Released: 2005, Relapse Records
From the release of PIECE OF TIME till the recording of UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE there were some sharp and deep changes in the Atheist camp. Not only was there a rather strong musical shift but the band lost not only a bassist but a strong creative force in the death of Roger Patterson (who died in 1991 before UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE had been recorded). From the time of Roger’s death to the recording of this sophomore effort the band were able to regroup, hire Tony Choy, and record and release this genre defining masterpiece.
The growth from PIECE OF TIME to UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE is almost shocking and for many metal fans at the time one can only assume how many jaws dropped when the opening notes of “Mother Man” emanated from the stereo. The technicality, odd timing, and jazz rhythms that were only hinted at here and there on PIECE OF TIME were brought to the forefront here, showcasing a completely different sound for the era and laying down the blue print for most of the technical death metal bands that have followed in the following decades (though it’s arguable whether any have ever been able to live up this album). This is tech jazz/death, whatever you want to call it, at its finest. While some bands of the era went to the extremes within the style (Pestilence’s SPHERES or Cynic’s FOCUS) they weren’t really able to keep the intensity of prior works and keep it as undeniably metal as Atheist were able to (face it, those robotic voices on FOCUS border on annoying).
In opening the album with “Mother Man” Atheist were set to shock the metal world. Many will instantly be knocked back by the oddly timed drums (which may almost sound like a constant solo to some) and rather untraditional guitar lines. Though the song is reeled in later on and does not get too far out there for most metalheads, while certainly not very traditional, the main riff can get some air guitars out as well as some heads banging, but those looking for total headbang/mosh fodder will find very little interest in this opening track, or even later numbers as this isn’t just a bland riff assault thrown together to get some gigs, this is music that really stands above most metal bands, ever, let alone during the era Atheist came from. While “Mother Man” may have created the initial shock the title track, “Unquestionable Presence”, will knock the listener to the floor. The opening section that reoccurs throughout the song is not only rather odd, but in a weird way it creates something instantly catchy about the song, though it’s after first amazing solo that the song really takes off with many thrash riffs coming at you and this all flows together into technical sections, over the top drums, and some amazing bass work.
Following the title track most listeners will slowly find themselves accustomed to the abrupt starts and stops, the crazy drum work, the amazing bass and the awe inspiring riffs but the songs stand strong regardless of whether one is accustomed to the style or not. Unlike many bands these songs ARE timeless and aren’t just complete circle jerks for the musicians, each songs has a definite point and the instruments follow a path as opposed to just going crazy for the hell of it. The thing you’ll be impressed with after a lot of time isn’t how well the band played, but how well the journey was from the beginning right to the end of the album.
With this reissue, much like the other two Atheist reissues, there are many bonuses to freak out about. The main one being the pre-production demo from 1990 featuring Roger Patterson on 6 of the songs that show up on the regular album and for many Patterson fans that will be one hell of an enjoyable listen. Following that there is a second demo from 1990 also featuring Patterson, though it’s of a song that is already featured on the aforementioned pre-production demo, that song being “Enthralled in Essence”. As a slight bonus there is “Mother Man” with only drums & bass as well as the final track being the rhythm tracks from “And the Psychic Saw”. As well, there are also some rather interesting liner notes from both guitarist/vocalist Kelly Shaefer and journalist Ula Gehret.
UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE never lets up. It’s intense, it’s technical, it’s heavy, it’s experimental and one thing this album will always be is a cut above.