ATHEIST — Unquestionable Presence

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4.27 | 61 ratings | 9 reviews
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Album · 1991

Tracklist

1. Mother Man (4:34)
2. Unquestionable Presence (4:06)
3. Your Life's Retribution (3:17)
4. Enthralled in Essence (3:37)
5. An Incarnation's Dream (4:52)
6. The Formative Years (3:30)
7. Brains (3:41)
8. And the Psychic Saw (4:44)

Total Time: 32:25

Line-up/Musicians

- Kelly Shaefer / vocals, guitars
- Rand Burkey / guitars
- Tony Choy / bass
- Steve Flynn / drums

About this release

Release date: August 30th, 1991
Label: Active Records

Recorded and mixed in 1991 at Morrisound in Tampa, Florida.
Mastered at Fullersound in Miami, Florida.

Rereleased in 2005 by Relapse Records.

Thanks to CCVP, Time Signature, UMUR, siLLy puPPy, Unitron, diamondblack for the updates

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ATHEIST UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE reviews

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UMUR
"Unquestionable Presence" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Florida based technical/progressive metal act Atheist. The album was released through Active Records in August 1991. It´s the successor to "Piece of Time" from 1989 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as bassist Roger Patterson sadly died in a car crash in February 1991 while on tour with the band. Patterson was not "only" the bassist in Atheist, but an integral part of the songwriting team in the band and most of the material on "Unquestionable Presence" was co-written by Patterson before his untimely death. He was replaced by former Cynic bassist Tony Choy, who recorded all bass parts on "Unquestionable Presence".

"Piece of Time (1989)" was a technical death/thrash metal release and definitely ahead of its time, but "Unquestionable Presence" makes "Piece of Time (1989)" sound like a pretty "normal" release, as Atheist experiment heavily here with jazz/fusion drumming and notes/chords, unconventional song structures, and loads of tempo- and time signature changes...all delivered with great technical skill at a predominantly frantic pace. "Unquestionable Presence" blasts the senses of the listener from the opening notes of "Mother Man" to the closing notes of "And the Psychic Saw". There´s not a second wasted and even the few mellow moments on the album are spend building up to another climax of technical wizardry.

There´s great flow in the music and despite of the focus on technical playing, there are still many catchy moments and even hooks and melodic sections on the album (and example of that is the opening to "And the Psychic Saw"). Not in the form of easy to sing along to choruses or melodic vocal lines, but in the form of killer riff sections, blistering yet memorable guitar solos, recognisable drum patterns, and catchy vocal phrases. Kelly Shaefer has a raw high pitched and almost hysterical vocal style, which is very unique and probably very much an aquired taste, but no one can argue the fact that his vocal approach is original and passionate too.

"Unquestionable Presence" is a demanding release, and it´s loaded with clever compositional details most listeners probably won´t discover unless they give the album many spins. So while it´s an instantly enjoyable listen because of the raw energetic power load unleashed upon your ears when you put it on, it´s also a rewarding listen in the long run. It´s the kind of release where you always hear new details with every spin. While the 8 tracks on the 32:25 minutes long album at first may appear almost linear in structure, most tracks on the album do feature some sort of vers/chorus formula...or at least returning elements, which means that there are recognisable hooks to hold on too in the midst of the busy ever changing technical riffs and rhythms.

While "Unquestionable Presence" was recorded and mixed at Morrisound in Tampa, Florida, and definitely features some of the similar type ultra heavy sound, which came out of that studio in those years, the album features a more detailed/defined sound production than many other contemporary Morrisound productions. It´s a very well sounding release with a perfect balance between heaviness and details in the mix. All instruments and vocals are heard very clear in the mix and every playing detail is audible.

