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Atheist Unquestionable Presence album cover
4.20 | 382 ratings | 33 reviews | 49% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1991

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Mother Man (4:34)
2. Unquestionable Presence (4:07)
3. Your Life's Retribution (3:17)
4. Enthralled in Essence (3:38)
5. An Incarnation's Dream (4:53)
6. The Formative Years (3:30)
7. Brains (3:41)
8. And the Psychic Saw (4:45)

Total Time 32:25

Bonus tracks on 2005 remaster:
- Pre-production Demo 8/90 featuring Roger Patterson :
9. Enthralled in Essence (3:32)
10. The Formative Years (3:29)
11. Unquestionable Presence (3:55)
12. An Incarnation's Dream (4:09)
13. Retribution (instrumental) (3:19)
14. Brains (instrumental) (3:40)
- Demo 1990 featuring Roger Patterson :
15. Enthralled in Essence (3:44)
- Drums & Bass tracks :
16. Mother Man (4:43)
- Rhythm tracks :
17. And the Psychic Saw (4:37)

Line-up / Musicians

- Kelly Shaefer / lead vocals, guitar
- Rand Burkey / guitar
- Tony Choy / bass
- Steve Flynn / drums

- Roger Patterson / bass (9-15)

Releases information

Artwork: Justice Mitchell

LP Active Records ‎- ATV 20 (1991, UK)

CD Active Records ‎- CD ATV 20 (1991, UK)
CD Relapse Records ‎- RR 6671-2 (2005, US) Remastered by Colin Marston with 9 bonus tracks

Thanks to Retrovertigo for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence ratings distribution

(382 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(49%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(31%)
Good, but non-essential (9%)
Collectors/fans only (4%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

ATHEIST Unquestionable Presence reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by FruMp
5 stars I had a very mixed standpoint when approaching this album, I had heard some very good things about it, the jazz-metal label and the technicality I had heard about excited me very much but the death metal assosciation I was very apprehensive about as I had never liked that kind of music, it was a groundbreaking experience for me exploring new territories of music and indeed this album was fairly groundbreaking itself (and very influential).

So I put this album on and in the first 10 seconds - it kicked my ass, I was as giddy as a kid on christmas day, super tight, super technical, sweet riffs - just awesome. Mother man is a fantastic song it's a very good introduction and summary of what to expect from these guys, it starts off in rather odd timing with an incomprehensible drum beat and a sweet harmonised guitar riff and then moves on into a thrashy riff, later on there is a bitchin' solo, more crazy timing and then a soft jazz influenced ending - wonderfully written.

As for the instrumentation well what is there to say, let's start with the rythmn section - frankly god damn amazing, the songs are written around them and it really shows. On the remaster there are bonus tracks including a drum and bass track for mother man and that is entertaining on it's own. The drums are funky as hell, steve flynn is obviously a jazz trained drummer, the thing I love most about him is he doesn't just rely on super fast double kick or blasting like a lot of death metal drummers, he has some amazingly groovy and technical beats - top marks. Tony choy, what a bassist a veteran of the genre from such accalimed bands as cynic, he grooves out too with some great slap bass technique and really nice bass riffs. Let's not forget the guitars, I guess it's harder to appreciate great guitarists these days I find as bloody everyone is a shredder but kelly schaefer and rand burkey are very very competent, their harmonies are super tight, their solos are bitchin' and most importantly their riffs are technical and awesome. The vocals I find are perfect, they are relatively high pitched they are a lot 'lighter' and less guttural than most death metal vocals.

Every song on the album is solid as a rock and they all have some sweet part that you'll want to come back and listen to it for, my personal favourites are mother man and and the psychic saw but I'm certainly not going to be skipping through the other songs so I can hear them.

I have seen the band cop a fair bit of criticism for playing too many riffs and trollop like that and I hear people complain that you know it's emotionally devoid etc but you know if you listen to space rock or symphonic prog all day and then whack this baby on you're going to think that, The songs are perfectly written I barely even notice the amount of riffs that they go through - and it really doesn't matter either because the music is great. Highly recommended for any fan of heavier prog metal, thrash, technical or death metal.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "Unquestionable Presence" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Florida based technical/progressive metal act Atheist. The album was released through Active Records in August 1991. Itīs the successor to "Piece of Time" from 1989 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as bassist Roger Patterson sadly died in a car crash in February 1991 while on tour with the band. Patterson was not "only" the bassist in Atheist, but an integral part of the songwriting team in the band and most of the material on "Unquestionable Presence" was co-written by Patterson before his untimely death. He was replaced by former Cynic bassist Tony Choy, who recorded all bass parts on "Unquestionable Presence".

