ATHEIST: JUPITER (2010)
1) Second To Sun; 2) Fictitious Glide; 3) Fraudulent Cloth; 4) Live And Live Again; 5) Faux King Christ; 6) Tortoise The Titan; 7) When The Beast; 8) Third Person.
Honestly, I am not quite sure that what the world needed most in 2010 was another Atheist album. The relatively small fanbase that these guys had in their prime had almost certainly dissipated, and a seventeen-year break between studio recordings could only mean two things: either this would be a formally nostalgic venture, or they would try to «modernize» the old sound by taking hints from the modern metal scene. Neither of the two perspectives sounds particularly thrilling, especially when you're talking about a «tech death metal» band whose old bag of tricks used a million different ways to always puncture the exact same emotional nerve and no other.
Additionally, even on a formal level this is quite a different band from the old Atheist. The only constant link holding most of the discography (bar Elements) together is drummer Steve Flynn, whose style and enthusiasm have not shifted a bit: fills, rolls, and punches still keep flying in all directions, capable of shifting from thrash to progressive polyrhythms and back in the blink of an eye. Shaefer, on the other hand, is no longer playing even rhythm guitar; his participation is limited to songwriting and «singing», and the «singing» suffers quite a bit from the demands of modern production — it is less echoey and much more upfront now, so it rather feels like a rabid guy is just spitting directly in your face, without a single whiff of «demonic presence» or whatever it is that textbook death metal vocals are supposed to convey.
With two completely new guys handling guitar and bass duties, Jupiter has its Atheist credentials somewhat diluted from the very beginning. Of course, there can be little doubt about the basics: it is going to be a heavy, brutal, loud, professionally played and recorded metal album, although, curiously, quite short at that (running just over half an hour; not that «classic» Atheist albums were much longer, but one could expect a shift here, considering that the record was almost five years in the making — or, at least, in the planning). But take one step beyond the basics, and disappointment might set in pretty soon.
First and foremost, there is no bass on this thing. Well, technically speaking, there is, but, apparently, Jonathan Thompson was so busy laying on additional layers of guitars over the regular guitar guy (Chris Baker) that he all but forgot about his primary duties. For a band whose basslines were always just as important as the regular guitar parts — it was always the rhythm section, after all, that provided most of the jazz links — this is a staggering setback; if this was some sort of deliberate move (to make the album sound «different»?), it was a stupid one.
Second, the guitar sound also suffers from «purified» modern production. Where the guitars once used to be hellishly low and deep (not a unique trait of Atheist, of course, but a solid trademark of ye goode olde metal), now the pitch is higher and the sound waves seem shallower, never enough to drag you down to the depths of Hell with them. And Baker and Thompson represent this rather typical breed of modern guitar players: each note played to utter perfection, all the fast and complex parts performed to the unanimous-jury grade of 10.0, but without any inborn ability to create meaningful atmosphere.
Add to this a complete lack of diversity — not only is the album completely devoid of any stylistic twists (acoustic interludes, keyboard flourishes, etc.), but almost each song follows exactly the same pattern: double-tracked guitars hammering out some complex, unmemorable riff, eventually drifting away into generic thrash territory, then going through one or two time signature changes just to remind us of the band's legacy. In short, more or less the same they were doing in 1989 on Piece Of Time, but with the «benefits» of sanitized production, bass elimination, and an even more annoying vocal presence.
Basically, there is just no need for this album these days, not when the «intellectually-oriented» crowds have all the comforts of heavy math-rock like BATS, and the easier-going metalheads have... uh, I won't even be starting on that list. The not-so-sad truth, the way I see it, is that Atheist had their brief three seconds of glory in the early 1990s, but now it's just too late — for Jupiter to be credible, respectable, or enjoyable in an above-the-ordinary way, we'd have to have a miracle on display, and heavy metal bands are generally slow on miracles once they have already established their thang. Thumbs down — although, if «tech-thrash metal» is the one wavelength that truly sets you spinning, feel free to disagree with that rating, because, in the end, it just reflects my opinion that Jupiter has no soul to it, and how could we ever prove that?
Check "Jupiter" (MP3) on Amazon