Atheist Piece of Time / Unquestionable Presence / Elements

Along with Obituary, Death, and Deicide, Tampa’s Atheist were among the FWOFDM (First Wave of Florida Death Metal) bands in the late ’80s and grew to be one of the most adept technical-metal bands in the world. After three influential releases and the untimely death of bassist Roger Patterson, Atheist broke up for good, and nothing of note had been heard from them since. Capitalising on the popular appeal of classic metal, Relapse has re-issued all three albums with copious bonus tracks, exhaustive liner notes, and a trove of unseen-before photos and art. Plagued by rotten record/distro deals in Florida’s then-emerging metal scene, Atheist’s debut disc, Piece of Time, was released in North America two full years after it was recorded in 1988. Though it’s primitive compared to their later material, the carnal death of "Piece of Time” and "Unholy War” still slay mercilessly with the shredding riffs of guitarist Rand Burkey and inhuman time shifts from drum dynamo Steve Flynn. "I Deny” sounds like early Megadeth mixed with Xecutioner (pre-Obituary), and Patterson’s jazz/fusion bass pickings bubble up from "No Truth.” Three demos (nine bonus tracks) are included here, with the most interesting being 1986’s Slayer-worshipping On They Slay as R.A.V.A.G.E. (before they changed their name to Atheist). After Patterson died Cliff Burton-style in a van accident, Atheist decided to continue as a band and considered Watchtower’s Doug Keyser for the bass slot, instead tapping Cynic’s Tony Choy, a close friend of Patterson’s and an exceptional player in his own right. Finding its only competition from Death’s magnum opus Human, Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence was one of 1991’s metal benchmarks, easily surpassing contemporary releases from Sadus, Pestilence, and Voivod. The thrashy "Retribution,” "Enthralled In Essence,” and the crushing "The Formative Years” are chased expertly by the prog-heavy "Mother Man,” the sample-laden title track, and the shimmering "An Incarnation’s Dream.” The exemplary bonus tracks are pre-production demos with Patterson, which show his Zappa-esque jazz talent. Recorded under contract obligation, 1993’s Elements was, like Carcass’s Swan Song, leagues away from their death-ridden origins. Openers "Green” and "Water” sport funky breaks and Spanish guitar interludes, only to give way to the totally tame and mesmerising "Samba Briza,” a bit of Santana-like Latin groove. "Air” parallels the progressivism of Odium-era Morgoth, while "Displacement” recalls the guitar harmonics of Rush’s "The Trees.” "Mineral” and "Earth” boast chops-a-plenty from Choy and shows the growling evolution of front-man Kelly Shaefer. A live radio broadcast from ’92 is the bonus here, spotlighting tunes from the first two albums. In the end, Atheist helped to pioneer the subgenre that gave birth to Aghora, Spiral Architect, Gordian Knot, Canvas Solaris, and the like. Thanks to Relapse, the band’s archetypal releases have been saved from out-of-print obscurity (Relapse)