"Piece of Time (1989)" was a technical death/thrash metal release and definitely ahead of its time, but "Unquestionable Presence" makes "Piece of Time (1989)" sound like a pretty "normal" release, as Atheist experiment heavily here with jazz/fusion drumming and notes/chords, unconventional song structures, and loads of tempo- and time signature changes...all delivered with great technical skill at a predominantly frantic pace. "Unquestionable Presence" blasts the senses of the listener from the opening notes of "Mother Man" to the closing notes of "And the Psychic Saw". Thereīs not a second wasted and even the few mellow moments on the album are spend building up to another climax of technical wizardry.

Thereīs great flow in the music and despite of the focus on technical playing, there are still many catchy moments and even hooks and melodic sections on the album (and example of that is the opening to "And the Psychic Saw"). Not in the form of easy to sing along to choruses or melodic vocal lines, but in the form of killer riff sections, blistering yet memorable guitar solos, recognisable drum patterns, and catchy vocal phrases. Kelly Shaefer has a raw high pitched and almost hysterical vocal style, which is very unique and probably very much an aquired taste, but no one can argue the fact that his vocal approach is original and passionate too.

"Unquestionable Presence" is a demanding release, and itīs loaded with clever compositional details most listeners probably wonīt discover unless they give the album many spins. So while itīs an instantly enjoyable listen because of the raw energetic power load unleashed upon your ears when you put it on, itīs also a rewarding listen in the long run. Itīs the kind of release where you always hear new details with every spin. While the 8 tracks on the 32:25 minutes long album at first may appear almost linear in structure, most tracks on the album do feature some sort of vers/chorus formula...or at least returning elements, which means that there are recognisable hooks to hold on too in the midst of the busy ever changing technical riffs and rhythms.

While "Unquestionable Presence" was recorded and mixed at Morrisound in Tampa, Florida, and definitely features some of the similar type ultra heavy sound, which came out of that studio in those years, the album features a more detailed/defined sound production than many other contemporary Morrisound productions. Itīs a very well sounding release with a perfect balance between heaviness and details in the mix. All instruments and vocals are heard very clear in the mix and every playing detail is audible.

Upon conclusion "Unquestionable Presence" is a high quality release in every way possible. The musicianship is strong/virtuosic, the sound production powerful and well sounding, and the songwriting intriguing and unique. Add to that some pretty interesting lyrics which span all the way from social/enviromental issues ("Mother Man" is a prime example of the latter) to the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and you have the whole package. Atheist are clearly influenced by other mid- late eighties fusion oriented metal acts like Watchtower and Voivod, but adding an extreme metal element to that sound was something new at the time (Death, Cynic, and Pestilence would soon follow with other fusion influenced extreme metal releases, but Atheist were the first true pioneers). It was a bold move and could possibly have sunk their career, had it not been well executed and promoted, but this is a shining example of not being able to deny quality. I canīt think of many other releases deserving a 5 star (100%) rating more than this one.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives)

Review by rogerthat
5 stars Now this is what progressive metal should sound like if it was both progressive and metal enough at the same time..that however seems to be too high an ideal and very few prog-metal bands have succeeded in making metal footloose, nimble and creativity without sacrificing its sheer aggression - Aheist are one of those very few who did pull it off.

I would not really like to comment on the jazz-quotient or not of this album as I do not avidly follow jazz, though Kind of Blue does occupy my speakers from time to time. I can vouch for the fact that extreme metal was never so jazzy, so fun. What I can say for sure is that this is not so much death metal-based as thrash. The dual guitar attacks produce the specific minor-key, two-pronged, twitching riffs that thrash is not known for. Also, the vocals stop short of full-blown say that they sound the way Dave Mustaine of Megadeth would if he growled would be accurate. At the same time, the focussed, linear attack of thrash is entirely jettisoned for a punkish, flexible progression that probably owes more to grindcore than to the thrash or death metal of the time. However, this is hardly as one-dimensional and repetitive as grindcore. In a nutshell, Atheist draw from diverse influences and then bend it as they please. Nothing, it seems, can hinder their boundless creativity as they set about playing music the way they like it. Where much of technical metal is focussed on more and more involved guitarwork and faster and still faster drumming, this no-hangers on approach is also the fact that all the songs are short :P...all of 32 minutes, like Reign in Blood, only about a thousand times better.

