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Atheist - Elements CD (album) cover

ELEMENTS

Atheist

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.24 | 205 ratings

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Negoba
Prog Reviewer
4 stars This is Progressive Death Metal

In my ongoing quest in search of all things labeled jazz metal, it was inevitable that I would find Atheist. Commonly mentioned alongside Cynic as founders of the style, I find the two to have a very distinct sound. Cynic sits alone in my mind, while Atheist sounds like a cross between Death and Psychotic Waltz. And in this case, the combo is greater than the sum of its parts. I frankly like ELEMENTS better than anything by the two aforementioned, still magnificent bands. The simplest reason I like Atheist better is that Kelly Shaefer's harsh vocals are much better than Chuck Shuldiner's IMO, and in fact work better within the context of the music better than Buddy Lackey's in PW. (I must mention that Devon Graves is clearly a more talented vocalist, but context is everything in music, and Shaefer's just fit.)

Atheist themselves are quick to point out that their fusion is not with jazz per se, but with Latin music. "Samba Briza" is the closest track to a straight Latin jazz on the album, but the band's metal heart still is just below the surface. Former Cynic bassist Tony Choy is just a monster on this album, with a huge sound that gives Atheist a richer sound than alot of death and thrash bands. One thing the band does share with Cynic is a kind of organic looseness that warms up the sound. (Unlike Death's precision, especially with Gene Hoglan). By the time of this album, the band has become very comfortable with the switches from clean swing and metal crush. While some of the transitions are dramatic, they don't seemed forced or unnatural.

As a guitarist, I really like the approach to lead playing on this album. Despite some quick solos, the guitar playing is almost exclusively song-oriented. The lines never feel like they were created over the top of the rhythm parts, but rather that the entire songs evolved together. As with the vocals, there is a cohesion to the band that really makes the record sound energetic and musical. Ironically, the band was falling apart at the seams while this record was recorded. Sometimes that chaos ruins a record, but on occasional moments of convergence, the nervous energy actually makes the work better. ELEMENTS is one of those cases. Songs like "Water" and "Air" are my favorites, and I can't identify one weak song on the album.

The bonus live tracks demonstrate just how far the band has come. While extremely well played, the older material leans much more on straight thrash metal, and don't hold my interest nearly as well as the actual studio material.

As I'm not really a death metal guy in general, and this album doesn't truly create anything of its own, I can't give it masterpiece status. But within its style, it is very very good. Invisible Oranges to all.

Negoba | 4/5 |

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