Upon conclusion "Unquestionable Presence" is a high quality release in every way possible. The musicianship is strong/virtuosic, the sound production powerful and well sounding, and the songwriting intriguing and unique. Add to that some pretty interesting lyrics which span all the way from social/enviromental issues ("Mother Man" is a prime example of the latter) to the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and you have the whole package. Atheist are clearly influenced by other mid- late eighties fusion oriented metal acts like Watchtower and Voivod, but adding an extreme metal element to that sound was something new at the time (Death, Cynic, and Pestilence would soon follow with other fusion influenced extreme metal releases, but Atheist were the first true pioneers). It was a bold move and could possibly have sunk their career, had it not been well executed and promoted, but this is a shining example of not being able to deny quality. I can´t think of many other releases deserving a 5 star (100%) rating more than this one.
voila_la_scorie
Yes, I'm a bit of a music history buff, particularly when it comes to early heavy metal. Recently, though, I have become fascinated by the development of the heavy metal subgenres in the 1980's, many of which reached full fruition by the late eighties and early nineties. Death metal, or at least the American take on death metal, strikes me as originally being the Floridian interpretation of Californian thrash metal. Most American death metal recordings I've recently acquired either originated in Florida or the bands were from other eastern parts of the country but moved to Florida.

Athiest were one of the Florida scene bands to emerge in the eighties. Though formed in 1984 under a different name, they became Athiest as death metal was coming into its own in the late 80's and released their debut before the decade was spent. Their sophomore effort, however, is held in particular high regard for its bold steps toward technical death metal. While some bands I have heard remind me of Slayer/Possessed/Kreator, Athiest's sound on this album mostly suggest a more traditional thrash metal root, with early Metallica and Exodus frequently coming to mind. The guitar sound and riffs, as well as the lead solos, are closer to the early thrash sound to my ears; songs like "Your Life's Retribution" and "Enthralled in Essence" suggesting the guitarists honed their chops on "Kill 'em All" and "Ride the Lightning". The vocals too are more aggressive, thrash-like shouting than death metal's gravelly growls.

Thrash metal connotations aside, the more interesting aspect of this album is the giant leap toward technical death metal. Athiest' second album is said to have pushed the technical envelope further and it is very obvious that the band were out to succinctly combine aggressive speed with technical agility. In a way, I find this album to be a perfect bridge between thrash and technical death metal, at once being reminded of Sacrifice's "Soldiers of Misfortune" and Metallica on the thrash side and Cynic and later Death on the death side.

One key element to Athiest's sound was the bass playing prowess of bassist Roger Patterson, who brought incredible technical skill and composition-writing ability. Tragically, he suffered the fate of too many band members when his tour van crashed on the way back to Florida from California in the wee hours, yet another case of the driver pushing himself too far and dozing off at the wheel. The liner notes to the CD's re-release say that had the band been higher profile, Patterson's death would have been as shocking to the metal community as Cliff Burton's.

For the music on this album, Patterson had already come up with all the bass parts, and being the highly skilled player he was, it was not easy to find someone who could play his parts. The band called in Tony Choy of Cynic, perhaps not a surprise as Cynic were another band eagerly pursuing the technical death metal gauntlet. The results are stupendous as the bass playing stands out amidst the intense guitar and drum work. I feel, though, that the bass and guitar levels are rendered a bit louder over the vocals and drums, at least on the re-issue with bonus tracks.

And how about this re-issue? It includes several pre-production versions of songs, which sound as good as the album tracks on my ear buds, and some demos and instrumental versions. Though not essential for appreciating this album, the additional tracks are one of the better bonus collections I have heard.

It seems most consider this a highly important album in the annals of death metal history and I won't be one to disagree. It's an impressive piece of work!
siLLy puPPy
And then in 1991 one of the landmark tech death metal albums in history was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public. ATHEIST was already a veritable metal act even with their demos and released a gem of a slightly tech death album with “Piece Of Time” with extremely high achievements in both the speed and songwriting department. One of the stars of the show was undoubtedly Roger Patterson whose virtuosic bass playing skills shot the band into a realm above and beyond what anyone else was producing at the time. It was a huge loss when Patterson was killed in a car accident in the midst of recording the second album UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE. Any lesser band may have called it a day with such a stress factor suddenly rearing its ugly head but ATHEIST had the tenacity of a post-nuclear holocaust cockroach and stuck to their guns and recruited Cuban bassist Tony Choy to replace the seemingly irreplaceable.