There's not much more to add to what the other reviews have already discussed. I also agree that it is hard to pick out a standout or a weak link in the album as every track is an excellent rollercoaster ride through seemingly endless tempo - even genre - switches. But if I had to pick a grouse at all, it would be the guitar solos. Throughout the album, they seem to be firmly rooted in the thrash/NWOBHM mode. In an otherwise 'crazy' album, this element of conservatism is a little disappointing, but even that by Atheist's exalted standards.

Rather than Cynic's Focus, I believe it is Gorguts's Obscura that is this album's true successor (Gorguts however are not on the progarchives, I believe). However, that album is a lot more difficult to get into and even then is hit-or-miss whereas anybody who is used to metal madness and the weird vocal techniques we tend to dig :P, Unquestionable Presence unquestionably owns.


Review by CCVP
5 stars And the pioneers of technical death metal once more rightfully appear among the 20 most important albums of tech/extreme progressive metal history on Prog Archives

Initial thoughts: Unquestionable Presence was, from the very fist time i listened it, mind blowing: the mix of death metal with completely crazy time signatures and time signature changes, broken rhythm, fast paced playing reminded me a lot the avant-garde prog bands and they also crazy playing (maybe they play like that because they have clear jazz and progressive rock influences on this album, making the music sounds very special and different from everything i ever saw; some even say that this is a death-jazz album). This band is also one of my favorites extreme prog metal bands (right after Death and Opeth) because they could not only make good releases, but also help trace the boundaries of this sub-genre with their revolutionary albums.

About the songs, musicianship and other features there are some thing i would like to state:

This album lyrics and themes are very broad. It talks about nature, aliens, social issues, personal issues, and some more, being a really large selection of subjects. About musicianship, there is no question about these guys ability and competence. The music they play is extremely hard to play, going from heavy riffing to odd time signature solos with broken rhythm and atonalism and to clear playing, always playing incredibly fast and furiously. Although they crazy playing, all instruments are clearly hearable and balanced, i mean, there is not an instrument that have all attention all the time, like in some other bands such as Death; no, all is perfectly measured for the instruments to play as having the same importance. The vocals are also great, i mean, sure this kind of screamed vocal is not beautiful, but it fits perfectly in this kind of music. The vocals also follow the broken rhythm of the music, what is very interesting and worth note, even to death metal.

Grade and final thoughts: Damn, this hurts me but i must say it: this album is not for everyone, there, i said it. Being so metal and having such complicated music stuff to digest, this is the kind of crazy avant-garde prog metal masterpiece that takes a lot to digest and fully comprehend its importance to the style. if you don't like this kind of thing PLEASE, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stay away from this album or AT LEAST listen it enough times to be sure of your grade (like a year); i mean it guys, seriously! Even though i was blown away and impressed by this album it took me a long time to fully appreciate this entirely.

Anyway, because Atheist helped to redefined what is extreme prog metal with their jazz beat, experimentalism and inovation and to push the boundaries as further as Death did and helped to trace a line to the new born genre with this test of musicianship, balance and hard work, Atheist deserves the masterpiece grade for sure!

Review by 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.

Review by russellk
4 stars The best of ATHEIST's three avant-garde death-jazz offerings, 'Unquestionable Presence' almost wins me over.

There's a great deal to like. Like it's sister band CYNIC (they shared a bassist at this point), ATHEISTS bristles with technical perfection and screams with energy. Unlike CYNIC (fortunately), the sound is not over-processed, though the vocals are too far down in the mix, making for difficult listening. The time signatures are plain crazy, almost MESHUGGAH-like, and the only stable thing about this album is the relentless change of metre and pace - ponderous one moment, galloping the next.

For me, though, all these things amount to something less than a masterpiece. There is no real rationale for riffs appearing and disappearing: the listener is not led anywhere by the chopped-up songs. The very best music of any genre is more than an appreciation of its component parts. At times KELLY SHAEFER sounds like an even angrier FISH rather than a testosterone-laden death metal vocalist. The Florida death metal scene really seemed to have trouble with their vocalists: CYNIC's, for example, was atrocious.

And there's the album's brevity. Eac son seem cu shor. The whole album ends before it's hardly started. Good for keeping up intensity, but 32 minutes isn't really enough to immerse oneself in.

For me this is a three-star album - with an extra star acknowledging its historical importance. A tech-metal gem, but not likely to appeal to a general prog audience.

