The Metal Examiner: Atheist’s Jupiter

Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.

Atheist - JupiterAtheist: Jupiter (11/8/2010, Season of Mist)

[audio:|titles=Atheist – Tortoise the Titan]

Atheist’s first two albums are landmarks of technical death metal. These recordings represented a visionary take on metal composition conceived by injecting jazz-fusion riffing into the more structurally integrated style of death metal. Though under-appreciated during their time, these albums — Piece of Time and Unquestionable Presence — have since become part of the extreme-metal canon.

After splitting in the wake of its under-cooked Elements album in 1993, Atheist reunited a few years back in order to make a few festival appearances and reissue its classic catalog. Jupiter represents the first new music that the band has recorded in 17 years.

The album features the riffing techniques that would be expected on an Atheist record: fast, melodic lines entangle in a mass of rhythms. Emphasis patterns are unpredictable and often fall in odd-numbered groupings of seven and five, adding to the jazzy feel. The “notes per second” count is high, but recognizable patterns emerge, and a second guitar often establishes a harmony with the main melodic line.

At times, however, Jupiter is a bit disjointed. It avoids the self-serving style that dooms many technical death-metal releases, but it never quite achieves the cohesiveness necessary for great music.  There are too many double-tracked, gritty, talking vocals, coming in at seemingly random times.

But the playing is phenomenal, particularly the guitar/drums interplay, and Jupiter expresses a more punishing side of the band.  Calling the album brutal would be a stretch, but it has a bludgeoning, percussive element that was not present on earlier material. Under close examination, individual riffs are quite fulfilling, and the melodic vocabulary is as unique as ever. However, songs do not deliver on a macro scale. Any sense of urgency and excitement disappears in an indecipherable sea of riffs.

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