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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Atheist: Unquestionable Presence - Live At Wacken


1) Unquestionable Presence; 2) On They Slay; 3) Unholy War; 4) Your Life's Retribution; 5) An Incarnation's Dream; 6) Mother Man; 7) And The Psychic Saw; 8) Piece Of Time.

Thirteen years passed in a flash and finally Atheist are back! Well, sort of. This lineup, assembled for some rejuvenating touring in 2006, includes Kelly Schaefer (vocals and rhythm guitar only, still suffering from the carpal tunnel thing), old time drummer Steve Flynn — the band's major source of pride and joy, bassist Tony Choy, and two more completely new guitarists coming from Gnostic (there should be a clever pun on the importance of going from «Gnostic» to «Atheist», but I don't have the time to come up with one).

To commemorate the glorious fact of the reunion and gain extra time while trying to assemble a new studio album, Schaefer and the kids released this «experience», which is really a 2-CD pack­age: the first CD records a complete live performance at Wacken Open Air in 2006, and the se­cond CD is just a «best-of» compilation, in case the veteran fans already wore out their old al­bums a de­cade ago and the new crowds need a quick introduction to the art of merging the un­mergeable (death metal and avantgarde jazz) in an age when heavy players usually preferred to merge the mergeable (blues metal and mainstream pop).

Anyway, the result is an obvious rip-off: the compilation does not have any outtakes or rarities, and the concert CD is just eight songs that clock in under a measly 35 minutes. Considering that Atheist never released an official live album in their prime, one might think it initially useful. However, it is largely superseded now by the bonus tracks attached to the CD edition of Ele­ments — a set of six songs recorded for a radio broadcast in 1992, in very good quality and, fun­ny enough, featuring a relatively shy and quiet style of introducing the tracks, instead of the pre­dictable stadium-geared roar on Live At Wacken. (Probably the only good argument in favor of live radio broadcasts over «proper» live albums).

The entire setlist is based on the first two albums, completely ignoring Elements, although this may be due to the fact that Steve Flynn, the drummer, did not play on that one and did not want to learn the parts of his replacement, rather than a general «denial» of its existence. But that is not really a problem. What might be a problem is that the new guitarists do not have quite the same set of tones that made the original records so crisp. Here, the guitar sound veers towards extra dis­tortion, coming at the expense of brutal heaviness, and the results kick plenty of ass, but much less of the brain, if you know what I mean. (Actually, this is a rather typical flaw of live metal al­bums — for some reason, either metal guitarists do not bother to reproduce their «perfect» studio tones live or this is just a technical impossibility — but some situations are worse than others, and Live At Wacken falls into the «some» rather than the «others» category).

On the other hand, you do have Steve Flynn, whose technique and energy have not changed one bit in the fifteen years that he had not played with Atheist — and you have all these songs that still carry the same badass attitude, so why complain? If you are already an Atheist fan and can get this stuff cheap enough, go ahead. But if you are not yet convinced, don't let this be your in­troduction. You need those old-time guitar tones if you are determined to develop a taste for this band. Although, on the other hand, getting the whole package also makes sense — most people will probably prefer an Atheist compilation over the entire three albums.

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