Review by horsewithteeth11
5 stars This album proved to be rather strange for me. It was my first exposure to jazz metal, and I got it because of the many fantastic things I'd heard about it. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded like really demented technical death metal in odd time signatures, but didn't really hear the jazz much on the first song, Mother Man, which opened with a really strange yet groovy drum beat. On the second song and title track, the jazz became much more obvious with a bass line in the middle of the song, which almost sounded like a twisted walking bass technique you'd expect to hear in jazz. Retribution starts with a guitar riff with growls alternating in between the riffs. Spooky, but it works very well. The guitar solo on this song is insane. Enthralled in Essence starts with one of my favorite guitar riffs in the whole album and also has another killer bass line starting halfway through the song. An Incarnations Dream starts with an acoustic passage along with what sounds like a siren mixed with the wind and thunder from a fierce storm, quite a beautiful passage really. Once the sound effects go away, the acoustic passage continues with a brief solo before returning the listener to jazzy metal from hell. This is possibly my favorite track from the album. The Formative Years starts with a single note held by the one guitar while the other guitar saws away before both come in with ridiculous riffs. I don't even know how some of the drum rolls on this song are possible. A nice bass line comes in around 1:30 followed by what sounds like alternating guitar solos. Actually, this song really has more like 3 or 4 solo sections. Brains starts with lead and rhythm guitars alternating back and forth. Also has yet another nice bass riff which makes me wish learning bass could go faster so I could pull off some really cool riffs like the ones on this album. And The Psychic Saw starts with a guitar line that is almost as enjoyable as the one at the beginning of Enthralled in Essence. And once again we are treated to another fantastic bass riff that is played along a guitar solo. The song oddly enough ends with a gong being struck. So overall impressions of the album itself: very technical (and that's probably an understatement), very jazzy for metal, and unless you like death metal, then this album is probably going to take some getting used to. However, I would urge you if you're thinking of trying out some jazz metal to start with Cynic first as they are much more melodic and then move on to Atheist, particularly this album. This is definitely an album that any prog fan that enjoys jazz fusion should at least check out, as it is a very interesting and enjoyable take on jazz-turned-metal. Certainly a masterpiece and deserving of every single one of the 5 stars I give it.
Review by JJLehto
4 stars Another wonderful experience brought to us by Atheist. This album is a more progressive and jazzy then "Piece of Time" but it is still firmly rooted in death metal. While this album is very technical in its riffs, (and drumming) has time signatures all over the place, a very stop and go feel, slower tempo sections and jazz fusion guitar solos, "Unquestionable Presence" is still very metal.

The problem with most death metal bands are the vocals, but I actually like Kelly's! They are atypical for most metal. I love the way he sounds and think his vocals go along with the music well. However, the production quality on this album is not the best. While, this gives it a kind of gritty feel, it makes hearing him, and the music, difficult. Besides singing he also lays down some nice rhythm guitar.

Rand Burkey plays some great guitar on this album. The riffs are really indescribable, you have to hear them for yourself. He plays some wicked solo's but they are mainly along the lines of typical metal solo's. Tony Choy puts on quite a performance on bass, (though most of the bass music was written by now deceased Roger Patterson). The drumming is technical and jazzy. It is very fill heavy and just sounds like madness. However, as fans of prog and jazz we know better. It is not random, but actually organized chaos!

Mother Man: This song has a short little guitar intro and bass breakdown before going into the technical riff, and jazzy metal drumming. Kelly has some intense vocals on this song, be warned. From 1:30 to 2:30 is a progression of technical metal riffs, melodic jazzy solos, and shred solos. The main song then picks up, although even this is unique. The riffs change constantly and solos randomly fill the music, a long with musical interludes with bird chirping.

Unquestionable Presence: One of the best intros on the album. While the "sound" of the album is here I think this may be the most straightforward metal song.

Your Lifes Retribution: A small stop and go, back and forth guitar intro then quick bass breakdown start the song before plunging into the fast riff. I LOVE the quick riff at :49, as well as the one at 1:36. The middle of the song is filled with solos, and the ending is intense. Some good bass on this song as well.

Enthralled in Essence: Has a slow, heavy beginning, followed by a quick solo. This is a medium paced song overall. Riffs have a great feel through the song.

An Incarnations Dream: The first minute is slow and melodic, with clean guitar work and solos. Really nice sound, then the intensity hits you like a wall, (well you have 1 second to brace yourself). A slower, heavy song for the first half, the last minute is quite technical and intense.

The Formative years: One of the slower songs on the album, its quite heavy and crushing most of the way through. There are some thrash parts. You can hear some of the best drumming on this song, and Choy plays some nice bass.

Brains: One of the standouts. Sweet intro right out of the gate, followed by some death metal riffs. At 2:00 the best part of the song starts. There is some really technical drumming over the last half.

And the Psychic Saw: My favorite song of the album. An intense thrash intro followed by an amazing guitar riff, soon being played by both. It continues as the bass and drums are added before going into a small, small solo and then the main song. Very thrashy but with several tempo and style changes throughout.

