Unquestionable Presence reviews
Deathdoom1992 on April 12th, 2018
Be thankful that you witnessed it at all
Fresh off the back of the absolute headfuck (in the best possible way) Piece of Time, Atheist continued to confound listeners with their inimitable brand of jazz fusion-influenced progressive death metal. except on this sophomore release, everything is dialed up a notch from the debut, from the playing to the spastic structuring of the songs to the songs themselves. They become labyrinthine structures which at times seem as though several short songs and interludes have been sewn together. Take for example album opener "Mother Man"; an intro that left me genuinely confused on first listen, building to a verse riff before several variations on this riff, which then switches into a brief solo and accelerates, before a bridge and samba-inflected transition leads us to the song's close. It's a lot to stomach.
Which is why on first listen, this album can seem jarring. Too much going on in not a lot of time seems to be a general criticism of technical death metal and progressive music in general, but on further listens, this record reveals itself to be different than your standard progressive fare. Whilst song structures are far from conventional, they are accessible enough to allow the listener to connect with the songs (as cliche as that sounds it is true). This is perhaps where Atheist's true talent lies: being able to write insanely complex music which does not lose the casual listener.
With that said, my initial reaction to this album was bemusement. I listened and struggled to take it all in, but on repeat listens, and letting the album sink in, its genius begins to materialize. The song that really drew me in is the brilliant title track, which is more or less the perfect progressive death metal song: extreme and highly technical, but not overlong and never once resorting to instrumental wankery to prove the band's virtuosity. Particularly enjoyable is the juxtaposition of the eerie, quiet intro and the explosion after the "Get away!/Don't touch my precious ship" lines. "Your Life's Retribution" also leans closer to the debut soundwise, with more heaviness and less technicality than the other tracks; it's another favourite of mine.
Additional praise needs to be given for the lyrics and the musicianship, in particular Tony Choy and Steve Flynn. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Shaefer's lyrics are engaging, intelligent and a welcome departure from the gore lyrics prevalent in much of death metal from the '90s (Chuck Schuldiner & Death excepted). This is one of the few albums where I've genuinely wanted to read through the lyrics to each song: a testament to Shaefer's ability as a lyricist. Highlights are "Mother Man", an attack on how man is destroying the environment, particularly brilliant for conveying this topic without being preachy or boring, and "Unquestionable Presence", with intriguing, mysterious lyrics about aliens visiting Earth.
And as for the musicianship, it's nothing short of brilliant. Shaefer and Burkey's guitars complement each other throughout, but of more note, the interplay between Steve Flynn on drums and Tony Choy on bass is fantastic. This album undoubtedly features one of the greatest performances by a rhythm section in metal, by two of the most talented players of their respective instruments in metal.
Overall, though, I just don't like it as much as Piece of Time. I just prefer the technical deathrash bludgeonry of the debut, rather than the outright progressivism of this. And besides, I'm not much of a fan of "Enthralled in Essence" or parts of "An Incarnation's Dream", which is where this album drops most of its points for me. Lastly, as an aside, I've always thought the cover art is cool. So there's that.
Panzerschreckrieg on July 1st, 2014
Atheist is a death metal band from Sarastota, Florida. The founding members are Kelly Schaefer and Steve Flynn. Kelly Schaefer is the frontman guitar player and vocalist. Steve Flynn is their drummer. Atheist is hailed as one of the earliest technical/progressive death metal acts. They’re also one of the earliest death bands to incorporate jazz influences in their music.
The album kicks off with a dissonant bass melody. Melodies like this are common on the album. Oftentimes the bass player and drummer will go at it together, creating some very interesting interludes. The first track, “Mother Man” is a must listen for this. The drummer varies his playing often with syncopation, and doesn’t always play exactly on beat. He is very much on time, but changes it up so much to keep things interesting. This is way harder than it sounds, and you’ll find he’s actually doing way more than what is superficially evident. The band changes time signatures often to keep you guessing, but don’t do it too much that it is out of place. The music flows from one passage to the next ever so gracefully. You can really hear their jazz influence in a lot of the bass/drummer duos on the album. The album may take some getting used to though, as it’s not exactly what you’d expect from a death metal band.
Schaefer and Berkley help to add to the jazz influence with their melodies. The harmonies employed are very much influenced by jazz, yet it maintains the heaviness necessary for death metal. They often use octave notes in their riffs, played at very fast speeds. Listen to the title track for a good example of this. You know how sometimes when you listen to a really technical musician, and you just think that it would be so incredibly difficult to play? That’s what this band does. They play a very fast, trashy form of death metal but manage to change time signatures so much it’s amazing. The track, “The Formative Years” is a good example. The melodies are complex, but not too much that they go unnoticed or unheard. At the same time the passages are so well orchestrated I don’t think they could have been done better. Schaefer has a knack for crafting countermelodies. The guitar riffs aren’t just fast, either. He employs a lot of slow and mid paced riffs that have just as much of an effect on the listener. He knows exactly how to switch it up to keep you interested. This is a very admirable trait of a death metal guitar player.
Another thing this band manages to do well is craft an out of this world atmosphere. Some of the sections make me think of being on the moon listening to alien music. Schaefer’s vocals carry the atmosphere very much, are often intelligible. He employs the early shouted style of death metal vocals, and they are very powerful. Another thing that completes the atmosphere is the bass. Roger Patterson wrote the bass lines for the music but died before he could record them. Tony Choy does a great job playing the bass. His bass is audible, and is one of the biggest atmospheric qualities of the album. He doesn’t just play the octave of whatever the guitar is playing either. He plays so many different notes and often sounds frantic with dissonance, especially when paired with the drummer.
