Wednesday, 21 March 2012

ATHEIST - Piece Of Time (1989)

01  Piece of Time
02  Unholy War
03  Room With a View
04  On They Slay
05  Beyond
06  I Deny
07  Why Bother?
08  Life
09  No Truth

Atheist are a death metal band from Florida, that was founded in 1984, whose music combines heavy riffs with subtle Latin music arrangements and technical jazz fusion. They recorded their debut album, Piece of Time, in 1988, which was released by Active Records in Europe in 1989, but not in the United States until 1990. Atheist are one of those rare metal bands full of insanely talented individuals with interesting influences (vocalist Kelly Shaefer apparently cites Rush and King Crimson amongst his influences) that form a musical machine that writes songs that people can't even hope to imitate. This is progressive music, not in the traditional sense the elements of technicality and unorthodox songwriting that atheist incorporate into their music are easily apparent, make no mistake this is a progressive death metal band.

The band keeps up a very high level of energy here, with all of the songs having layers of riffs and leads stacked on top of one another. The songwriting is complex and memorable, with mostly fast tempo changes, but sometimes - as on the ominous "I Deny" - things slow down to a sinister groove. The drumming is just insane, and the bass work is admirable, always challenging and twisted to the extreme. Every song is visceral, demanding and involved, and this album might take several plays to get into. I guess if I really had to pick standouts on here, they'd be the title track, "Room with a View" and "I Deny," simply for the fact that they are the most complex and insane of all of the songs, but that isn't saying a lot because there are no weak points on here at all, every song stands out.

The production is decent, the record has had that squeeky clean Morrisound Studio treatment. Scott Burns was still learning his trade at this point, but it's nowhere near what he would acheive with his later projects (Sepultura, Suffocation, Malevolent Creation). Also there are slight similarities to the sound that Chuck Schuldiner would later develop in the mid-90s with Death. The experimentation and use of higher keys are all here.

If Piece of Time is most important for one thing, its the potential it showed for the death/thrash metal crossroads to explore new heights of frenzy, new spastic reaches of velocity. Surely we had a number of technical thrash bands like Coroner, Watchtower and Deathrow delivering masterful mergers of memorable songwriting and stunning proficiency, but Atheist set out to prove that these standards could be taken to the next extreme, the unfolding frontier that was death metal. It also largely eschews the horror/gore lyrics of other Florida death acts for a more serious examination of social and temporal constructs. This really is a must hear, especially if you pick up the re-issue which contains numerous demos and bonus tracks such as the excellent (albeit muddy sounding) "Brain Damage", where the instrumentation is simply insane. So, for anyone after the cream of the crop when it comes to the oldest of old-school death, look no further than Atheist's 1989 debut...

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