Overall, one hell of an album. However, this is not for everyone. The average progger should avoid this one. As well as fans of "lighter" prog metal. However, this is a must for any metal fan/heavy prog metal fans. While a great prog metal album it can be a bit predictable. Even each song is different and pretty wild, there is a more or less similar pattern followed. Quality is a bit poor. I give "Unquestionable Presence" a rating of 4 stars.

Review by b_olariu
3 stars The fathers of avant garde death jazz ???

Atheist is for more than 20 years the pile of tech extreme genre with 3 albums, each one with someting to offer, but the middle of those 3 , Unquestionable presence from 1991 is their best - at least 90% of the reviewers said and argued aswell. Now here is my opinion abiut this band and particular this album. Being awere of brutal music from begging of the '90's when I discovered bands like Death, Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Cynic (more or less brutal), etc I gied a try to this band from USA named Athesist. Didn't know anything about them in that period , it was in 1992. From the first listen I was blown away by them, how speedy they manage to play , how brutal but in same time how smooth and inventive with catchy pieces. I was so fascinating ten because they were in same vein with Death who just released Human, or later on Cynic. Atheist was and still remain not an usual death metal band, the growls are on every piece but in a diffren't way as on every death band from that period, the music is death metal to my ears but very updated with jazz and speed elements, combined is Atheist, an unique and solid band from early' 90's. The music is very well played, very strong , the muscianship is excellent, but is but always, sometimes they repet themself to many times on each piece. Then, 16 years I was very impressed about this album , as I said, now today something is diffrent in my view, more I listen more my view about some bands from my youth changed (in better or worse , depends), this time in worse. Noe this album seems to me a good one, no doubt about it, but less convinceing and enjoyble than was 15 years ago. All the pieces has same level, I can't extract one to be the best, anyway they repete to much the same riffs and vocal arrangemets on every piece. That makes me give only 3 stars. Prefer all the way anything Death released over the years in stead of Atheist, Still a strong album in my view but nothing about a masterpiece here.

Review by The Sleepwalker
3 stars Atheist is an unique band, blending elements of jazz and death metal into one. Their second album, Unquestionable Presence, if often seen as their masterpiece. I'm not sure where those thoughts come from though, as I don't hear much more than a good album in it.

Don't get me wrong here. Unquestionable Presence is a very innovative and interesting album, featuring some great pieces of music. The album opener, "Mother Man", for example is one of those tracks. A lovely rythm section underneath a layer of crunchy guitars and Kelly Shaefer's aggresive vocal style. Another great song is the aggresive "Enthralled In Essence", being a very heavy and complicated piece of music. Also very notable is "An Incarnation's Dream". The song opens with a wonderful gentle intro, before exploding into a heavy beast. I find these the best tracks on the album, and though there are no really bad tracks on the album I think the other's are much less interesting.

So though the album has no music on it that I dislike, I feel that the album has too few moments that are more than just good. Therefore I rate the album three stars, though I think that the combination of melodic jazz and crushing metal could have been a far more successful one.

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The second part of Atheist's trilogy almost came to a complete halt after the band's original bass player Roger Patterson was killed in a car accident right before the recording of Unquestionable Presence. Luckily, the future Cynic collaborator, Tony Choy was brought in as a replacement and even though most of the material was written before he joined, Choy really managed to make his mark on this record!

The first sounds that are heard on the album opening Mother Man are in fact the sweet sounds of a bass guitar which becomes even more unique considering that Death Metal, in general, isn't the kindest genre for bass players to get recognition in. The first minute of the opening number reveals almost all of the shades that Atheist have managed to obtain since their debut album and the results are impressive to say the least! Still, the best is yet to come and after listening to another three strictly Tech/Extreme Prog Metal tunes we finally get to an impressive display of acoustic introduction on An Incarnation's Dream with a few latin rhythm moments added into the mix. The rest of the composition returns to the more familiar sound level until it slows down for a jazz-like harmony demonstration towards the middle of the performance only to return to its roots right at the end. Easily the biggest highlight from the album!

Out of the last three tracks, Formative Years and And The Psychic Saw are the ones that share a reoccurring theme of upbeat playing that at times almost makes Atheist sound as if they plan to cross the border to realms of Power Metal. Of course they never really cross that line and instead demonstrate to us, once again, their highly versatile style. Brains is a slightly different beast that actually reminds me more of the opening track Mother Man, with many spontaneous shifts in rhythm and quite unusual time signatures-display.

If I had to rate this album only a few years ago then it would have easily received my highest praise, but as I grow older I start to notice minor flaws that actually become real obstacles on that path to glory. Let's face it, the album's product have never really suited this music that much. The raw and almost low-fi sounding production that gave Piece Of Mind an even greater Death Metal-edge sounds slightly out of place when Atheist start adding latin and jazz elements into their repertoire. Luckily their final album got rid of most of these flaws, but more on that later!

***** star songs: Mother Man (4:34) An Incarnation's Dream (4:52) Brains (3:41)

**** star songs: Unquestionable Presence (4:07) Your Life's Retribution (3:17) Enthralled In Essence (3:38) The Formative Years (3:31) And The Psychic Saw (4:45)

Review by Conor Fynes
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.

Review by EatThatPhonebook
4 stars I can't believe how much it took for me to really appreciate this album. For me this must have been one of the most hard listenings ever. "Unquestionable Presence" is the second album of Tech Death Metal masters Atheist,from Florida, and it is with this record that the band goes down in metal history.

After "Piece of Time", the band's ambitions for the next album were much higher. To the usual death metal elements, Atheist put in their music jazzier moods and harmonies as well as Latin music based rhythms; "Unquestionable Presence" seemed to reach the pinnacle of death metal, and it never had so many influences before. In fact, UP was released in 1991, a few years after the official birth of the genre. What strikes the most about this album is the almost total lack of melody in all eight songs; all of these, despite being short tracks, have an impressive amount of time changes,which can make the listener completely confused even if he gets for distracted for one second.Despite it being pretty ambitious, it still maintains a typically death metal sound; violent and at times thrashy guitars, the growl vocals (even though singer Kelly Shaefer uses exclusively high pitched growls, comparable to Death singer Chuck Schuldiner), the fast tempos, the pounding bass and drums.

Then again, these elements are brought up to a whole new level thanks to the excellent musicianship from all members:the already mentioned singer Kelly Shaefer is very original in playing his part, Randy Burkey fills everything Kelly does, Tony Choy proves with all the bass solos through the album that he is one of the best bassists of the genre, and Steve Flynn has some amazing fills and rhythms that totally win my respect. The production of the album is quite impressive, compared to the kind of lo-fi sounding productions in the metal scene, especially thrash metal, that was around in that period.

"Mother Man" is the opening track, quite possibly the band's most famous song and their most beloved. A death metal classic; but we have also other songs that are perfectly able to e compared to the opener, like the title track, with it's mysterious intro and amazing riff, or "Enthralled In Essence" with it's odd time tempos and constant changes, "An Incarnation's Dream", containing the best intro for a song in the entire album, "The Formative Years" with it's wild drums, and the final "And The Physic Saw", another classic of the band.

Despite being only 32 minutes, "Unquestionable Presence" is an absolutely radical landmark album of Death Metal. If you want to start listening to tech death metal (I find it hard to believe that you're already into it but you haven't heard this album at least once), this is one of the starting points, no doubt in that.

Review by Warthur
4 stars Unquestionable Presence is not an album which will yield its secrets on a single listen - but one listen will be enough to convince anyone that it's a groundbreaking moment in death metal, taking the technicality of the genre to the next level by including far more jazz-inspired time signatures and motifs to the music than the preceding Piece of Time (which was hardly simple and straightforward itself). At points, the music resembles the work of the Minutemen, whose work in fusing avant-jazz in hardcore punk was another great example of shoving some jazz in a genre which didn't seem built for it and coming up with brilliant results.
Review by Prog Sothoth
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by siLLy puPPy
5 stars And then in 1991 one of the landmark tech death metal albums in history was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public. ATHEIST was already a veritable metal act even with their demos and released a gem of a slightly tech death album with "Piece Of Time" with extremely high achievements in both the speed and songwriting department. One of the stars of the show was undoubtedly Roger Patterson whose virtuosic bass playing skills shot the band into a realm above and beyond what anyone else was producing at the time. It was a huge loss when Patterson was killed in a car accident in the midst of recording the second album UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE. Any lesser band may have called it a day with such a stress factor suddenly rearing its ugly head but ATHEIST had the tenacity of a post-nuclear holocaust cockroach and stuck to their guns and recruited Cuban bassist Tony Choy to replace the seemingly irreplaceable.