All in all, Atheist is able to blow you away with their technicality and complex songwriting. They’re also able to throw in many catchy melodies that you keep coming back for more. This is very much thrash influenced, but less so than their debut. They play such a unique strain of death metal and are really unmatched I’d say. They sound so…out of this world, which brings me to the next topic. The lyrical themes are very compelling. The lyrics deal with things like the soul, body, and mind. Schaefer often writes about what they go through during death or morbid times. The title track features lyrics that apparently are about aliens. It definitely adds to the, “outer space” feel of the album.
This album is definitely a classic in the technical death metal subgenre. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in death metal, especially if you’re interested in its evolution and history. Atheist was really the first to incorporate so much technicality and progressivism with jazz influence. There are even slight Latin influences here and there. Unquestionable Presence will keep you headbanging with some very heavy riffs, but also listening intently through the complex, beautiful, technical interludes.
WheelsOfTheLaw on February 27th, 2013
Their Presence is Unquestionable
I love Unquestionable Presence. Everything about it is so...right. The cover, the music, the production, the lyrics, the colour of the logo - everything. Atheist, who had released one album before UP, had just lost their bassist Roger Patterson to a road accident and had continued the band on his previous decision that if he were to die, Atheist would go on. Piece of Time may have been technical, but it's a repetitive AC/DC song when compared to Unquestionable Presence. The albums' jazzy leanings only help further this argument.
The album opens with one of my favourite tracks, Mother Man. From the scrambling jazzy bass lines to the chilly guitars, the song is a perfect opener. The lyrics are a philosophical look at how we are destroying our environment. From this the album only gets better. The title track starts off with a slightly creepy intro and then a catchy riff that descends into a more death metal riff. The amount of riffs they pack into a song is astounding! Another great track is An Incarnation's Dream, with its memorable structure and excellent intro. My favourite riff, however, is definitely during the solo of Brains, where the the rest of the band play the "Don't let 'em see, don't let 'em hear" riff before launching into one of the most skull-crushing death metal riffs I have heard.And The Psychic Saw is another great track that has a thrashy riff and some jazzy sections.
The musicians on this album are at the top of their game. Rand Burkey and Kelly Shaefer pull great riffage and stunning solos while the latter also provides howling, snarling vocals. Tony Choy, the only bassist the band knew who could play as well as Roger Patterson, pulls off some bass lines that I could never play in a million years. Steve Flynn is a seriously underrated drummer, as his work is phenomenal. He plays some insane jazz drum patterns of double bass drums and open hi-hat.
UP's production is great. The guitars have a saw-like quality to them, the bass is audible, but jumps to the top of the mix when it needs to, and the drums are clear and have a round, full sound to them (although the snare is a bit quiet). My only complaint is that the vocals could be a little bit clearer as they are a little murky.
All in all, a classic tech-death album which should be heard by any fans of tech/prog death or tech/prog thrash. Its only flaw is its length as the album is shorter than it should be. However, Unquestionable Presence is one of those albums you can play over and over again without it getting old.
"Well, I don't think you understand...Mother Earth has fallen to Mother Man."
psychosisholocausto on February 24th, 2013
Jazz-influenced death metal that destroys all
Atheist's Unquestionable Presence is often heralded as being among the best its genre has ever produced. This was one of the first death metal albums ever to combine some Latin rhythms with jazz-like guitar work and harmonies and time signatures that are constantly changing. Upon release it was by far one of the most technical releases in existence with some crazily intricate guitar work and drumming that is absolutely all over the place. There are endless variations of guitar riffs and the songs are constantly changing left right and center and it all helped create one of the finest and most baffling and influential album of its days that would eventually go on to influence bands such as Opeth and possibly even Death.
Prior to the recording of the final versions of the songs on here bassist Roger Patterson who had written the bass lines for this album was killed in an accident involving a touring van not unlike Metallica's Cliff Burton. Tony Choy was brought in as a replacement and he manages to put in a solid performance playing some highly technical bass riffs that are perfectly audible all the way through. Indeed, the first instrument that you hear upon listening to the album is the frantic bass work clunking away all over the place among a jazzy instrumental section. The guitar work is the stand-out among the instruments on this album. For saying that this album clocks in at just over half an hour there are so many memorable and incredible guitar riffs to be found. This album doesn't go all stereotypical and rely on just using tremolo picked riffs but instead has a huge variety of slow, mid-paced and very fast riffs that are constantly worming their way around the strange time signatures. The drumming carries a solid rhythm and is so much more technical than most drummers out there with a lot of nice fills to hear and some odd sounding beats that would not feel at home anywhere except on this album. The guitar solos are worth mentioning for the fact that they have a lot more melody to them than a lot of death metal albums and aren't pure shred fests as is proven with the soloing on opening song Mother Man.
This album does take some getting used to however with the heavy use of jazz influences throughout and the fact that it is not at all what one expects from a death metal album. Frequently the album will switch up and start playing some really slow and calm sections such as the bass driven part towards the end of Mother Man whilst the second solo begins. This sort of dynamic change knocks you off guard and makes you want to listen all over again. For a good idea as to how this album sounds I recommend Enthralled In Essence which opens up with one of the most crushing riffs on the album and shows off perfectly how the band manages to sound so obscure and yet still ridiculously heavy. It is ludicrous to think how a band could write something quite this different from everything else out there and is enough to make somebody go insane thinking about it. As with many albums the title track is the standout here. Opening with a very calm and mellow section, Unquestionable Presence then builds up before it really hits home at around forty seconds in. From here on out it is progressive death as had never been seen before with some of the oddest changes in pace I have ever heard in an album.
Unquestionable Presence is the middle ground between their debut which was much more in line with pure death metal and the album that would follow which was far jazzier. Whilst some may argue that their debut was a little better I am of the opinion this is the finest album I have heard from Atheist. It has some bizarre time signature changes and soloing to be proud of with some of the most diverse guitar work out there. Buy this shit and love this shit.