While ATHEIST was already in the midst of upping the technical aspects of their highly aggressive death metal, it was, in a way, fortuitous to land Choy as a bassist, for he found a home with his slap and pop and two-handed tapping playing techniques that allowed him to fully exploit what all those frets are capable of. Because of Choy’s involvement not only did they get a more than capable bassist to fill Patterson’s shoes, but they got a whole other culture of influences including the Latin rhythms to battle it out with the jazz-tinged time signatures. Because many of the tracks were written with Patterson, this album has the distinct attribute of having one bassist active in the creative birth pangs of the album while another picks it up and adds his different interpretations. The result is one of the most demanding and outstanding tech death metal albums to ever come out.

While the complexity of this album is undeniable, so is the accessibility. The seamlessness of it is the brilliance. It has enough to hook you in instantly but more than enough to continue to lure you deeper and deeper into its seductive grasps. Kelly Shaefer really grows as a vocalist and the dual guitar assaults that he and Randy Burkey pummel the senses leave the progressive headbanger in a steady state of bliss. Each track is diverse and takes the listener on a roller coaster ride of tech death aggressive fury that only ratchets up the luxuriation on subsequent spins. This is one of those growers. It didn’t blow me away on first listen by any means but certain has since. The perfect marriage of progressive jazz-fusion and the most extreme metal can be found on UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE, one of my all time favorite albums of any musical genre.
Warthur
Unquestionable Presence is not an album which will yield its secrets on a single listen - but one listen will be enough to convince anyone that it's a groundbreaking moment in death metal, taking the technicality of the genre to the next level by including far more jazz-inspired time signatures and motifs to the music than the preceding Piece of Time (which was hardly simple and straightforward itself). At points, the music resembles the work of the Minutemen, whose work in fusing avant-jazz in hardcore punk was another great example of shoving some jazz in a genre which didn't seem built for it and coming up with brilliant results.
Conor Fynes
'Unquestionable Presence' - Athiest (8/10)

All opinions aside, there is no question or doubt that Athiest, and their second album 'Unquestionable Presence' are legend within death metal. At the dawn of the 1990s, the genre was still in its infancy, and was still considered to be largely untested grounds in a global metal scene that was slowly giving weigh to a less controversial and accessible sound. Instead of going the route that existing metal giants like Metallica and Kreator would go with watering down their thrashy sound, Florida metallers Athiest dabbled in a fusion of genres that had rarely -if ever- touched upon; merging the death metal sound with jazz. Having now virtually been done to death over the two decades since this album's release, 'Unquestionable Presence' may sound familiar by today's standards, but even disregarding its massive historical context and innovation, the album is a powerhouse of talent and energy, leaving ample room for its interpretation as being a masterpiece, despite some imbalances in the songwriting throughout its relatively short length.

The music here is rooted in the love of the riff, and Kelly Schaefer's unique thrash/death vocal style. Under the howl of the higher-register guitar riffs are also some very impressive bass riffs played by Tony Choy; certainly a highlight of the sound here. However, each musician seems to take a comparable footing in the sound here. The guitars generally lead the course of the song through fast-paced, constantly changing and developing riffs and leads, with the rhythm section adding a huge element to the sound. Unfortunately, while the musicianship here is top notch, the production of the album feels rather weak, leaving some parts of the mix a bit muddy and many guitar tones sounding tinny, especially for the more melodic playing. The drums here do feel as they could have used more of a showcase, as it is clear that Steve Flynn is a remarkable jazz-influenced drummer.

Of course, there are also the vocals themselves, presented here by Athiest's founding frontman Kelly Schaefer. While my first experience with the music of Athiest really did not lend well to my appreciation of his thrashy, very distinct style of growling, it does grow with time. His far less guttural approach that most death metal singers gives Athiest a very thrash metal vibe, which I have noticed strongly in much other Florida death acts. While Schaefer's vocals may be the most distinct aspect of the mix however, they can be inconsistent in how effective they are throughout different parts of the album; at times having brilliant rhythmic flow, and at others feeling quite underwhelming.

