originally written by Chris McDonald
The “comeback” of legendary underground metal bands has, perhaps predictably, turned out more disappointing results than commendable ones. Sure, the new Autopsy EP is pretty cool, and the new Gorguts looks to be promising, but by and large, the rejuvenation of death metal’s classic phase has simply reaffirmed that the genre has progressed the way it has for a reason. When news surfaced of an Atheist reunion, my reaction landed somewhere between the vague interest and cursory eye-roll that has pretty much described my reaction to all these reunions.
But Atheist was always something special. With three classic releases that influenced today’s underground metal scene to an untold degree, every intricate, jazz-infused technical death metal band owes something toAtheist’s seminal body of work in the early 90’s. And even after a lengthy hiatus, Jupiter proves that the band’s incredible talents and tireless desire to innovate haven’t died in the last twenty years. While Jupiter has a few rough points and doesn’t quite match the amazing achievements of the first trilogy of albums, it is nevertheless an extremely strong and confident release and one of the few comeback albums that actually lives up to the legacy that made its appearance anticipated to begin with.
The first thing that jumps out at you when spinning Jupiter is how fuckingintense it is. Atheist’s instrumental attack has only increased in terms of razor-sharp precision, and their songs have never sounded grittier and more blistering. The band’s penchant for catchy hooks and distinctive arrangements remains perfectly intact, but the modern sheen to the production coupled with a darker direction to many of the riffs means thatJupiter comes off as an angrier and more discordant animal. The leering Middle Eastern-tinged chorus of lengthy opener “Second To Son” and the frantic, spiraling riffwork of “Fraudulent Cloth” sound like the ideal progression for Atheist in 2010; it’s close enough to the classic albums to feel familiar, but it’s also clear that the band made a discernable effort to not exploit past successes and create an album that stands on its own.
If anything, Jupiter is the band’s most complex and meticulous work to date. The level of instrumental syncopation and layering in the compositions is impressive as hell even when placed in the context of today’s overcrowded tech-death scene, and the increased complexity makes the innumerable hooks that much more effective. Whereas most techy bands begin to sound aimless and hazy after awhile, Atheist’s songs unfold like ornate puzzle boxes, each piece cleverly and deceptively fitting into the next, and it keeps you on your toes as you wonder where exactly the band could possibly go next. There are instances where the band seems to stumble over themselves (“Faux King Christ” takes awhile to get off the ground), but these shaky moments are virtually all overshadowed by the limitless stream of ear-catching riffs and exciting instrumental flourishes. So while there are times when the band does falter with a flat riff or confusing transition, none of the songs really suffer for it. Not bad after seventeen years on the sidelines.
Jupiter isn’t quite a modern classic, but it definitely exceeds the boundaries of “comeback album” status to stand proudly on its own two feet as a fine accomplishment, and that’s more than enough for me. Atheist has wisely borrowed enough from the modern incarnation of the style they helped pioneer to sound relevant, without sacrificing any of the innovation or quality that made them legends to begin with. Most importantly, this is an album I could actually envision placing alongside the band’s first three classics, rather than as some stand-alone oddity like most of the new comeback records that have surfaced; it actually feels like the logical continuation of their earlier sound rather than an attempt to profit off a legendary name. Leave it to Atheist to raise the bar for other resurrected bands and release an album that destroys most of the similar music we’ve heard released this year.