ATHEIST — Unquestionable Presence (review)

ATHEIST — Unquestionable Presence album cover Album · 1991 · Technical Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
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.
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