Please note that this review is for the special edition released by Relapse Records in 2005.
Atheist's “Piece of Time” has been one of those albums that initially wasn't a favorite of mine upon the first few listens. I first got the album in May of 2006, when I was still finding out exactly what constituted as “great” thrash and death metal, and I listened to this album a few times and it didn't strike a chord with me. I let it sit around my shelf for about two years and in February of 2008, I decided to listen to this album on my commute to college one day and was floored by what I was missing out on. “Piece of Time” has now become among my absolute favorites in my whole music collection.
Back in 1984, a thrash/death metal band called R.A.V.A.G.E was formed in Sarasota, Florida. For a few years, the band has been playing tight thrash metal with death metal touches, and released three demos under this monicker. In 1988, R.A.V.A.G.E changed to Atheist and mixed up their style by incorporating progressive rock and jazz elements into their thrash/death metal formula. They set out to incorporate the technical wizardry of Rush with the ferocity of Slayer and the diverse musicality of Mercyful Fate. They not only succeeded, but they made something that still sounds fresh and amazing to this day.
Atheist's style can be best described as thrash-based technical death metal with relatively high-pitched raspy growls, strong emphasis on bass, and complex drum work. In addition to these musical elements, Atheist keeps the songs short but to the point, which is a good thing to me since I think all the songs on here are “just right,” since nothing feels underdeveloped, and nothing else overstays its welcome.
The musicianship on this album is nothing short of awesome.
Kelly Shaefer's vocals on this album are superb. As stated earlier, he delivers raspy death growls with a higher pitch to them, which gives them a distinctive flavor all while giving a sense of ferocity to the listener. I think some of his best vocals are in the third song “Room With a View,” especially after the 2:45 mark where he screams out “Room with a....VIEW!!!!” in a really sick tone.
Shaefer's guitar work on this album is really solid, too. Despite doing vocals, he also does the lead guitar, even with Rand Burkey also handling lead guitar. I'm honestly not sure which guitar solos belong to who on this album since the album sleeve doesn't really cover who made what solos in each song. However, I'll say that from what I heard, his riffs and solos sound amazing.
Rand Burkey also handled lead guitar in this album, and like Shaefer, his riffs and solos ooze with creativity and aggression. Much like what Nocturnus would do in their debut album “The Key,” Burkey and Shaefer would dish out guitar solos all over the place in the songs, instead of the “designated solo spot” in each song. I think “I Deny,” “No Truth,” “Beyond,” “Unholy War,” “Piece of Time,” and “Why Bother?” have some of the best guitar work on the whole album, whether they be riffs or solos.
Roger Patterson was one of the best bassists in the entire heavy metal genre, and it makes me sad that a few years after recording this album, he would die in an automobile accident in 1991. I loved the fact that his bass work wasn't relegated as something “in the background” with the rest of the music. Rather, you can hear the bass very clearly in this album, and it sounds amazing. Some of his best bass is in the opening song “Piece of Time,” “Room With a View,” “I Deny,” “Life,” and “No Truth.” Especially in “Room With a View,” it's so amazing to hear Patterson's mini solo right before the 2 minute mark of the song.
Steve Flynn's drumming is nothing short of spectacular. His fills and beats are very technical but also very energetic and memorable. I think some of his best work is in “Beyond,” “I Deny,” “Piece of Time,” and “On the Slay.”
Picking favorite songs on here is extremely difficult, since they're all so great. Though if I had to pick favorites, I'd probably have to pick “Piece of Time,” “Room With a View,” “Beyond,” “I Deny,” “Life,” and “No Truth.” The rapid riff changes and frenetic middle guitar solo in “I Deny” really make it an energetic technical death metal classic. “Room With a View” highlights some of the best bass done on this album, and “No Truth” is an excellent closer with its grandiose keyboard opening followed by a technical thrashing onslaught. I can keep going but I think you all get the picture.
Scott Burns did an excellent job producing this album at Morrisound Studio (a studio that would become synonymous with the death metal genre). There's a “rough” aesthetic to the overall sound, but at the same time, everything comes in crystal clear. The guitars sound heavy and mean, the drums have all the pummeling power they should, and the heavy, frenetic bass adds a whole other dimension of technicality and intensity to the album.
Relapse Records' reissue of this album contains nine bonus tracks on this album. They include the “Beyond” demo, “Hell Hath No Mercy” demo, and “On the Slay” demo. These are neat to listen to since I love hearing a band evolve over its life, especially during their demo years. It's interesting to hear the band when they were a more “traditional” thrash/death metal outfit, since as I said earlier, it shows the band evolve, and that the tracks themselves sound awesome, even if their sound quality is quite rough.
If you're a fan of old-school death metal and are craving music from the “technical” niche when creativity was still flowing in buckets? Then get Atheist's “Piece of Time” ASAP. You won't regret it at all.