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Atheist - Unquestionable Presence
Review: When jazz broke with blues to allow free-form modality in the context of a harmonic solo, the seeds were sown for a fusion of jazz and classical theory in free jazz, or atonal but structuralist jazz. This same theoretical movement influenced the rise of Slayer-style chromatic melodies, becoming more articulated in the mastwork of Morbid Angel and explained from a jazz purist's view in Atheist.
Using a heavy basis of fusion jazz, Atheist twist high-speed progressive death metal riffs into a series of motifs which as a whole express a melody structurally as a series of themes centrally referent by degree of consonance of modal compatibility with an overall melody. The consequence of this exploratory and ambitious method is a wealth of potential notes and harmonies within which to play, allowing the alacritous expression of a fluid lead guitar style awake to fifty years of blues, jazz, rock and metal yet still alive on its own. Such is a fusion of metal theory sensu Black Sabbath-Judas Priest-Morbid Angel and jazz theory sensu Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane or Thelonius Monk.
Similar to free jazz stylings, here there is a diversity of tonal approach and style including microtonal impressionism as only one of the many innovations in this album including percussion, bass and rhythm guitar interpretations of metal never heard in any form before. What is impressive is beyond even the end result of the art, but how much if understood it expresses about anger and peace as fused opposites in a desire for living: on its lowest levels, organized by instrumentalism vividly aware of itself among its components; on its mediate levels, command performances in vocal, guitar, bass, drums; on its penultimate level, an understanding of the art of a master; on its highest level, a spiritual connection to existential desire for living that is the soul of art's gift.
Lyrically, this album manages impressive feats of logic that while conversational are not dogmatic, sung in a middle- to higher-end growl that manages much of the same range and tonality as a 1992-era Burzum vocal without as much incomprehensibility (after a listen or two, most lyrics can be understood). Further exploration than technical is truly an artistic realm, as one can be satisfied alone with some of the most impressive progressive playing in metal's history, but what places this album within the pantheon for this reviewer is its free-spirited will to be a metal band that used its vision to expand the whole of the art.