ATHEIST — Elements (review)

ATHEIST — Elements album cover Album · 1993 · Technical Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
"Elements" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, Florida based technical/progressive metal act Atheist. The album was released through Music for Nations in Europe and through Metal Blade Records in the US in August 1993. It´s the successor to "Unquestionable Presence" from 1991 and features some lineup changes since the predecessor as original drummer Steve Flynn has been replaced by session drummer Josh Greenbaum. Lead vocalist/guitarist Kelly Shaefer had problems with carpal tunnel syndrome (and could therefore only perform rhythm guitars) and as guitarist Rand Burkey had quit, new guitarist Frank Emmi was brought in. Burkey ended up changing his mind though and returned to the fold for the recording of "Elements". "Elements" was therefore recorded with three guitarists in the lineup.

The many lineup changes, the death of bassist Roger Patterson in early 1991 (who was an integral part of the songwriting process on the first two albums), and financial issues actually meant that Atheist had planned to disband after touring in support of "Unquestionable Presence (1991)" but they were bound by their record contract to deliver one more album. Not exactly the most fruitful conditions under which to write and record material for a full-length release but the band soldiered on and delivered "Elements" and even ended up touring in support of the album.

So does "Elements" sound like a rushed swansong album? The answer to that is a resounding no. Nothing could be further from the truth, and "Elements" is another bold and adventurous technical/progressive extreme metal release by Atheist. The jazz/fusion influences have increased and Atheist have also opted to include latin/samba rhythms to their already unique extreme metal sound (most prominently on the fully fledged instrumental latin/fusion track "Samba Briza"). The music still features death- and thrash metal riffs and rhythms, but those are just elements in the soundscape, and it´s almost impossible to correctly label the sonic experience of "Elements". It´s slightly more atmospheric and varied than the material on "Unquestionable Presence (1991)" and less frantic and technically less complex too. The last statement should of course not be read as if this isn´t very technically well played and complex music, but just that the music is a bit slower, a little more vers/chorus oriented, and not as relentlessly fast-paced and energetic as the case was on the predecessor.

Atheist are a very well playing act, and handles everything from multible tempo- and time signature changes, to breaks, to different rhythm styles, and seamlessly combine all stylistic elements into a sound that despite not sounding much like the first two releases, still sound unmistakably like Atheist. Shaefer still has a pretty raw high pitched vocal style, which is probably a bit of an aquired taste, but his performance is strong and unique, suiting the instrumental part of the music perfectly.

Another aquired taste is probably the sound production, which is also a bit different sounding. The band chose producer Mark Pinske (who worked as engineer for Frank Zappa in the 80s) to co-produce the album with them and the result is raw and organic, and sometimes the volumes in the mix on some of the instruments and especially the vocals, mean that the sound is a bit distorted, which is quite odd to hear on a professional sound production. Pinske also produced "Stillborn (1993)" by Malevolent Creation and "Promises Impure (1993)" by Demented Ted, and both of those albums feature a similiar sound production to the production on "Elements". In other words the odd sounding production job isn´t a mistake. The album is intentionally produced this way, which will probably not be to the tastes of all listeners, but on the other hand it´s arguably an unique sound production which go hand and hand with the uniqueness of the music.

"Elements" features 12 tracks and a full playing of 41:40 minutes, and all tracks are well written and intriguing. The above mentioned "Samba Briza", "Displacement", "Fractal Point", and "See You Again" are all shorter interlude tracks, while the remaining tracks are full-on Atheist style technical/progressive metal. I can mention "Green", "Mineral", and the title track as some of the highlights, but there´s not a weak track in sight on "Elements", which just reeks class and high quality in the songwriting department. If the story is true that the album was written, recorded, and mixed in just forty days, it´s a massive achievement by all involved. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.
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