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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Atheist: Jupiter


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" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Jupiter" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. "Honestly, I am not quite sure that what the world needed most in 2010 was another Atheist album."
    Honestly, I am very sure that what the world needs most on Saturday August 11th is another GS review - what about piece in Syria?
    Still I greatly enjoyed reading it - like I did yesterday and hopefully will tomorrow. I just wanted to point out that this kind of first sentence easily can backfire.

    Now you address one important point specialisation. Since at least 20 years - but the process, gradual as it is, has begun much earlier - hardrock/metal bands close themselves in in a very, very small niche. They have one (sometimes a few) nice idea - I'll give them that - and exploit it album after album. If they do "develop", it's by removing a characteristic element, not by adding something new. The result is an absolute lack of diversity.
    Another fine example, beginning with an A, is Avenged Sevenfold, a band my son liked a few years ago. I must ask him if he still does.
    In principle I like that stuff. But song after song the same pace, the same sound, the same emotional reaction stirred up is very tiresome. And their albums last 50 minutes or so.
    Compared to this the albums of Deep Purple Mark II are miracles of diversification.

    1. Touché, but amend that line to "Honestly, I am not quite sure that what the world needed most to pay for in 2010 was another Atheist album" and I'm in the clear again.

    2. I have no interest in listening to Atheist, but I have so speak up for DP II, MNb. The reason that Purple and other bands of their ilk could keep fans and listeners interested within a limited formula was the talent was more consistent. Purple's secret? Five words: The Late Great Jon Lord. Gillan in his prime was inimitable, if a bit of a screamer, and Blackmore was a skilled showman, but the soul of Purple was anchored in the classically evil, monolithic keyboards of Lord. You knew Deep Purple the minute you heard that overdriven organ, and even if every song was similar, the spirit of the music pulled into its awesome depths.

    3. No need to speak up for DP II as far as I'm conerned.
      Ian Gillan in his prime is my favourite vocalist.
      Ritchie Blackmore is my favourite guitarist - and I [i]vehemently[/i] disagree that he was just a skilled showman. Visit John McFerrin's site for my opinion on this.
      Jon Lord is my favourite keyboardist as long as he stays away from synths.
      Ian Paice in his prime has become my favourite drummer the last few years.

      I bought Made in Japan 35 years ago and only got more impressed the more I listened to it.
      My remark referred to GS' old reviews; I am pretty sure he got it.
      What's more, I am willing to argue that DP II composed quite diverse music. But I'm going to save that for another day.


    I don't really have any opinion on this album. I just wanted to say that if I'm not mistaken, the next 90's artist you'll be reviewing is Autechre, so I expect to spend my Saturdays with my finger over the F5 button for the next few weeks. Don't disappoint me, George.