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Atheist - Unquestionable Presence CD (album) cover

UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE

Atheist

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.21 | 218 ratings

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Prog Sothoth
5 stars A delirious fusion of jazz and extreme metal, listening to Unquestionable Presence is like playing a pinball machine with multiple balls at once, hyper powered bumpers and an unusually multitudinous amount of flashing lights. Crazy stuff. But it's also fun!

It's almost hard to believe this undeniably influential beast came out in 1991, an effort certainly ahead of its time in that its heralded status and vast amounts of technical death metal acts borrowing its ideas would only come into play years later. What really makes this release special to me, though, is that despite the lunatic time signature shifts, piles of riffs crammed into each tune and an absolutely psychotic rhythm section, these songs are not only entertaining, but even catchy and memorable to varying degrees. Yes, there's a fair degree of showing off involved (jazz and metal...what do you expect?), but the riffs and interplay of the instruments never cancel each other out to the point where one wonders what the hell they're listening to.

The way the band incorporated jazziness to their death-thrash sound was quite revolutionary, in that instead of the band playing straight-up metal before shifting into some quieter 'jazz moment', the jazz aspect is immersed directly into their wild heavy music, a true fusion so-to-speak. Violent guitar riffs are balanced by hyper swingy free-jazz beats along with a bass presence ready to noodle off into the stratosphere and toss in some slaps at will. Often the guitar riffs themselves morph into fluttering fusion-like melodies when you least expect it. There's still plenty of moments where a full on thrashy death assault occurs with flying locomotive tempos and quality guitar solos that shred but retain an appealing bluesiness, aiding the songs rather than trying to outshine them. Everything is played tight, and the production, certainly for its time, serves the album well enough with each instrument basically getting their chance to shine.

Vocally, Kelly Shaefer utilizes a mid-toned snarl that's seems like a bridge between Kreator and Death, being absolutely feral, but not of the inhuman grunting or shrieking variety that was becoming the standard regarding the various extreme metal scenes. His vicious delivery also adds an extra pulse to the rhythms, being exact and punctual over the busy instrumentation. Another noteworthy factor is the lyrics spouted by this voice, in that rather than waxing poetic about gore and Satan, they are actually well written prose pondering life, nature and the universe, topics not exactly par for the course concerning death metal at its early stages.

Everything is right about this thing, including its short length, as these tunes have so much going on that it might have become a bit exhausting if it were much longer. Atheist's prior and follow-up releases are also quite fine in their own right, but Unquestionable Presence is the band at its most bonkers and frenetic, and the wildest and most enjoyable roller coaster ride by the band for me. Worthy of a 'classic' status for sure.

Prog Sothoth | 5/5 |

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