Atheist – Unquestionable Presence (1991)
As an obscure blogger on some corner of the internet, it is my sacred duty to claim that people don’t notice when their favorite bands subtly change. I want to say, based on what I’ve read, that Unquestionable Presence is a relatively minor evolution from Atheist’s debut (Piece of Time). Unfortunately, that’s yet another statement I can’t confirm, because I haven’t given the first album the intensive listening I would need in order to do so. The narrative, though, might be useful to some of you – Unquestionable Presence is unquestionably more jazz-oriented than its predecessor, showing off some rhythmic and harmonic advances that weren’t common then. Make no mistake of it, though – it is still a tightly structured metal album with little room for improvisation or other stereotypical jazz elements.
Were it not for the jazz, Atheist’s marketing would probably buzz about the speed/thrash/death metal fusion that underlies their sound. It’s a nebulous sort of extremity – Kelly Shaefer’s vocals are plenty distorted and maniacal, but more in the high pitched sense you’d expect from a band like Destruction. The instrumentation here’s also pretty fast and percussive, but the emphasis is way more on intricate instrumental interplay and technical wizardry than you’d expect if you didn’t know about the jazz influences. One nice bonus is that the bassist (Tony Choy) plays a big role in shaping this band’s sound, playing his share of distinct slapped basslines and boosting the rhythmic power of this band.
All of this musicianship is packed into 32 minutes of dense and straight up angular compositions. Atheist works through more distinct song sections on this album than your average radio musician does in their entire career… well, either that or I’m deliberately exaggerating, but it does mean there’s a lot of distinct sections to these songs. The transitions are consistently abrupt, which definitely fits the chaotic mood, even if I’m not necessarily a fan of such in general. The sheer musical density does mean this’ll strain your brain and energy reserves more than your average half hour blast fest, at least if you try to analyze as you go.
As far as I’m concerned, Unquestionable Presence doesn’t have a lot of hooks to draw in a casual listener, but there’s enough substance that it will draw in those who give it the study it deserves. In my personal experience, the fuse on this one wasn’t as slow to fire as the one on Onward To Golgotha (which still holds some sort of local record), but it still took me a while to appreciate this, especially compared to more synthy takes on the jazz-death formula like those of Cynic and Pestilence.
Highlights: “Unquestionable Presence”, “Retribution”, “An Incarnation’s Dream”