The songwriting here is especially unique for the death metal at the time, still a very young genre in itself. Athiest's defining trait is its jazz sensibilities, which certainly doesn't show through much of the metal-heavy guitar work of Rand Burkey or Schaefer, but instead through Steve Flynn's jazzy fills and Choy's latin-tinged slap bass solos. The music here is complex and rapidfiring for most of the album, although some songs certainly leave more of an impression than others. Being quite a short album (which some could say is a weakness when purchasing), the music never gets old, but the first three songs (the classic 'Mother Man' through 'Your Life's Retribution') do feel as if they keep up the optimum flow and power to them. From there, the album feels a bit less cohesive and memorable in its riffs, although by no means ever getting uninteresting. For all its worth, the technicality and intensity stays very high throughout.

There is no denying what 'Unquestionable Presence' and the dudes from Athiest have done here for death metal and fusion music, despite the flaws and imperfections that weaken the overall impression. As it stands, Athiest's second album is a very strong album- easily a landmark- and much worth a listen for a dose of energetic, complex metal.
Phonebook Eater
I can't believe how much it took for me to really appreciate this album. For me this must have been one of the most hard listenings ever. "Unquestionable Presence" is the second album of Tech Death Metal masters Atheist,from Florida, and it is with this record that the band goes down in metal history.

After "Piece of Time", the band's ambitions for the next album were much higher. To the usual death metal elements, Atheist put in their music jazzier moods and harmonies as well as Latin music based rhythms; "Unquestionable Presence" seemed to reach the pinnacle of death metal, and it never had so many influences before. In fact, UP was released in 1991, a few years after the official birth of the genre. What strikes the most about this album is the almost total lack of melody in all eight songs; all of these, despite being short tracks, have an impressive amount of time changes,which can make the listener completely confused even if he gets for distracted for one second.Despite it being pretty ambitious, it still maintains a typically death metal sound; violent and at times thrashy guitars, the growl vocals (even though singer Kelly Shaefer uses exclusively high pitched growls, comparable to Death singer Chuck Schuldiner), the fast tempos, the pounding bass and drums.

Then again, these elements are brought up to a whole new level thanks to the excellent musicianship from all members:the already mentioned singer Kelly Shaefer is very original in playing his part, Randy Burkey fills everything Kelly does, Tony Choy proves with all the bass solos through the album that he is one of the best bassists of the genre, and Steve Flynn has some amazing fills and rhythms that totally win my respect. The production of the album is quite impressive, compared to the kind of lo-fi sounding productions in the metal scene, especially thrash metal, that was around in that period.

"Mother Man" is the opening track, quite possibly the band's most famous song and their most beloved. A death metal classic; but we have also other songs that are perfectly able to e compared to the opener, like the title track, with it's mysterious intro and amazing riff, or "Enthralled In Essence" with it's odd time tempos and constant changes, "An Incarnation's Dream", containing the best intro for a song in the entire album, "The Formative Years" with it's wild drums, and the final "And The Physic Saw", another classic of the band.

Despite being only 32 minutes, "Unquestionable Presence" is an absolutely radical landmark album of Death Metal. If you want to start listening to tech death metal (I find it hard to believe that you're already into it but you haven't heard this album at least once), this is one of the starting points, no doubt in that.
The Angry Scotsman
Another wonderful experience brought to us by Atheist. This album is a more progressive and jazzy then "Piece of Time" but it is still firmly rooted in death metal. While this album is very technical in its riffs, (and drumming) has time signatures all over the place, a very stop and go feel, slower tempo sections and jazz fusion guitar solos, "Unquestionable Presence" is still very metal.

The problem with most death metal bands are the vocals, but I actually like Kelly's! They are atypical for most metal. I love the way he sounds and think his vocals go along with the music well. However, the production quality on this album is not the best. While, this gives it a kind of gritty feel, it makes hearing him, and the music, difficult. Besides singing he also lays down some nice rhythm guitar.

Rand Burkey plays some great guitar on this album. The riffs are really indescribable, you have to hear them for yourself. He plays some wicked solo's but they are mainly along the lines of typical metal solo's. Tony Choy puts on quite a performance on bass, (though most of the bass music was written by now deceased Roger Patterson). The drumming is technical and jazzy. It is very fill heavy and just sounds like madness. However, as fans of prog and jazz we know better. It is not random, but actually organized chaos!