Andromeda_Unchained on December 6th, 2011
Whilst thrash was peaking around the late 80's and early 90's everyone was getting their panties in a twist over all things death metal, and in 1990 along with Nocturnus' The Key Atheist and their sophomore effort helped shape up the technical branch of the death metal family tree.
Where as Nocturnus provided us with a blast of furious Sci-Fi infused death metal, shooting guitar solos out left, right, and center, Atheist presented us with a more natural, jazz infused release. Now whilst Unquestionable Presence is undoubtedly a heavy affair, I think that this album offered something a little more concise, without having to rely on the fancy keyboards and flamboyant lead guitar work of their counterparts Nocturnus.
Now Nocturnus isn't the best band to play Atheist off with, and I'll be leaving it there as far as comparing the two bands go. Merely a ploy to establish what Atheist offered as opposed to their other "technical death metal" partners in crime. Even acts such as Death, Cynic, and Pestilence who are usually uttered amongst the same section of Atheist couldn't draw many similarities, especially considering this was 1990. Death were still quite savage, although setting the pieces in the motion for Human, Cynic were bang in the midst of their demo stage, and Pestilence were still relatively pugilistic.
History lesson aside, as far as the time went Unquestionable Presence was quite a unique piece of music when it was first released, and arguably instigated the whole technical death metal thing. Although I hate that term, and especially when comparing this to the more modern ADHD technical death bands. In fact, I'm sick of typing that. Progressive death... Now that, feels a lot nicer.
Now veering back on track, as I said earlier Unquestionable Presence boasts a solid injection of jazz influence, the band utilized a bunch of odd time signatures, and even some almost Latin use of rhythm. The premature death of bassist Roger Patterson was a travesty, and it really is a shame he wasn't around to record the final versions of the bass lines he wrote. However, Tony Choy recorded the bass parts very well, and I'm sure Roger would have approved.
Rand and Kelly really push the boundaries as far as the guitar work goes, and it is no surprise Kelly came to have tendonitis and carpal tunnel. Steve's drumming is absolutely impeccable here, his performance is incredible almost putting to shame the work he laid down on Piece of Time, he really keeps everything together and everything from fills to cymbal work, to even the tasteful use of the double pedal is just great. Kelly's vocals much similar to the way they were on the debut, which is great, and the sleaze still hadn't cut through yet.
The whole track listing is an exercise in technically brilliant progressive death metal, and I really don't need to mention much in the way of standouts here. Atheist were really on the money, and I wonder how different things would have been had Roger not passed on. Regardless, nothing changes the fact that Unquestionable Presence is a great release, and worthy of the praise it receives.
ConorFynes on July 5th, 2011
Atheist - Unquestionable Presence
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.
autothrall on April 8th, 2011
And deeper and deeper we fall
What is it about bass players and touring bus accidents? In the 80s, we had Cliff Burton whisked away from us before he had arguably reached his prime. Shortly after the dawn of the following decade, it was Roger Patterson of Atheist, whose technical grandeur and potential was admittedly limitless. It's tragic, really. Patterson got so far as to be involved in the writing and pre-production records of the band's second full-length Unquestionable Presence, but the talented merc Tony Choy (Pestilence, Cynic) was brought in to waltz about the final product. It was a sensible choice, Choy was certainly up to the task, and in a strange twist of bitter irony, Atheist had created what I must say is their best album to date, though most of them are comparable in overall quality.
Here, the band had dialed up its jazz and groove elements to bolder extremes than the debut Piece of Time, and also come up with some far more catchy guitar lines in general. You still get the feeling that you're being jerked around through the A.D.D. compositional technique that the band is known for employing. Very often some superb riffing melodies will emerge and then vanish all too quickly, tantamount to the listener's frustration. Like Piece of Time, it seems as if the band are forcing such collisions, tripping over themselves to impress the audience by how quickly they can cycle through material. A tactic which has been used countless times since Atheist, by a myriad of technical death and thrash artists trying to outgun one another in both proficiency and brutality, and perhaps this band's greatest (and most unfortunate) influence upon the genre they matured through. However, this considered, Unquestionable Presence is still an impressive album with a wealth of acrobatic gallantry persisting through each track.
"Mother Man" wastes no time indoctrinating the listener with the band's increased curvy jazz aesthetics, Choy plucking through a dazzling rhythmic flume whilst the schizoid death/thrashing commences through spikes of precision violence and Shaefer's barking snarls. As with much of the album, you've gotta listen closely to the subtext, and by this I mean the bass, it will twist your mind straight off your spine, though some might not welcome the inherent funkiness. The title track is slightly less bewildering, but more impressive as a song, with a spacey clean fusion intro marred by squelching bass and then a jamming whirlwind sans vocals, but I really love the graceful arching of the guitars behind the verse at about 1:00. "Retribution" sounds like it might have belonged on Death's Human, only far more memorable, spastic and fluid. I was a little taken aback by the teensy chugged intro to "Enthralled in Essence", but then the band almost instantly turns towards an epic melody and a convocation of desperate, shifting speeds.
At this point, the band were probably well aware that the listeners' eyes were spinning in their sockets as if they were living slot machines, so we're given about a moment of tranquility at the opening of "An Incarnation's Dream": clean guitar passage akin to something Fates Warning might have pulled around this time, and then a thick, rhythmic implosion, as if some cosmic gate had opened above a peaceful, natural scene on some unexplored planet. This track is a curious one, with a strange swerve towards funky bass, shredded solo and chugging miasma, ultimately one of the least impressive on the album, but not uninteresting. "The Formative Years" goes for a more direct, charging thrash sequence before it morphs into unhinged jazz/death oblivion, a hyperactive string of hammers that play upon your mind like piano keys. "Brains", however, is one of my favorite individual songs here, with its frenetic strains of delicate, domineering tech death that we've since heard from countless younger bands possibly one unaware that it had already been done in 1991; "And the Psychic Saw" is a wonderful closer, another favorite and I just love the glorious desperation and rapid melodic mutes beneath the first verse.
