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Be thankful that you witnessed it at all - 85%

Deathdoom1992, April 12th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2015, CD + DVD, Season of Mist (Limited edition, Digipak, Reissue, Remastered)

Fresh off the back of the absolute headfuck (in the best possible way) Piece of Time, Atheist continued to confound listeners with their inimitable brand of jazz fusion-influenced progressive death metal. except on this sophomore release, everything is dialed up a notch from the debut, from the playing to the spastic structuring of the songs to the songs themselves. They become labyrinthine structures which at times seem as though several short songs and interludes have been sewn together. Take for example album opener "Mother Man"; an intro that left me genuinely confused on first listen, building to a verse riff before several variations on this riff, which then switches into a brief solo and accelerates, before a bridge and samba-inflected transition leads us to the song's close. It's a lot to stomach.

Which is why on first listen, this album can seem jarring. Too much going on in not a lot of time seems to be a general criticism of technical death metal and progressive music in general, but on further listens, this record reveals itself to be different than your standard progressive fare. Whilst song structures are far from conventional, they are accessible enough to allow the listener to connect with the songs (as cliche as that sounds it is true). This is perhaps where Atheist's true talent lies: being able to write insanely complex music which does not lose the casual listener.

With that said, my initial reaction to this album was bemusement. I listened and struggled to take it all in, but on repeat listens, and letting the album sink in, its genius begins to materialize. The song that really drew me in is the brilliant title track, which is more or less the perfect progressive death metal song: extreme and highly technical, but not overlong and never once resorting to instrumental wankery to prove the band's virtuosity. Particularly enjoyable is the juxtaposition of the eerie, quiet intro and the explosion after the "Get away!/Don't touch my precious ship" lines. "Your Life's Retribution" also leans closer to the debut soundwise, with more heaviness and less technicality than the other tracks; it's another favourite of mine.

Additional praise needs to be given for the lyrics and the musicianship, in particular Tony Choy and Steve Flynn. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Shaefer's lyrics are engaging, intelligent and a welcome departure from the gore lyrics prevalent in much of death metal from the '90s (Chuck Schuldiner & Death excepted). This is one of the few albums where I've genuinely wanted to read through the lyrics to each song: a testament to Shaefer's ability as a lyricist. Highlights are "Mother Man", an attack on how man is destroying the environment, particularly brilliant for conveying this topic without being preachy or boring, and "Unquestionable Presence", with intriguing, mysterious lyrics about aliens visiting Earth.

And as for the musicianship, it's nothing short of brilliant. Shaefer and Burkey's guitars complement each other throughout, but of more note, the interplay between Steve Flynn on drums and Tony Choy on bass is fantastic. This album undoubtedly features one of the greatest performances by a rhythm section in metal, by two of the most talented players of their respective instruments in metal.

Overall, though, I just don't like it as much as Piece of Time. I just prefer the technical deathrash bludgeonry of the debut, rather than the outright progressivism of this. And besides, I'm not much of a fan of "Enthralled in Essence" or parts of "An Incarnation's Dream", which is where this album drops most of its points for me. Lastly, as an aside, I've always thought the cover art is cool. So there's that.