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Atheist - Unquestionable Presence CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.20 | 363 ratings

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5 stars For the last few months i've been on somewhat of a technical death metal discovery kick. While Death quickly perfected the formula on their classic album "Human," a couple months prior, Atheist dropped this short and sweet goliath of a record: Unquestionable Presence. The instrumentals throughout are incredibly balls to the wall and constantly firing on all cylinders with schizophrenic change ups around every twist and turn. While bands like Dream Theater and Fates Warning tend to get the brunt of the credit for kicking off prog metal in the early 90s, I think Atheist and related groups such as Death, Pestilence, Cynic and a little more distantly Voivod, are the real unsung trailblazers of the genre in many ways. Throughout this 1991 release, there's a constant barrage of mazy riffage, a plethora of odd times, even genre fusion with elements of jazz fusion scattered about. They immediately proclaim everything they're about loud and clear within the first seconds of the opening track "Mother Man." The band launches off into orbit with the rhythm section going haywire almost instantly nicely leading the rest of the band in. There's a very mesmerizing quality to this song as they hop from riff to riff subtly building up some smart and creative segues between them before they pull off these complete 180s. But through all these changes, the band never trips over themselves and they maintain this extremely high momentum throughout. At the 3:20 mark, it kicks into this sick jazzy passage with some really memorable busy bass playing while a guitar drops a pretty atmospheric solo on top of it. In general, it's in the last minute of this song where it really hits it's peak as following this ear catching contrasting softer passage, it hops right back into what I'd consider the best riffing in the song. This review is gonna be a little tougher for me, and that's because I really like to go into detail with the songs and how they progress, build ups and payoffs. But that sort of approach for an album like this isn't very feasible. At the time of it's release it was some of the most extreme music ever seen, pushing song structures and instrumentals to their limit and it's just not easy to really break these songs down even today. Rather, I just immerse myself in the album and despite having dozens and dozens of listens of this thing, it's like i'm hearing a new album with every listen as the amount of music condensed into a mere 32 minutes is just absurd.

The thrashy title track is up next proceeding straight out of Mother Man with an brief but awesome introduction. Following this it drops into the super aggressive headbanging main riff. I have to give a nod to the vocals, the delivery and general tone of them is very unique and many of the deliveries are even pretty catchy. Like the other instruments, the vocals properly play off of whatever the rest of the band is doing and you can tell everyone is on the same wavelength here. The main "hook" on this track in particular is super filthy. The next track opens with it's title "YOUR LIFES RETRIBUTION!" It's another superbly aggressive track with some of the most developed and explosive guitar playing across the whole record. At 2:37 the vocalist drops a nasty guttural growl before the guitar rips one of the most obscenely cool riffs I think I've ever heard. I especially love when they throw a little bit of a fusiony spin on it after a few repeats. Enthralled in Essence follows this up with its chugging intro, the main guitar melody that follows has a bit of a middle eastern harmonic minor sound to it. At 1:28 there's this incredibly groovy little instrumental breakdown with some very punchy and upfront bass taking the lead. It's a very uncomfortable feeling riff, and because of that when it goes back into 4/4 with a jazzier spin on it it's incredibly satisfying. An Incarnations Dream is one of my favorites on the record opening with some arpeggiated clean guitar accompanied by a subtle and beautifully atmospheric guitar lead on top of it. The heavy guitars come through after a bit and every single riff and rhythm in this song is just 100% dialed in and fully on the mark. However, it's the passage of music starting at 2:16 that puts a big stupid grin on my face every time with just how ridiculously astounding it is. You got this moving drum part with groovy triplets along with this thumping bass riff, but it's the guitar solo that comes through that ends up being the chefs kiss.

The Formative Years is one of the shorter songs but regardless of this, it packs on of the most dense and windy instrumental sections of the record in the middle with almost a little bit of a sci-fi feel in parts. Every member is given a chance to show off their chops and go absolutely haywire and believe me, they do. This is another track where the prominent bass really comes through holding everything together. Brains is just another excellent track on all fronts and I could echo many of my praises of previous songs for it. For me, it's all about the passage at 2:02. The transition out of the much faster riff back into bass heavy groove land is so sweet. We're now on the final track "And The Psychic Saw," it's another one of my favorites on the album closing things off on a really high note. It almost feels like an amalgamation of everything that was cool about all the previous songs into this one track. At 1:30 it brings you into one of the most avant-garde instrumentals on the whole record and somehow, the band is able to quickly string it all back together and come out of this absolute chaos like nothing happened. A mere 20 seconds later another peak hits while the guitars play this dissonant almost King Crimson-esque riff before it releases into yet another incredible shuffling drum groove. The bands sound feels so big and grand-scale at this point. In the final 30 seconds of this song the band finishes things off with a glorious doomy finish leaving me feeling completely satisfied with everything I just experienced. This album is an absolute top shelf metal release. It's incredibly progressive, it's extremely well produced, the execution is pretty earth shattering and there's not a low- point or anything resembling a dud in sight. Atheist simply maxed out their stats on this one, this is a perfect album.

5 Stars

dougmcauliffe | 5/5 |


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