For all the shit we give Scott Burns for much of his lackluster, samey sounding productions, one must admit that he achieved his success through a number of quality recordings. In my humble opinion, this is one of his best. The guitars are clean catapults of spatial expression. The bass is omnipresent, like standing in rush hour traffic without the big city slowdown. Steve Flynn is a titan behind the kit, and Shaefer sounds great, never mixed in too loudly against the musical backdrop. Unquestionable Presence naturally deviates away from the subterranean, occult and gore soaked indulgences that the more orthodox death metal bands would pursue, asking the broader questions about life and our place within the universe. 1991 was the year that the death genre would first begin to truly explore its progressive possibilities, with Pestilence and Death also unveiling their evolutions, and while I don't enjoy the Atheist contribution quite so much as the less frantic Testimony for the Ancients, it's certainly close in quality. Occasionally too frantic for its own good, and falling shy of perfection, but this is unquestionably worth owning.
__Ziltoid__ on June 3rd, 2010
The Best Techical Death Metal Album Ever?
Atheist is probably my favorite of the Florida death metal bands, and rightfully so. They created three unique albums, all of which completely redefined the idea of progressive and technical death metal. Even in the thrashier days of their first album, Piece of Time, Atheist still carved out an album’s worth highly progressive material, which was almost unknown in the thrash scene with the exception of a few bands. With their last album, Elements, Atheist created an oddly eccentric mix of death metal that had its progressive influences completely in the limelight (arguably, the progressiveness was much more present than the death metal). With no implementation of supposed death metal staples, such as double bass drumming and blast beats, Elements was Atheist’s last mark on the death metal scene, but they proved that a band can go way outside of genre norms and still create an album that is far better than those by contemporaries who stick to conventional techniques. But even with two very impressive albums that would be high points for most bands, Atheist created an even better album–Unquestionable Presence.
Simply put, this is exactly how technical death metal should be played. There are so many shitty bands out there today that play **weedily weedily** crap, such as Obscura with their recent album Cosmogenesis being one of the most glaring examples, that just simply cannot write a technical death metal album like this. They focus on playing as many notes as possible as quickly as possible, and that is their ultimate pitfall.
On Unquestionable Presence, Atheist demonstrates that technical death metal is instead meant to be created in a very organic manner, with riffs going at a natural speed, getting their fair share of attention instead of being overshadowed by the “crazy fast” solos that the modern tech-death bands love to play so much. With that in mind, the guitar solos on this album are of the highest quality, while also being emotive, instead of lifeless like most modern tech-death solos.
The drums are incredibly technical on the surface, but a more attentive listener can easily hear all of the amazing subtleties that actually implemented, whether it be an odd hit, or just an amazingly diverse set of rhythms played in a short period of time (“An Incarnation’s Dream” is a great example of this), all of which flow perfectly into each other. This is not the blastbeat-laden crap that plagues modern day tech-death. Blastbeats are a hindrance to creativity and severely limit the potential of the drummer. Here, Atheist fully utilizes the great drumming ability of Steve Flynn to craft memorable rhythms.
Of course, the basslines, written by the late Roger Patterson and played by the equally great Tony Choy are amazing. Instead of just following the rhythm guitar, they are the true backbone of Atheist’s sound and they get their opportunity to shine on many occasions throughout the album (great examples of this are “Mother Man,” “Brains,” and “And The Psychic Saw”). Kelly Shaefer is simply at his best here, providing fierce, yet comprehensible vocals that compliment everything else excellently.
Every track here is a standout, so just listen to the whole damn album, because this is simply the best technical death metal album ever made.
Written for http://thenumberoftheblog.com
AZajac1214 on April 15th, 2010
Greatest Album Ever Made!
Where can I start? Atheists 1991 masterpiece "Unquestionable Presence" is one of the most influential technical death metal album of all time. However, as previously stated by the band members it took years for this release to become fully appreciated by metal fans. Perhaps they were just too ahead of their time for their own good, who knows? If I do say so myself, there will never be another Unquestionable Presence and this record will stand the test of time for the select few fans who adore this type of music.
The compositions on this album can be described as a blend of death and thrash (as I believe the whole album is written in standard tuning) complimented with tons of progressive tempo changes, and seasoned with adventurous jazzy rhythms which make their presence known on many occasions. There are similarities to Cynics Focus (though Atheist predated Cynic as far as this style is concerned) in the complexity and "jazziness" of UP, but as far as my opinion is concerned these guys did it better. One could say that UP sounds like a heavier, more aggressive Cynic, but without some of the cheesier aspects of Focus (such as the overabundance of synths) and executed on vast amounts of cocaine.
The guitar work, done by Kelly Schaefer and Rand Burkey is top notch. Great rhythms, wonderful leads and an excellent combination of feel and technicality. Very creative and very revolutionary, what else can I say? They had great chemistry together, it’s a shame that they won’t be playing together on the upcoming album (2010). 10/10
The vocals are typical of the genre. Raspy and pissed off, nothing special. But who really cares? It is exactly what one would expect from an early Florida death metal release. They go great with the music and with the lyrical theme, which is very interesting as well. The lyrics are philosophical in nature and generally pertain to the evils of man and of course, individual freedom.
The bass work on this album is a bit of a complicated story. The original and deceased bass player, Roger Patterson had contributed much to Unquestionable Presence before his unfortunate accident. The rest of the album was done by Pestilences Tony Choy. The two had different styles, Patterson’s was more aggressive and savage-like, where as Choy seemed to be more about technique and style. One thing is certain; both are phenomenal and contribute greatly to the sound of the band, as a lot of it is bass-centered.
