By Rob Hughes
We last heard from Atheist on 1993’s Elements, a fairly eccentric record featuring new-agey lyrics, flamenco solos, and samba interludes amidst some King Crimson-esque technical metal. Coming after the raging Unquestionable Presence, it revealed Atheist as a maturing outfit with a lot more musical territory to explore. In reality, the band was finished, and Elements was a contractual obligation album—a really good contractual obligation album, mind you—written and recorded in 40 days. The over-stressed band members went their separate ways immediately afterwards. Elements was perhaps not the best epitaph for the band. It all ended too soon. Where would they have gone next?
Now we have the comeback album, Jupiter, which is another unexpected turn. It makes an interesting contrast to Cynic, contemporaries and kindred spirits (as mainman Kelly Sheafer put it) who had a similarly truncated recording career. Whereas the Cynic comeback album, Traced in Air, was a gleaming and cool sequel to their classic album Focus—exactly what you’d expect to hear from artists well into their 30s—Jupiter is a rampaging repudiation of its more playful predecessor.
You’d best be sitting comfortably when Jupiter kicks off with “Second to Sun.” The pummeling is instantaneous, and it does not let up. Atheist’s style has stayed true to the technical standard they established on Unquestionable Presence, which straddles thrash and death metal, keeping things thrillingly coherent and punishing rather than the over-polished overkill of much modern tech-death. Drummer Steve Flynn really elevates the material with his amazing playing. On “Faux King Christ,” especially, he throws in some surprising beats beneath the main riff that help build tension towards the thrashing release come solo time.
There’s catchiness to be found within the assault as well. “Faux King Christ” and “Third Person” have choruses that stick in your mind, and “Live and Live Again” features some ominous, Voivodian melodies (to connect this album to a crucial branch of the prog-metal family tree). “Fraudulent Cloth” is memorable for rhyming “molested” with “arrested”!
As impressive as the musicianship and songwriting are, Jupiter’s relentlessness might not encourage long-term listening beyond the initial thrill ride. This won’t be a liability for some people, though. Listeners with the inclination to unpack and dissect the album’s rapid-fire twists and turns will find much to ponder in every spidery riff, flailing drum fill, and poppin’ bass line. Jupiter succeeds through sheer intensity and vitality, enhancing Atheist’s legacy as they scream to be heard in the noise-saturated 21st century.
(Season of Mist)