Review: Atheist “Piece of Time” [Active Records]

Review: Atheist “Piece of Time” [Active Records]

- in Reviews
Score 72%
Summary
Timely rather than timeless
72 %
User Rating : 4.5 (2 votes)
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Way back during the earliest days of death metal, bands were looking for ways to produce the most extreme brand of music that would foreshadow the darker era that was the 90’s, thus breaking away from the 80’s and from the thrash metal norm. Floridians Atheist release their debut ‘Piece of Time’ in 1990, a year almost symbolically delineating exactly the stylistic borders between the decades. Although the music here still carries a lot of thrash metal elements, it fosters ambitions of moving forward towards a more technical and vicious style with eclectic influences mingling at the heart of it.

Basically put, this combines the aggressive speedy edge of thrash with jazz infused complexity and the sinister spirit of death metal. Just in feel, it’s too ominous sounding to be called thrash, but not quite grim and brutish enough to be full on death metal and it exists somewhere between both worlds. A comparison between them and mid-period Death begs to be made as the two Floridian heavy weights bear many similarities. As a shortcut, it could be said this band here sounds like Death on steroids as they seem to be executing the same sort of music, even down to the exact riffing style and tones, but with a more prolific approach.

The tracks all contain a wealth of different riffs and sections, doing a little bit of everything that was possible on an electric guitar at the time. The most popular form of guitar work here that fans have long praised would be the jazz inspired single-note riffage coupling death metal intensity with clinical precision in pure chromatic madness. They’ll use some of that linear riffing style with a steady pace running up and down scales, often backed by the characteristic octave harmony with the bass playing the same melody; one area that draws immediate comparisons to Death. The tremolo picking brings an anchoring weight and danger back to the tracks whenever the sections pull the focus away from the death metal as they sometimes get busy with complex composition that spontaneously moves to full instrumental mode.

This album is ridden with temperamental solos and leads that won’t keep still and will throw themselves into the mix without notice: wild pentatonic licks and shredding up and down scales, at times soloed with just the bass covering the background, intoxicated whammy and vibrato wailing, screaming bends at the edge of the fretboard…it’s all there. Of course the bass is given a starring role along with the guitars as the album is unashamedly a technicality show first and foremost. It’ll sometimes come out from the back of the mix, where it’s well audible to start with, and opportunistically seize a chance at stealing the show, even for one brief moment.

The vocal style is fairly undefinable by any one genre, and like the very album itself it’s somewhere between the styles of a couple of genres. Again, a parallel can be drawn with Death, as the vocals sound close to Schuldiner’s venomous mid-highs, but they’re neither an attempted growl nor really quite a thrash lead voice. They’re also often much faster in cadence than Schuldiner, making them somewhat unique for death metal.

An interesting facet on here is the fact the songs are all deliberately short in length with most tracks below 4min. With all the youthful exuberance of a band’s debut album, even more so a debut technical extreme metal album, this easily could’ve been a mess in progressive composition that lasted way too long for its own good. And yet, it’s just over half an hour long. There’s a real effort in keeping the tracks concise, although things can get a bit overwhelming during those tracks.

In hindsight there is still however a bit of a sentiment that the music bears a sort of cacophonic aspect to it, and although the band keeps the songs focused, overall the album may feel like a whole lot of notes waving about everywhere (with a few highlights for sure) versus a ripe piece of repeatedly memorable songs. This is certainly an innovative classic for the genre, but it feels a bit too even from start to finish and ironically (this being a supposedly unpredictable technical album) a tad too obvious after a couple of tracks.
They came at the right moment right at the start of the decade in pole position and offered the world some insight as to what death metal could do technically, but the material on here although very solid may’ve mainly served as a learning curve for the next generation to come. Piece of Time: timely rather than timeless.

Release date: May 1st, 1990

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