The drums, worked by Steve Flynn are also a virtuoso level, valuable asset to the band. Beats ranging from thrash, to death to jazz remain interesting as one listens to this album time and time again. Flynn creates a perfect backbone for the sound, and contributes greatly to the madness of Unquestionable Presence.
The production is just right. The album is very audible, and it is easy to hear each individual performance recorded, while retaining the raw sound of thrash in its glory days. In other words; no overproduced bullshit here. Naturally recorded, and not digitally over-fucked with (as tech death metal albums seem to get in recent history).
When listening to this record, you get a real impression of the skill and effort that these guys have put into their music almost twenty years ago. I recommend UP it to everyone, especially fans of the more aggressive side of metal but also those who look for originality and graceful virtuosity in their music.
"You say there's freedom
Within our nature
Well I don't think you understand
Mother Earth has fallen to Mother Man
The Air, the Sea, the Grass, the Trees,
The nemesis is the major,
Fearless leader Mother Man."
I_Cast_No_Shadow on January 31st, 2010
This is beauty!
It is rather unquestionable that Atheist are the pioneers of technical death metal, and this album for me is the best from them, which I take more superior than their earlier “Piece of Time”. This release has so much to reflect – it is technical, it is brutal, it is thrashy, it is progressive, it is jazzy and it is melodic. This along with Piece… was a revolutionary attempt of transcending the convention of death metal that was being done by almost every death metal band in the late 80s and early 90s who sought brutality and evilness more than anything, and this album was truly a milestone in the genre. Yet, they haven’t aimed to build the songs sound technical and difficult intentionally, like most of the technical groups around these days like Necrophagist, Origin, Beneath the Massacre, etc.
Lots of jazz influences are here, and this was probably the earliest effort in merging these two forms. The whole thirty-two minutes is an assortment of genuinely delightful and chilling riffs. The songs structures are progressive, bass lines are away from the guitar’s trail, and the drums are ever so technical.
There was a time I couldn’t digest this band wholly, because I had only focused on the vocals then. I still don’t think this style is much attractive to me. Vocals-wise Kelly Shaefer’s high pitched screams in “Piece of Time” was more creditable. He had deeper and louder shrieks then, which in this album has changed into something quite odd – screams combined with clean voice and they seemed to have liberated merely from the top of the throat.
Now to the positive side, everything else than the vocals is impressive. The guitar riffs are so awesomely made that it surely drowned me into them. Take the jazzy parts or rather heavier part like the intro of “Enthralled in Essence” (maybe the heaviest in the album), everything done through guitars is very splendid. Even the smallest parts are colored by this beauty. There are many shorter and longer lead solos, like “Mother Man” (3:28), “Enthralled in Essence” (0:07 and 1:42), etc. which are more than magnificent. They’ve added a huge magnitude of feel in these, which has made every moment of this album so enjoyable. How “An Incarnation’s Dream” approaches is also notable – its ambient intro, escorted by another amazing guitar play.
Unquestionable Presence contains some of the best bass plays ever. As I’ve mentioned above, Tony Choy has played his bass far away from the guitar. I mean, at most parts, guitar has followed bass, not vice-versa, and there are lots and lots of bass driven parts, the track “Mother Man” being a good example of this. “The Formative Years” (1:55) has one of the most insane bass segments, alongside Steve Flynn’s crazy drumming.
Flynn is ever so diverse in his beats, always advancing, showing his skills in jazz and extreme metal drumming, and his beats are never repetitive. He keeps on altering his style within few seconds mark even when being under same riff.
Song structures are progressively complex. “Brains” has to be one of the most complex tracks. Throughout the record, it seems like no single riff has been played exactly the same more than once after it ends once. I wished to listen more of the opener riff of “Enthralled in Essence” in later part of the track, but due to the complexity in structure, it didn’t allow me – well, that’s cool anyway.
There is nothing here as my favorite track as every track is made evenly impressive and original, and there are simply so many moments within it to remember. The production is nearly crystal clear, and few ambient ingredients have added more tastes to the songs. Every member has presented his skills brilliantly. Vocals were somewhat not as expected by my interest, but it doesn’t matter unless everything else is exceptionally superb. This is beauty!!!
BuriedInside on October 13th, 2009
A Turning Point in Metal
I've heard a lot of people complain about how metal has become stagnant and overcrowded with the same pointless, wanky, technical drivel that comes out year after year trying to convince the listener that all that is needed make a good song is a good sweeping section and frequent time signature changes.
Atheist was the precursor to all this nonsense, but like most early metal (in my opinion) it was misunderstood by those who took influence from it. Unquestionable Presence is technical in all the right ways, but none of the superfluous nonsense is present here. The album is full of unique, technical riffing, but it builds a much larger picture where many modern bands fail to do so.
Sharp witted, heavy, jazzy, and cosmically and environmentally aware, Unquestionable Presence's furious and complex jazzy compositions may have started technical death metal off at its peak. This album absolutely destroys in every way, and has become quite possibly my favorite album ever made. It's original framework leaves plenty of room and time for this album to touch on each and every heartstring an album needs to in order to be effective, and does so fluently, and unforced. Atheist fuse the death metal and jazz influences perfectly, whether its a frenzied build up with just the right amount of jazz to keep it fresh, or a relaxing passage that gives you just enough time to exhale before it punches you in the gut again. The production is relatively clear for an early nineties release, and every member does their part admirably and tastefully. I recommend this album to anyone who has ears.
Empyreal on July 1st, 2009
Positively life affirming; truly unquestionable.
