Please note that this review is for the 2005 reissue released by Relapse Records.
I remember it being April of 2006, when I was on my way out of high school and eating up any good-looking thrash and death metal albums recommended to me. I got this album at the nearest FYE one Friday after school, and popped it in my car CD player. While I liked what I heard, the vocals were a little of a turnoff for me since at the time, I only wanted lower-pitched growls in my death metal. Just like with Atheist's first album, "Piece of Time," this would be another one of those albums that I would listen to in the near future after purchasing it and realizing just how awesome it really is. