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Atheist - Unquestionable Presence CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.20 | 337 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Unquestionable Presence' - Athiest (8/10)

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.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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