Can it be? An environmentally aware album that is not only plausible, but actually good? Actually really fucking good at that? Yes, Atheist's second effort is quite a spectacle, being the first extreme metal album I truly fell in love with and also an all-time metal classic. Having gotten bored with rallying against politics and religion on the debut, the band turned here to a more spiritually aware and indeed environmentally aware mindset, and the music followed suit, becoming more esoteric, more jazzy and more progressive, but all without losing its metal backbone.
The music here is quite aggressive, really; not at all the spacey, laid back drone you'd expect when you hear "jazz and metal fusion." The band never forgot their Thrashy roots and never forgot to remain compelling and interesting. The songs are short, but they're fucking jam-packed with chugging metallic riffs, out-of-this-world guitar harmonies and solos, drumming that is fast, complicated and filled with flare and bass playing that is quite simply...insane; I have no more similes or adjectives to pile on. This whole album is exhausting, but you can't stop yourself from listening because it's all just too good. This is very melodically rich stuff. Every song has something that will pull you in, no exceptions. I can't even pick favorites this time.
I mean, the debut was frigging awesome, but Unquestionable Presence makes that one look like kiddy stuff in comparison. The band is always confident, always endearing and every moment on this disc sounds like they're playing their hearts out. The lyrics are excellent, maybe even better than the ones on the debut, concerning the fragility of life, one's self knowledge of his place in the universe and the massive scope of humankind's and nature's relationship. You won't find an extreme metal band with better written lyrics, no matter how hard you try. I have been playing this album for years now, and each spin reveals new things that I like about it, new layers to be digested, as well as restating the brilliance that I already knew was there. That's the mark of a great album on any count.Unquestionable Presence is a record that transcends its genre and all expectations. There's nothing I can really point out that's wrong with it. Every song gets right to the meat of things, is short and manageable and also super memorable. The musicians are doing what they do best here in spades, and if you let this layered, complex work sink in a little, soon you will not be able to stop playing it either. From the first note of "Mother Man" to the last ones of "And the Psychic Saw," Unquestionable Presence is a metal classic for the ages that anyone who even remotely likes the genre should hear. Mandatory, just fucking mandatory. I've said that before, but here it really rings true more than ever. This truly has no equals.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
deltawing on May 21st, 2009
Atheist's sophomore effort is arguably the way a sophomore album should be: better production, taking more risks while yielding a high reward and stylistically somewhat similar to what made them noteworthy with their debut Piece of Time effort. They accomplish this, and more, with Unquestionable Presence, which has some great album art with that classic ATHEIST logo. Really, Atheist's sound can only be described as 'dynamic'. I haven't heard anyone else who sounds like them and makes them sound this fucking awesome. There are imitators, yes, but the right amount of melody, brutality and jazziness has only been perfected and present in Athiest's works of arts, and this is arguably their best album portraying these traits!
The opening track contains possibly the COOLEST drum and bass tracks ever. The remastered version of this album offers a track of the entire Mother Man song of just Drum and Bass tracks, which is very cool to show off to your non-metalheads friends who think metal takes no skill to play, etc. That's not the point, it's just a fucking awesome song, and like Kelly said at Wacken 2006, one of the best Technical Metal songs of all-time!
The high point of this album lies in Retribution, in my opinion. Some great, funky basswork combined with an amazing solo with jazztastic background drumming offers some of the coolest moments in Atheist's musical career. The drumming on this album in general is outstanding, especially on Retribution, which also features great progressive transitions that work with the time changes very well to create an incredible experience for the listener.
The album features quite a few progressive parts that never lead themselves into wank territory, thankfully. Instead, it projects the skill these guys have as musicians with class while still being melodic, thrashy, brutal, etc. These elements are what has made Atheist such a legendary death metal band and what allows them to be recognized as such without little dissent from metalheads.
Unquestionable Presence is really "just one of those albums". I went on a listening spree of this album for probably a month straight along with Piece of Time because I just couldn't get enough of how well the band executed their style, much like how I am with Slough Feg right now, but that's a different story. If you're a fan of metal that has any sense of jazziness to it, or just love yourself some old school death metal, you NEED to lend your ears to Florida's Atheist! Their first two efforts, Piece of Time and Unquestionable Presence are arguably better suited for the first time Atheist listener rather than jumping straight into the somewhat different Elements, but sure enough you will think this album is a classic, too.
A must have for any metalhead's collection! Be sure to pick up the remasters with the bounty of bonus tracks!
MorbidFlorist on May 8th, 2008
Piece of Unquestionable Technical Metal Brilliance
It took me nearly four and a half months to fully digest the magnificent metal behemoth known as Piece of Time. And I still find myself discovering new things and ideas within that record that I didn't notice before nearly two years since I bought it. When it finally came down for me to listen and review their follow-up album, Unquestionable Presence,I wasn't even prepared for what I was about to listen. This album is almost epic, in a stoned "far out", kind of way. Also, the album
is very chaotic, just as chaotic as early Kataklysm. I am almost frightened and shocked when I listen to this album. Let me explain:
We start off with a very catchy, very godly, and albeit jazzy bassline in the opening track "Mother Man", then the amazing guitars and Kelly Shaefer's raspy semi-growl kick in. Right away I knew I was in for quite a rollercoaster ride. "Mother Man" has got to be one of the most amazing death metal musical pieces in the history of the planet. This song has an amazing basslines (especially during the more mellow moments) and equally impressive guitar attacks (they often duel with each other). The next song, "Unquestionable Presence" starts off in a rather weird, mysterious kind of way (birds chirping, wind howling?) , before it sends you into an orgasmic cosmic journey, both lyrically and musically. One of my favorite tracks on the album, "Retribution" spends no time showcasing every musician's amazing ability behind their instrument, this song is just an absolute joyride for me to listen to. "Enthralled In Essence" is always great, it gets really technically magnificent during the bridge. Things get really scary during the album's last half ("An Incarnation's Dream", "Formative Years", "Brains", "And The Psychic Saw"). "An Incarnation's Dream" is another favorite of mine, this song is very epic; starting with off with beautiful acoustic guitar licks interspersed with sound effects that remind you of being in an American ghetto, before Kelly Shaefer's piercing vocals send a chill down my spine; this song has the most amazing lead riffs I have ever heard starting at the 2:43 mark. "The Formative Years" is one of the most crushingly brutal songs ever in the history of death metal; things get really insane starting at the 1:55 mark. "Brains" is a marvelously technical song, in fact, its so technical, it doesn't even have a proper ending, it justs fades into the abyss. "And The Psychic Saw" is a wonderful album closer, having the most creative
lead riff starting at 1:08 mark.
