Atheist are a semi-legendary band, but most of their reputation is built on the `Unquestionable Presence’ album. As good as that album is, there’s more to their discography, and none of it deserves the short shrift. `Piece of Time’ is their debut album, and easily the weakest of the 3 Atheist releases, but it’s a very solid release, which nicely sets up things to come, even if it really doesn’t completely hint at how out there they would become.
Atheist are, of course, famous for being progressive death and jazz-metal pioneers. Unlike their later albums, `Piece of Time’ is, at it’s heart, pretty much just a death metal album. Sure, it’s got progressive and jazz tendencies, but it doesn’t really transcend the genre the way that their later work tended to. This isn’t an insult, nor a compliment, just an observation. And, though it’s pretty straightforward for Atheist, it’s still pretty damn innovative for Death Metal, particularly considering that this album 1988, when DM was still far from completely developed.
There are no truly weak tracks on `Piece of Time’, though, as is often the case with DM, some of the tracks just really fail to stand out all that much. It opens with the title tracks, which nicely displays the Atheist sound, with jagged, jazzy licks along side of straight ahead trem riffs over top of Flynn’s frenetic drumming and the complex, innovative basswork of Roger Patterson. (The bass is nowhere near as prominent here as it would become in Atheist’s later work, but again, it’s much more significant than it would typically be on a metal album.) `Room with a View’ is probably the best track, with a bit more melody coming through in the riffs than on most of the tracks here, and nice, memorable vox. `On They Slay’ is one of their older, more primitive tracks, but it’s got a nice driving death-thrash vibe and plenty of powerful riffs. `I Deny’ is perhaps the most dynamic track here, shifting tone and tempo frequently and seamlessly. Very good. (Finally, though the song itself isn’t one of the best ones here, `Why Bother’ contains great appeal to me due to it’s strident anti-voting message.)
The bonus tracks are just a bunch of crappy demos. I’ve never been interested in this sorta thing before, and this albums doesn’t change this. Anyway, this is definitely a solid buy. It’s an important piece of death metal history, and a fine opening for a great band.