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Atheist - Unquestionable Presence CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.20 | 337 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I really can't see the perfection.

When I hear this, ATHEIST's universally-acclaimed masterpiece, I hear a damn good album. I hear an album that has very original music (I guess I'd appreciate that even more if I had listened to it when it just came out in 1991), an album with complex and intricate playing, and probably a landmark for metal. I just think that there's something missing.

After all, history has nothing to do with quality. To be the first doesn't necessarily mean to be the best. And if this album broke new grounds for death metal, it still remains, as a work of music, slightly flawed, in my view.

The music, as has been said before till exhaustion, is very technical and precise, with countless tempo changes and short little sections intertwined one after another. Also, here we have an album with riffs galore. If in thrash and extreme metal the driving force in music has always been the riff, in ATHEIST it surely takes another level (as, later, with DEATH) in that it practically becomes the only element that distinguishes one song from the other, and in that every track contains a big amount of different ones. We hardly have any moment in the album when we're not listening to a riff (some are very good) and that's one first complaint: lack of textures, of depth. Even though the bass lines appear to be quite technical, they're quite simple in harmony, and the album, at times, sounds a little empty. Another guitar would've been great if it had been used to build a denser wall of sound.

And it's, again, in the riff structure that I find my second complaint against the perfection of this album. I'm OK with the fact that melody is not really a protagonist here (it's Florida-style death metal after all; and, at that, is more melodic than other representatives of the genre); but the excessive use of riffs usually go against the coherence of tracks. Music has a very important relationship with memory, as studies of the brain and plain common sense show. Music doesn't just exist, but is created and re- created in advance in our heads when we listen to it. And if we have problems assimilating a song because it doesn't have a structure that has a discernable origin, it gets difficult to fully get to enjoy. When a structure is based on a succession of riffs, sometimes a song can become just a collection of sections and not a smoothly flowing whole. Actually, in simpler death metal this is less evident as the structures are simpler, less pretentious, and easier to detect (even in Florida death metal as in MORBID ANGEL); it's in technical death metal bands the likes of ATHEIST and DEATH where this problem is more evident, where, for the sake of technique, an over-abundance of riffs and sometimes the ephemeral importance of some of them create songs that can easily be broken down in minor parts, any of which would survive on its own, thus rendering the whole sum of them just a little more than a brilliant collage.

Don't get me wrong. The album is so original, adventurous and important for metal's further development that I can't give it any lower rating than a 4. But, seeing how universally praised it is, I think I had to explain the reasons why I don't think it's that perfect. As a piece of metal music, it gets a 5, for all the meaning of this album in the genre; for being groundbreaking, it gets a 5. For the true quality of the music as music, for me, it gets a 3. So, a 4 would be just OK.

Get it anyway. Any fan of extreme prog metal HAS to have this album in its collection. This doesn't mean every fan will love it. But music history is very important to appreciate newer music. And in the tech-prog metal genre, ATHEIST's "Unquestionable Presence" is unquestionably part of its roots.

The T | 4/5 |


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