Seasons Of Mist
08 November 2010
by Tom Dare
Once one of the all-time greats of technical death metal – a pioneer for adding jazzy progression to the style – Atheist returned to the studio following an absence of over a decade and a half to record a new album, Jupiter. But after so many years, and so much evolution in extreme metal in the intervening years, the risk looms large that they may have been left behind.
With every fucker under the sun reuniting at the moment, Atheist seemed like one of the more problematic bands to reform. While some such returns after a long absence have worked spectacularly – most tellingly in this case, the superb return of Cynic – others have fallen a touch flat. In the case of a band like this, light-years ahead of their time as they were, the difficulty is to remain modern, and with something original still to offer.
The problem for Atheist is that being jazzy and progressive within death metal has been done since. Bands like Opeth have significantly expanded on what is considered possible and acceptable using prog and death metal as starting points, while death metal as a whole has vastly increased in intricacy and technicality in the wake of the like of Decapitated. The only real option to remain distinct is to be even more manically tangential, to make the riffs even more impenetrable and the song structures make even less sense- and the result is Jupiter.
Utterly crazy extreme metal has plenty of esoteric insanity in the modern age- in 1993, Atheist were out on the furthest salient of ludicrous unpredictability, but when Cephalic Carnage are touring album number six the pioneering Floridians no longer possess the definitive quality they once had. We have heard this kind of stuff before. That some of the more overtly death metal riffs sound stereotypically modern does not help- this is a band that’s supposed to be ahead of the curve, so hearing the occasional snatch that could be mistaken for Job For A Cowboy or another of the current generation of emerging death metal is not what was hoped for.
Atheist playing the classic ‘Piece Of Time’ at Wacken 2006:
Ultimately though, none of this matters too much if the music is spectacular. Unfortunately, the endeavour to sound unique by being batshit (that hasn’t worked) results in a slightly unfocused effort that lacks enough of the requisite brutality, dependent a little too much on drum fills to provide moments of sustained interest. No doubt there will be plenty of chin-stroking appreciation of the intricacy and complexity – which is undoubtedly present – but the experience is rather trying, and rarely sufficiently violent or unsettling enough to provoke the physical or emotional responses obviously aimed for. Further, there simply are not enough memorable moments. It sounds like they are trying to do something, rather than just doing it.
Jupiter inevitably is not in the Olympian, genre-changing league of the likes of Unquestionable Presence. It’s not genuinely bad, but its interest is mainly to shake your head at how chaotic it is, rather than as a genuinely enjoyable record. Sometimes, bands are best consigned to history and sometimes an attempt at “avant-garde” can simply come out as French for bullshit.
Sounds like: the mind of a man with mania
Top tracks: Fraudulent Cloth, Faux King Christ
Atheist – Jupiter tracklisting:
Second To Sun
Live And Live Again
Faux King Christ
Tortoise The Titan
When The Beast