Mother Man: This song has a short little guitar intro and bass breakdown before going into the technical riff, and jazzy metal drumming. Kelly has some intense vocals on this song, be warned. From 1:30 to 2:30 is a progression of technical metal riffs, melodic jazzy solos, and shred solos. The main song then picks up, although even this is unique. The riffs change constantly and solos randomly fill the music, a long with musical interludes with bird chirping.

Unquestionable Presence: One of the best intros on the album. While the "sound" of the album is here I think this may be the most straightforward metal song.

Your Lifes Retribution: A small stop and go, back and forth guitar intro then quick bass breakdown start the song before plunging into the fast riff. I LOVE the quick riff at :49, as well as the one at 1:36. The middle of the song is filled with solos, and the ending is intense. Some good bass on this song as well.

Enthralled in Essence: Has a slow, heavy beginning, followed by a quick solo. This is a medium paced song overall. Riffs have a great feel through the song.

An Incarnations Dream: The first minute is slow and melodic, with clean guitar work and solos. Really nice sound, then the intensity hits you like a wall, (well you have 1 second to brace yourself). A slower, heavy song for the first half, the last minute is quite technical and intense.

The Formative years: One of the slower songs on the album, its quite heavy and crushing most of the way through. There are some thrash parts. You can hear some of the best drumming on this song, and Choy plays some nice bass.

Brains: One of the standouts. Sweet intro right out of the gate, followed by some death metal riffs. At 2:00 the best part of the song starts. There is some really technical drumming over the last half.

And the Psychic Saw: My favorite song of the album. An intense thrash intro followed by an amazing guitar riff, soon being played by both. It continues as the bass and drums are added before going into a small, small solo and then the main song. Very thrashy but with several tempo and style changes throughout.

Overall, one hell of an album. A must for any metal fan/heavy prog metal fans. While a great album it can be a bit predictable. Even though each song is different and pretty wild, there is a more or less similar pattern followed. Quality is a bit poor. These are only minor problems though. Excellent album.

Four Stars
Time Signature
Brains...

Genre: progressive death/thrash metal, or "jazz metal" if you wish

If you are a newcomer to thrash or death metal, then "Unquestionable Presence" is not an easy listen. If you're a newcomer to jazz fusion on top of that, then "Unquestionable Presence" is a difficult listen. If you do not appreciate those genres, then "Unquestionable Presence" will either make you scratch your head wondering what's going on or it will make you judge it as weird and non-music.

Yes, "Unquestionable Presence" can be a challenging listen, and that's exactly what makes it such a great record. There's food for thought here. There are plenty of twists and turns; one moment it sounds like jazz with distorted guitars and the next moment you have a thrash metal riff ripping your ears apart. "unquestionable Presence" is a truly unique album, and it cannot really be described through verbal communication - it has to be experienced.

The blend of meavy metal and the jazzy drive on this album which sometimes makes it sound like an evil "20th Century Schizoid Man".

I think that fans of prog rock and prog metal, and even jazz fusion, might like this album, and I also think that those who enjoy present-day progressive/technical death metal might like it, since it was one of the releases that started that entire genre.
Sleepwalker
Atheist is an unique band, blending elements of jazz and death metal into one. Their second album, Unquestionable Presence, if often seen as their masterpiece. I’m not sure where those thoughts come from though, as I don’t hear much more than a good album in it.

Don’t get me wrong here. Unquestionable Presence is a very innovative and interesting album, featuring some great pieces of music. The album opener, “Mother Man”, for example is one of those tracks. A lovely rythm section underneath a layer of crunchy guitars and Kelly Shaefer’s aggresive vocal style. Another great song is the aggresive “Enthralled In Essence”, being a very heavy and complicated piece of music. Also very notable is “An Incarnation’s Dream”. The song opens with a wonderful gentle intro, before exploding into a heavy beast. I find these the best tracks on the album, and though there are no really bad tracks on the album I think the other’s are much less interesting.

So though the album has no music on it that I dislike, I feel that the album has too few moments that are more than just good. Therefore I rate the album three stars, though I think that the combination of melodic jazz and crushing metal could have been a far more successful one.

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