Review Summary: Angry, concise and frenetic as ever, Atheist return with what Elements should have been.
For most, Elements
is the one Atheist album that's never sat right. Kelly Shaefer himself calls it the band's 'red headed step-child'. There's a reason for this: for the first time, the songs weren't as written by Shaefer, Flynn and Patterson. With two key songwriters taken out of the pot, Elements
was bound to taste a little different. Jupiter
isn't quite a full-fledged return to form, but fuck
if it isn't close. It brings Steve Flynn back into the mix, and with Tony Choy out of the picture, Jonathan Thompson does a more than admirable job on the bass (oh, and he plays guitar, too), blending Roger Patterson's attack with Choy's intricacy. Jupiter
isn't just a return to a scene they helped create, but also a revisiting of the band at its most relentless. Blending Piece of Time
's aggressiveness with Unquestionable Presence
's frenetic energy, Jupiter
is an album whose sound sits somewhere in the middle. It doesn't compare to the quality of either but that's forgivable, given that so few albums can.
A real sign of Jupiter
's success is how it manages to sound exactly like an Atheist album should, something that's probably harder than you'd think after such an extended leave of absence. Throwing much of the noodling and extended dynamics found on Elements
to the wayside, Jupiter
is 40 minutes of all but incessant relentlessness. Were it any longer, the all out attack would probably grow tiresome, but with such a short run-time, it's tailor made for a quick run-through. Doing so, you'll probably notice that amidst Flynn's disjointed-but-precise drum work and Shaefer's dry, pissed off delivery there are a few new dynamics this time around. From the spiralling grooves in “Second to Sun” and the tremolo picked down-winding intro of “Fictitious Glide” down to the twisting rhythms of “When the Beast” there are pinches of modernity strewn throughout the band's decidedly old school brand of tech death. You could even make the argument that the opening moments of “Third Person” are unabashedly uplifting and, dare I say eerily reminiscent of power metal; of course, the song quickly transitions into yet another atonal, spiralling circle of technicality and anger.
Really, the album's biggest flaws are its strengths. Though it may be their first album in 17 years, it sounds like one that could have easily come out between Unquestionable Presence
. It's not dated by any means, but it insists on being so familiar that when paired with its modest run-time, Jupiter
does threaten to blur by to the unconscious listener. As far as their trademark technicality goes, Jupiter
doesn't disappoint. Far from being an all out shred-fest of tech-death's dick-measuring contemporaries, the Floridian four-piece still find ways to test their limits, doing so with their unique penchant for throwing structures and syncopation into a blender without having the music sound like total ass. For the first time in the band's four album career, Kelly Shaefer's contributions are almost exclusively vocal and lyrical. While Shaefer did write much of the album's guitar-work, and his influence is immediately noticeable, he only played on one track, sharing soloing duties with Jason Suecof on “Faux King Christ”. Because Jupiter
was written with the idea of Shaefer performing exclusively as a vocalist, his vocals are more noticeable than ever. For those not sold on his unique delivery, this could cause problems. Of course he's still Kelly Shaefer, and his voice, while perhaps a little worse for wear, is just as it always was. If you liked it on Piece of Time
, you'll be fine with it now. More polarizing might be the lyrics themselves. Perhaps the only remnant from Elements
, Shaefer's views on spirituality (and near-obsession with the Sun) and the occasional stabs at organized religions (like the juvenility of “Faux King Christ”), mean his lyrics are far from a sure-thing. Then again, I'm not sure anybody listens to Atheist for the lyrics. Or the vocals, really.
Far from being Tech-Death Magnetic, Jupiter
does play a little clipped at time, something that can perhaps be charged as much on mixer Jason Suecof as it can the band's treble-heavy sound. And Suecof is quickly forgiven; as is his trademark, he steps into the booth to lay down a few guest solos, like the trade-offs he does with Shaefer on “Faux King Christ” and the solo in “Fictitious Glide”.
In the end, Jupiter
hits more marks than it misses, and no matter how you look at it, it's hard to argue with a new Atheist album. Especially one that sounds as natural as Jupiter