Atheist - Jupiter
Season Of Mist
Death Metal
8 songs (40:43)
Release year: 2010
Atheist, Season Of Mist
Reviewed by Charles
Major event
I wonder what happened to albums like Atheist’s Elements? Not that I was paying attention at the time, but that record seems to encapsulate a mindset that death metal could do anything. It could beat jazz fusion at its own game and it could chew up and spit out Latin American music. They don’t make them like that anymore. Apart from Cynic, and they don’t play death metal anyway.

But then, perhaps I’m a hopeless romantic and there’s a reason. Maybe Elements was an overstretch. It isn’t a wholly successful experiment; the sound often seems unfocused and cluttered, and Samba Briza is painful. And I guess that it never heralded a great new period of creativity. In fact, the years following it are when death metal started to run out of steam, according to most timelines. Since then, creative death metal musicians have turned more to the Atheist records that preceded it for inspiration. Instead of spiralling off into curious jazz experimentation creating a new prog scene circa the mid-1970s, bands like Origin, Necrophagist, all those tech bands at death metal’s supposed cutting edge, have been taking the lacerating twists and turns of albums like Unquestionable Presence and pushing its edges harder and harder, becoming more and more technical, and harsher and harsher. Or if you want to be cynical, flogging that horse deader and deader.

This is the world which Atheist themselves, at long last, wade decisively into. Jupiter seems like a shot at beating those guys at their own game. And when they are at their best, the sound here is inspiring and energising. The first song, Second to Sun, opens with a short but screeching instrumental passage; the sound of a decayed building collapsing in a heap as you stand in the middle of the ground floor. Stabbing rhythm section blasts, clattering drum fills, and anguished lead guitar wails collide and spin off each other in masterfully controlled chaos. It’s disorientating, and it is crammed into twenty one seconds that fill you with euphoria about what is to come. The song itself is a classic Atheist construction; zig-zagging riffs and jolting transitions, and exuberant basslines that bring a yapping funk dog along to enthusiastically dry hump the leg of heavy metal. The guitar solos are wonderfully self-indulgent. The vocals are a thin nasal snarl, unable to form the centrepiece of the song, but then I guess they have never had to with this band. The tune carves out twisting grooves that give it a quirky but definite headbanging feel rather like Mother Man. As is perhaps inevitable with their labyrinthine songs, there are wrong turns to be found- the chorus here is a little weak, slowing the tempo down and centralising Schaefer’s vocals, in what feels like the boring part of a rollercoaster.

Hopefully that should indicate that Jupiter doesn’t attempt to match the tightly-packed speed-widdling of, say, Origin. It isn’t a relentlessly intense charge set on battering you into submission (although there are times when it doesn’t sound too far off, particularly when the lead guitar is given space to drag the band into hair-raising accelerations). Instead, this is really about off-beat ideas and flashes of beautiful mania, about curious riffs and flashes of ingenuity. As such it’s about the moments more than it is about the whole. A minute from the end of Fictitious Glide, for example, Atheist turn on a sixpence from a riotous thrash solo into a fearsome few seconds of furious funk arpeggios. It’s like listening to Dream Theater strapped in an electric chair. Faux King Christ features sudden flowerings of tica-taca Latin percussion. And of course some of these striking moments are notable for the wrong reasons, like the incongruous diversion into near-a capella harsh vocals, completely indecipherable, midway through Live, and Live Again.

Maybe because the beauty of this lies in these little asides, about three tracks in you realise that you know, in terms of the general flow, what is going to happen for the rest of the album. And here we come back to the point of the first two paragraphs. Jupiter is a gleaming slab of focused technical death metal, albeit with a welcome focus on riffs over blasting. If anything, it’s the latter point that keeps you aware that this is a band whose roots go back to the early days. Once you get over the surprise that they can produce music this fresh and energetic after such a break, there aren’t really any more shocks other than the neat twists it throws deviously at you. No samba sections. For better or worse.

The biggest compliment you can pay Jupiter is that, since listening to it, there are points where moments of Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence sound slightly old-fashioned in a way they never seemed to before. That’s how well they seize the modern form of the genre they pioneered. I think once the initial power wears off we are left with something that isn’t quite as experimental in spirit as those albums, let alone Elements. But then I’d put this on over that album any day, so how much does that really matter?

Killing Songs :
Fictitious Glide, Faux King Christ
Charles quoted 85 / 100
Goat quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Atheist that we have reviewed:
Atheist - Unquestionable Presence reviewed by Kyle and quoted CLASSIC
Atheist - Piece of Time reviewed by Aaron and quoted 77 / 100
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