Monday, 27 July 2015

Atheist - ‘Unquestionable Presence’ Reissue (Album Review)


‘Overall, then, this record still stands as a landmark for tech-death, metal/jazz fusion and all progression in the genre of metal. It is a classic and absolutely essential…’

Album Type: Full-Length (Reissue)
Date Released: 27/07/2015
Label: Season of Mist

‘Unquestionable Presence’ CD//DVD// Reissue track listing:

01. Mother Man
02. Unquestionable Presence
03. Your Life's Retribution
04. Enthralled in Essence
05. An Incarnation's Dream
06. The Formative Years
07. Brains
08. And the Psychic Saw

Pre-production demo:
9. Enthralled in Essence
10. The Formative Years
11. Unquestionable Presence
12. An Incarnation's Dream
13. Retribution (instrumental)
14. Brains (instrumental)

Demo 1990:
15. Enthralled in Essence

Drums & bass tracks:
16. Mother Man

Rhythm tracks:
17. And the Psychic Saw

Atheist were on this recording:

Kelly Shaefer | guitars, vocals
Tony Choy | bass
Roger Patterson | music
Steve Flynn | drums
Rand Burkey | guitars

Review:

Atheist. Florida. 1991. These three facts should be very descriptive about the content held herein this lavish reissue... However, this is nothing like Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Malevolent Creation, Obituary et al (not that those bands sound anything like each other anyway- they are only banded by sub genre). In fact, this album has more in common with the direction that Death would head in a year or two later, but is still not comparable. Perhaps Cynic would be a better comparison as this is technical death metal of the earliest and finest variety. The first couple of minutes really marks Atheist and this album out as different. These good ol' boys, way down south in redneck territory were pioneers, carving out a brain twisting path through the musical swamp.

There are a lot of fusion elements here- some of the playing is really jazzy- and yes, that is across the board; rhythm section and guitars. Sure, there are riffs aplenty (all change, all the time!), solos and the virtuoso bass performance but there is something about this record that is very much ahead of this time. If I didn't know that this record was nearly 25 years old I never would have guessed as the production is superb. Everything cuts superbly, which is no mean feat considering how much is going on. The drums are tight and punchy (no pro tools at this time and I assume a limited recording budget so these guys must really have the chops), the bass noodles expertly and the vocals are nowhere near as extreme as some other DM acts from this or any other period. I guess this is like a more cerebral or even jazz version of Death at their peak (which as very cerebral in iteself!).

It is very interesting to note that while technical means exactly that, progressive here does not mean “play aimlessly for ten minutes plus while everything goes nowhere”- all the songs are very short compared to modern standards; four minutes being a reasonable average. The likes of “Enthralled in Essence” are very weighty in places, but not all the time as there is plenty of use of dynamics and odd rhythms. The double bass drums are not continual and blasting is not a feature. Acoustic guitars feature here and there in intros (excellent) and there is a very palpable sense that the band were really trying to excel themselves on this sophomore effort; better playing, better production, better composition.

There are some very odd poly-rhythms here and there, lots of syncopation, and lots of changes. A track by track analysis is worthless here; suffice it to say that there is a lot of technical metal for your delectation. Bonus tracks are included which feature bassist Roger Patterson, who sadly died before the record proper was recorded. His bass lines survived and were re-created, so the album still stands as testimony to his incredible skills.

Overall, then, this record still stands as a landmark for tech-death, metal/jazz fusion and all progression in the genre of metal. It is a classic and absolutely essential, particularly if you ever stick on an Opeth album and think it sounds too much like AC/DC. As technical as it gets.

Words by: Richard Maw

‘Unquestionable Presence’ is available here

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