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.