While ATHEIST was already in the midst of upping the technical aspects of their highly aggressive death metal, it was, in a way, fortuitous to land Choy as a bassist, for he found a home with his slap and pop and two-handed tapping playing techniques that allowed him to fully exploit what all those frets are capable of. Because of Choy's involvement not only did they get a more than capable bassist to fill Patterson's shoes, but they got a whole other culture of influences including the Latin rhythms to battle it out with the jazz-tinged time signatures. Because many of the tracks were written with Patterson, this album has the distinct attribute of having one bassist active in the creative birth pangs of the album while another picks it up and adds his different interpretations. The result is one of the most demanding and outstanding tech death metal albums to ever come out.

While the complexity of this album is undeniable, so is the accessibility. The seamlessness of it is the brilliance. It has enough to hook you in instantly but more than enough to continue to lure you deeper and deeper into its seductive grasps. Kelly Shaefer really grows as a vocalist and the dual guitar assaults that he and Randy Burkey pummel the senses leave the progressive headbanger in a steady state of bliss. Each track is diverse and takes the listener on a roller coaster ride of tech death aggressive fury that only ratchets up the luxuriation on subsequent spins. This is one of those growers. It didn't blow me away on first listen by any means but certain has since. The perfect marriage of progressive jazz-fusion and the most extreme metal can be found on UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE, one of my all time favorite albums of any musical genre.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Funk Bass! Sustained power chords (a la RUSH). Growl/scream vocals that can be understood! Where Unquestionable Presence fails for me is in its homogeneity: one song seems to seamlessly bleed into the next with little or too little change in sound, pace and style. Songs 2 & 3 seem to be the same song (though songs 5. "An Incarnation's Dream," 7. "Brains," and 8. "And the Psychic Saw" feel like pure death metal updates of THIN LIZZY songs). Plus, with a length of only 30 minutes, this can hardly be considered a complete album.

For me what makes this album and band stand out is the clear presence and outstanding musicianship of the bass player. The drummer is also quite impressive. He is very quick and possesses uncanny precision, and is not prone to over-fill or overdo.

Favorite song: the intro of the BLACK SABBATH-like 6. "The Formative Years" (8.5/10)

Four stars. It might not be your cup of tea but the instrumentalists alone make it worth checking out.

Review by The Crow
3 stars Second Atheist effort and a true classic of the tech-extreme metal subgenre!

The band repeated with the producer Scott Burns to travel further into their fusion between the death metal of the 90's with jazz elements, avant-garde and progressive metal, all that played at an incredible speed and with an outstanding technique.

Nevertheless, though I admire the expertise of these musicians with their respective instruments, I find this album a bit dry and repetitive in the long term. It's much more evolved that Piece of Time, which was more straightforward death metal despite having also tons of fusion elements, but it's not catchy enough for me to resist a regular listen out.

Maybe it is because all the songs sound very similar despite their thousand changes and different rhythms, or maybe the boring vocals, but Unquestionable Presence is just not my cup of tea.

Best Tracks: Unquestionable Presence (incredible syncopated bass), Enthralled in Essence (very good initial guitar melody and great guitar solos) and And the Psychic Saw (the most progressive and positive song of the album)

Conclusion: it's obvious that this album is a technical wonder and it contains an incredible interpretation from every member of the band, especially Choy and Fynn in bass and drums respectively, but in my opinion it lacks something to be really catchy and thrilling.

Nevertheless, Unquestionable Presence is interesting enough to make me want to hear the posterior Elements and the much more recent Jupiter.

My rating: ***

Review by friso
4 stars In the early progressive metal Metallica was successful in presenting its riffs with a certain breathing space and a good place to really make them stand out. Take for instance in the title piece of 'Justice For All'. In progressive death metal this idea of the hyper organised compositions was dropped. All good ideas are then to be thrown after one each other in a rapid succession, always catching the listener off guard. Highly energetic, fast in pace and raw in execution. An impressive mindset in its own right, but different. There are some basic song-structures, but on this Atheist album none of the songs sound very finished or refined. Which is by the way the main difference in quality with the slightly more organised progressive death metal releases of the band Death, who would release 'Human' in the same year (1991). At my first impression I was a bit influenced by another reviewer who called it 'muppets metal', probably because of the extremely fast and over the top performance of Atheist here. The insanely fast solo's, short-lived heavy riffs, complex jazz arrangements and heavy vocals are really quite something. After some more spins this type of extreme metal started to sound more natural to me and I began to get a feel of 'how it worked'. I can now safely say that I really like this album and raw musical creativity it transfers to the listener. Compared to my favorite progressive death metal album (Death's 'Symbolic') it lacks some hooks and effective song-writing, but it does excel in fusion-type bass-lines and that bizar mixture of brilliant musicianship and rather silly teenage anger. Fans of Pestilence should also take notice here.