Every musician is in top form here. Kelly Shaefer and Rand Burkey are some of the most amazingly creative guitar teams I have ever heard in a while, creating some of the most insanely creative "rock and roll"-ish metal leads and riffs and solos; they have some of the most creative guitar lines out there. The bassist (Roger Patterson via Tony Choy) is also equally impressive, creating some of the most amazing basslines in metal history ("Mother Man", "Brains"). The drummer, Steve Flynn never ceases to amaze me; he's figured out a way to be insanely intense and technical without ever using a single blast beat (with a minor exception in "Brains"). Also, I am very fond of Kelly Shaefer's vocal delivery in this album. It's very...different. He sounds like Symbolic-era Chuck Schuldiner meets any late 80/early 90s Scandinavian black/death metal vocalist (At the Gates' Tomas Lindberg comes to my mind).
The production is also top-notch. You can clearly listen to any musical instrument (be it the bass, or the guitar) very clearly and solely focus on that and the album will still sound flawless. Kudos to the metal behemoth Scott Burns for expertly producing this. He was a skilled death metal engineer/producer at this
point, and it shows through the expert knob-twiddling he did on this disc.
On the negative side of this album, the album seems to suffer from a severe case of ADD. Atheist has some very, very interesting musical ideas but they don't
seem to know how to present them; I almost wish the opening riffs to "Retribution" would have made the entire song, but they seem to wander off in a shitload of tangents. I give them credit to discovering a very unique "jazz-death" sound, but it will soon be mastered and harnessed by their late-period contemporary Death. The album takes a whole lot of listens to truly appreciate and understand what Atheist has accomplished (I remember having to listen to this exactly three times in the same day). But those are only minor grudges I have against this album, and I found myself getting over that very quickly.
Every time I listen to this, I am projected to a somewhat cosmic musical realm. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in extreme metal, or metal in general. Also, if you really dig this, I recommend you should pick up Death's The Sound of Perserverance. The music in there is a lot more melodic and less chaotic, but just as technically orgasmic as this.
danyates on May 24th, 2007
This is the best technical album recorded
Atheist are the godfathers of technical music as we know it today. They showed us that death metal was not only about brutality and speed, but can be very technical, musically, at the same time. At the time that their albums were recorded, not too many people could understand what was going on, according to the band themselves. They didn't sell any merch at shows, and always got strange looks during their sets. Through the years, as technical metal has evolved into what it is now, people understand now. They look back and find this album, the first of the genre.
Unlike a lot of technical death metal you may have heard, Atheist is actually quite catchy. The song writing isn't compromised for technical riffs and solos. Despite the odd time signatures and the way that the bass is actually audible (sometimes even more audibal than the guitar), this release is accessable to almost any death metal fan. As just mentioned, the bass is amazing. Tony Choy (ex-Cynic) nails his basslines and adds something to each song. He isn't following the rhythm guitar for the whole album. Choy and Steve Flynn, the drummer, create the ultimate rhythm section. Their playing creates a groove which makes the songs catchy and memorable. Despite the weird riffs, you can headbang to this, thanks to Steve Flynn. If you buy this release, there is a drum and bass track (on the remastered edition) of "Mother Man" which showcases Steve Flynn's amazing drumming. It's not filled with double bass, blast beats and annoying snare tone. The jazz influence really shows with Steve Flynn.
The production is okay, nothing great. But nothing that will make you not want to listen to the album. The guitars have great tone, and nothing is really drowning anything out in the mix.
The vocals are mid-pitched growls and screams, and aren't all that harsh. You can easily understand what Kelly Shaefer is saying, especially with the lyrics in front of you.
Solos aren't really "flashy," as you see in today's technical death. It's not just sweep arpeggios for two minutes straight. They are also very catchy and fun to listen to, and easy to remember and even sing along too.
Anyway, this is the best technical album ever made. Highlight tracks for the downloaders: Mother Man, Enthralled in Essence, An Incarnation's Dream, And the Psychic Saw
super_bum on December 28th, 2006
This album is certainly one of the greatest Death Metal albums of all time. It’s impossible to dispute that. Not only should it be placed among other legendary albums, but perhaps it can be accounted as the greatest technical Death metal album ever. Few other bands could even begin to compare to the mastery that is “Unquestionable Presence”. Armed with the perhaps the tightest performance ever, Atheist have created an undisputed masterpiece.
Every single instrument is at work here. Odd-time signatures are child’s play, syncopation is a joke, and unsuspected song structures and compositions are a walk in the park for these guys! Guitarists Rand Burke and Kelly Schaeffer’s work is all over the place, bouncing from riff to riff like nobody’s business. The same could be said about the spastic drum work. Drummer Steve Flynn is all over the place, constantly intensifying the already frenetic guitar work with mind boggling beats and rhythms. Even bassist Roger Patterson gets funky. Literally, his counterpoints provide a nice groovy backdrop to the technical mayhem. Arguably, this is one of the greatest technical performances ever.
