Atheist’s third album, ELEMENTS, wasn’t supposed to be a reality according to guitarist/vocalist Kelly Shaefer. The long story was that Atheist fell apart after touring for UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE and Kelly was already working on his next band Neurotica when he got the call from the label who were expecting the next album that Atheist were under contract for. So to fulfill the contract Kelly did as much as he could to get the Atheist line-up back together, getting everyone but drummer Steve Flynn from the Unquestionable Presence line-up, while adding another guitar player in Frank Emmi. Forty days was all the band had to write, record, mix and master this final album and Kelly himself has said he’s extremely proud of how this line-up performed under the pressure.
From ELEMENTS to UNQUESITONABLE PRESENCE there is an expected progression considering the leap that occurred from the first and second album. ELEMENTS takes the non-metal influences that were present on the sophomore effort and puts them a little more to the forefront , the band experiments much more and ditches a lot of the thrash influences, as well as much of the old school death metal feel. The playing is generally pretty melodic, even the heaviest riffs here don’t compare to what was going on during prior albums. As well the bass and rhythm guitars seem to diverge much more before, both instruments seem to have separate identities this time around. While before the bass work was amazing and accented what was going in, here it seems to take a much more prominent role as far as pushing the song and making them whole. The only thing really rooting ELEMENTS in a death metal context is the vocals as the riffs are more fitting for trad metal, in some areas I think this album hints at what Chuck Schuldiner would do with the last Death album as well as Control Denied.
Unfortunately, not being a metalhead at the time, I hadn’t even turned 10 yet, give me a break), I can’t give a real account as to how most people reacted but I have a feeling things were probably not altogether positive as this album really did take Atheist into a completely different style. For myself, I sit on the fence with this one. While some songs are absolutely top quality Atheist tracks like, “Green”, “Air”, “Animal”, “Mineral”, and “Fire” you have some goofy instrumental stuff like “Samba Briza” which I don’t think even remotely fits together with the rest of the album (though it is good on its own, I profess a dislike for most non-metal music and because of that I have a distaste for something like this sitting as the third track). As well, a lot of the other songs on the album are alright, but aren’t completely up to snuff and I think that the lack of time the band had to put into the album shows, especially in a track like “Earth”, which, to me, feels too much like a jumble of ideas at times, good ideas, but it feels a little too thrown together. As well, the little interlude pieces seem as if they are merely there to add time to the recording, maybe with some more time the ideas might have been fleshed out a bit more, but who knows and this is the statement the band chose to make, regardless of how convoluted I may find it to be.
Bonus wise this reissue sees a 6 song live radio broadcast from 1992 tacked onto the end. It’s an interesting listen for sure, if only to hear how the old line-up was able to play material from the first two albums. It’s amazing how well the band sounded at the time and such a shame things ended up falling apart.
ELEMENTS may not be the perfect Atheist release but it’s worth a few listens, maybe even owning depending on your idea of what a great release is. I own it myself, mainly for posterity’s sake, rather than looking at this album as an ultimate classic of the genre.
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3. Samba Briza
9. Fractal Point
11. See You Again
13. Unquestionable Presence
14. On They Slay
15. Enthralled In Essence
16. Formative Years
17. Mother Man