The gold standard of technical death metal, in my mind. There are some bands who have exceeded Atheist
in the years since... but only a handful, truly. Few bands offer an experience that rivaled this record. It is mastery in a way only few bands have ever achieved, in my opinion.
What sets this eons above most technical death metal is how natural and seamlessly the band incorporate all of the various Elements
(no pun intended) of their sound, without coming off as forced or masturbatory. Sure, there's constantly shifting time signatures and jazzy parts here and there, but it's never forced or arbitrarily inserted. Every part of the songs are not just needed, but absolutely vital to how they're written. The band never use them to show off just how ultra-talented and technical they are, playing with a sense of discipline that perfectly matches where they took these songs.
The songs on this are masterful. In eight songs and about 32 and a half minutes, Atheist
pretty much showcase what makes technical death metal such a rewarding, adventurous listen at its best. The riffs on this record are stunning; the band's roots in thrash and death metal clearly remain evident throughout, with nods to the great - and criminally underrated - Watchtower
through. The band's useage of lead harmonies was a decision that perfectly played off, adding a lot of color to these songs. The bass work is pretty much as excellent as everybody says; Tony Choy does an excellent job of reproducing Roger Patterson and acting perfectly as a lead instrument throughout. The drumming is just about perfect for the material at hand; Steve Flynn does an amazing job tastefully juggling all of the time signatures and jazzy rhythms without failing to provide a backing for the rest of the music to work off of. The lead guitar work is outstanding... that might be a cliche thing to say for a tech-death record, but it's especially true for this. The solos are intensely melodic, but they're truly tastefully played and integrated into the songs.
But above all, what sets Unquestionable Presence
apart for me are just how excellently composed the songs are. The songs are intensely intricate, yet memorable, and with a sense of direction that tech-death could learn from again. The band never fails to keep one's attention throughout songs that twist, turn, and loop around. That
's not to say the band never forget the themes they established earlier in the songs, but the band even in the most seemingly chaotic moments build up from them perfectly. The band refined these songs perfectly, there's never an out-of-place moment in them and the length of them allows the band to highlight add of the ideas they had, without being too short to leave them undeveloped, but never excessively bloating them out. In terms of songs, it's hard as hell to name my favourites; the space yet colourful title track, the tense "Formative Years", or the stunning "Enthralled
" are my top picks, but the rest is of such quality that it almost doesn't even matter.
The production is perfect for this as well. I have the '05 Relapse reissue of the record, so I can't say how it compares to the original master, but the sound here is absolutely perfect. It's crystal clear, and it gives breathing room to all of the instruments, but it's never sterile. On the contrary; the production on Unquestionable Presence
has a distinctly organic feel to it. The guitar tone is sharp and punchy, and both the drums and bass possess rich tones to them that fit the music perfectly. (even the bass drums sound excellent on this)
This is a brilliant record all around. Yes, it's a bit inaccessible and it takes a while to wrap your head around. But it's a truly wonderful record, when all is said and done. Alongside the more aggressive Piece of Time
, it showcases Atheist
at their absolute best.