A tight performance like this is just simply unheard of! It is just incredibly amazing how they manage to write music of such crazed technicality, but yet manage to keep all of the instruments and their respective musicians on the same page. What’s even more impressive is that, despite the overwhelming display of ability, it very rarely drifts into "wank" territory. Technicality here is used to create large volumes of depth and complexity. One section of a song flows into another section unexpectedly, but, yet, with such smooth and ease it is simply breathtaking. Riff after riff, musical section after musical section pile on top of each other, creating various levels of tension to keep the music from redundancy. Each piece is placed meticulously to form an incredible skyscraper of music which pierces the clouds and touches the heavens beyond. Add to this the fact that the songs veer away from your typical, overtly repetitive verse/chorus stupidity, and the result is an elaborate work of art.
Aside from the obviously proficient musicianship, the lyrics also display degrees of profound intelligence which must be the envy of intellectuals. They’re critical, without being whiny; imaginative without coming off as forced; and cunning without being pretentious. The lyrics, and the music as a whole, cleverly depict an individual who is continuously exasperated with a decaying modern world.
This album is a testament of all things technical and all things Death Metal.
Through and through, Atheist sound like the tightest and most inspired band on this album. Every single song carries tremendous visceral force and profoundess. By injecting Jazz theory into a Death Metal aesthetic, Atheist have created something completely unique and original, a sound which the band themselves could cling on to and claim all their own. Later on, after this albums release, other bands such as Death, Cynic, Pestilence and Meshuggah would attempt to integrate jazz complexity with Death Metal. No one will ever even come close to touching this piece of virtuoso musicality. I would highly recommend buy this gem, but the bloody CD is no longer in print! Fortunately, Relapse Records has decided to re-release their ENTIRE catalog!!
invaded on May 31st, 2006
A masterpiece of technical metal
Atheist were clearly on to something special in the early nineties. Them and a core of other Florida bands like Cynic were beginning to fuse jazzy elements to the harsh world of death metal. The product resulted in something truly amazing.
Atheist had a unique songwriting technique. Roger Patterson(R.I.P.), the bassist, wrote the main structures of the songs and the guitars built their parts around the basslines. This makes for a very different sound, one that has much interplay between instruments. Tony Choy delivers the goods on this record and Steve Flynn shows off his unbelievable chops. The drums never stick to a pattern, rather they prefer to keep a constant variety and this fits perfectly with the music. Just listen to Mother Man and try not to be impressed by this guy's pure skill.
The guitar playing is very rock and roll, although they do throw a few twists such as the amazing counterpuntal tones in the title track. The guitar solos are also very cool. Kelly Schaeffer's vocals are very similar to Chuck Schuldiner's on the later Death albums such as TSOP, but one must remember that this was released many years prior to the aforementioned disc. Schaeffer's delivery is clean and agressive, which goes very well with the speed of most of the songs.
Unlike many other technical death metal bands, Atheist don't take you on an eight minute ride every song. Rather you get four minutes of solid riffing and the songwriting is complex, yet easy to get into. It realizes the difficult task of being technical and catchy at the same time.
"Mother Man" kicks things off with a jazzy, bass-oriented groove of a riff that leads into metal fury shortly after with an array of riffs that hit you like a ton of bricks. The title track is arguably the best song on this record, with rythm juxtapostions and starts and stops that will blow your mind. Other highlights here are "An Incarnation's Dream" with its amazing acoustic intro and the album closer "And the Psychic Saw", arguably the heaviest song on the record.
These guys were definitely on to something. This record influenced a lot of people and there is good reaon for it to be hailed as a modern classic.
Thamuz on August 29th, 2004
Jazzy Death Metal
‘Unquestionable Presence’ is not your standard run-of-the-mill Death Metal album. This fact is undeniable as the album is filled with lots of jazzy nuances, a fine selection of Thrash riffs and other such influences from outside the realm of Death Metal. The song-structures are quite impressive and differ vastly from the norm by not over doing any ideas – there is also constant progression within the songs and for this reason they are very vibrant and full of life. This is clearly evident in the way the songs are littered with things ranging from moody acoustic noodling, jazz influenced bass and guitar lines and drumming that never bogs itself down beats relying on too much use of the snare. The drumming gives a smooth progressive performance, that has more of a jazzy feel than your standard Metal drumming, due to the constant tempo changes and attention to detail.
In effect these compositional qualities are created via the belief that it takes every part of a band working in unison to produce a stunning piece of music. Sure, there are instances where the guitarist may take the opportunity to use a flashy solo, or the bassist may go off on a tangent and implement some jazzy bass fills, but when it comes down to it these sections are coherent with the main ideas of each song. This provides the album with a dynamic and refreshing feel on each listen. There are no pointless and pretentious exhibitions, just well written pieces of music.
From an isolated perspective, the guitar work itself is top-notch and very technical. This description is justified with the inclusion of plenty of odd time signatures, the combination of jazz inspired and more tradition Metal styled soloing and the constant evolution of the riffs throughout the album. The vocals are suited to this more Thrash orientated riffing style as they are probably closer to Kreator’s shrieks than the more traditional low growls of the Death Metal genre. Thus, the combination works well.
Another strong point is the crystal clear production that really does give the music an extra punch as we can clearly hear each instrument without any trouble. This suits the colourful nature of the composition and instead of taking away from the purity of the music, actually does it justice. So, in a nutshell, if you like your Death Metal to be more than the standard assault of battering drums and dissonant riffs then this goes as highly recommended.
Unquestionable Presence track list
|3||Your Life's Retribution||03:17|
|4||Enthralled in Essence||03:38|
|5||An Incarnation's Dream||04:53|
|6||The Formative Years||03:30|
|8||And the Psychic Saw||04:45|
Unquestionable Presence lineup
|Kelly Shaefer||Guitars, Vocals|