Latest members reviews

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 throughou ... (read more)

Report this review (#2526833) | Posted by dougmcauliffe | Sunday, March 21, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I made a huge list of essential albums that I got off this website. I overlooked this album along with a couple of other ones I also overlooked. I approached this album with a progressive mindset rather than a death metal one, mainly because it isn't cliche like other death metal albums I have heard ... (read more)

Report this review (#2151491) | Posted by progtime1234567 | Sunday, March 3, 2019 | Review Permanlink

4 stars An album loaded with some jazz fusion segments and some heavily busy rhythmic workout that sometimes tends to toss some pointless things at you. Some of it includes a bass line on "Incantation's Dream" that just feels tacked on or some riffs. Other times, there's some chugging riffs to fill some t ... (read more)

Report this review (#573907) | Posted by Venusfly91 | Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars *This album is really something around 4.5 stars rather than 4. Who would have thought that death metal and jazz, two genres on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, could be fused together so well? Well, it took a band like Atheist to prove that its possible, and they fused these two genres v ... (read more)

Report this review (#176394) | Posted by spookytooth | Wednesday, July 9, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The first time I listened to this album, I remember lying in bed with an MP3 player and some high quality ear buds, and after listening to about 30 seconds of mother man, I could not stop laughing. I have never heard anything so ridiculously fast and change so rapidly in my life. It took me ... (read more)

Report this review (#169975) | Posted by ColinRetzlaff | Monday, May 5, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars As much as I tried to enjoy these guys, I, personally, just never could get into this kind of metal. That is, however, not to say that they aren't a good band- in fact, Atheist is pretty amazing. I've never heard music this immaculately well-structured before. This album, in particular, encompasse ... (read more)

Report this review (#165796) | Posted by MTZArts | Saturday, April 5, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars At first i wasn't touched by the music of Atheist because i hadn't been into death metal for a long time, and acts like Hypocrisy and Cannibal Corpse were far far more appreciated by my humble mind. Anyway, back then i used to find Unquestionable Presence an album with a thin and inhomogeneous sou ... (read more)

Report this review (#151571) | Posted by Zarec | Sunday, November 18, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I strongly considered knocking this down to a 4.5 stars, but I can't see enough flaws in it to bring it down that far. Its relatively brief length is probably all it has going against it. ATHEIST's second album was almost all finished before Roger Patterson's untimely death, and represents a massi ... (read more)

Report this review (#148319) | Posted by Xanadu97 | Wednesday, October 31, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is the most important technical death metal release of all time, hands down. Nonstop jazzy insanity for 40 minutes. Opener "Mother Man" is probably the best death metal song ever recorded, and the bass and drums work on this album makes Squire and Bruford SO envious. Brilliant stuff, buy it ... (read more)

Report this review (#146459) | Posted by DethMaiden | Monday, October 22, 2007 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Atheist were a totally new thing for me. They play a mix of über-complex Jazz-rock and Technical Death metal. It goes pretty well together, but it isn't very easy listened. If you like old 70's prog, you shouldn't get this, it would just be a waste of money. My favourite songs here are impossible ... (read more)

Report this review (#96061) | Posted by Abstrakt | Saturday, October 28, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Atheist needs no introduction, seing as how they are one of the more exalted metal bands ever to form. Unquestionable Presence is the follow-up to their extremely polished and well executed first album, Piece of Time. It would be a very tough act to follow and even tough to expand upon. But here, ... (read more)

Report this review (#73801) | Posted by | Saturday, April 1, 2006 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Though I admit that this album did eventually grow on me to the point where it became listenable, I still have few positive things to say about it. This is basically an extreme metal band trying to break away from the limitations set by their genre with the aid of everchanging tempos and time ... (read more)

Report this review (#55999) | Posted by Pafnutij | Saturday, November 12, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars After the tragical death of original bassist Roger Patterson, a Cuban player from a local band called Cynic joined them, namely Tony Choy. Six songs out of the eight had been co-written by Patterson but Choy did a good job with the unfamiliar songs. "Unquestionable Presence" is without any dou ... (read more)

Report this review (#42763) | Posted by riversdancing | Sunday, August 14, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars 1. Mother Man (10/10) 2. Unquestionable Presence (10/10) 3. Your Life's Retribution (9.5/10) 4. Enthralled in Essence (9.5/10) 5. An Incarnation's Dream (9.5/10) 6. The Formative Years (8/10) 7. Brains (8.5/10) 8. And The Psychic Saw (9.5/10) Atheist, an angry high-speed explosion ... (read more)

Report this review (#42402) | Posted by | Wednesday, August 10, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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