very heavy, updated ATHEIST record. The record contains plenty of sudden breaks and time changes, keeping with ATHEIST's progressive foundations. Listening to Steve Flynn's drumming remains a privilege all its own, and Shaefer's slightly- aged voice retains the same unmistakable grit that defined the high-end of the band's sound.
Highlights include the symbol-laden gallop in the middle of Fraudulent Cloth, a song clearly written about the child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church; and then there is the enormously heavy INCANTATION-style riff in Live, and Live Again. The song has a nasty drum break in the middle which is then joined by a snarling vocal burst, all leading into a storm of riffs played by newcomers Chris Baker and Jonathan Thompson. Faux King Christ sounds like a cross between the jazzy tones of Elements with the sheer power of Piece of Time and fits comfortably with their best material (it has a cowbell in it!) My other favorite arrives at the end with the blistering, Third Person. It lunges towards a modernization, but when you listen to it, you know you're listening to ATHEIST and you know it kicks ass.
I'm happy about this new record, but as I listened, there were a few things that bothered me. More than anything- the production. I like a record to sound good, but I'm sure a lot of fans would agree that part of ATHEIST's appeal is the dark, dungeon-like sound of their original records. Much like on the early DEATH records, this instantly gave ATHEIST that raw, lo-fi effect which gives off that perfect death metal atmosphere. The polished sound of Jupiter lacks this atmosphere and almost sounds too contemporary for its own good. In other words: the record plays like an ATHEIST record, but doesn't sound like an ATHEIST record. This leads me to the second point. Usually, I like the guitars to be louder than anything else. In fact, if the guitars are buried in the bottom of the mix, I'll probably hate the record…a lot. But this is ATHEIST– and much of their greatness comes from their powerful rhythm section, particularly the innovative bass work of Roger Patterson and Tony Choy after him. On Jupiter, the bass is still audible and gives the album its robust, full sound (no, its not like Justice, don't worry), but is still buried beneath the mass of guitars. Considering they had to have guitarist Jonathan Thompson record the bass, its not altogether surprising, but it's still disappointing. (There are a few exceptions of course, like the excellent bass parts on Third Person.) Finally, some songs are more memorable than others, making the album slightly uneven. I wouldn't say the album is a chore to get through; at 8 songs, the band wisely avoided that. But it can be easy to get lost in all the spiraling riffs and tempo changes.
However, I'm very confident that Jupiter is just the beginning of a new phase of creativity for the band, and am excited for what they will come up with in the future. I hope they tour extensively and finally give younger audiences a chance to see them perform. I also hope they pick up a solid full-time bassist. (Songs like Unholy War need to be done right!) I'm sure there will be a wide range of opinions about this record, ranging from outright worship to complete dismissal and hatred…with all the Last.fm mudslinging that comes with it. However, even with my own nitpicking, I would recommend Jupiter to any fan of ATHEIST or anyone that simply appreciates good technical death metal.
Favorite Tracks: Second to Sun, Live and Live Again, Faux King Christ, and Third Person.
7 out of 10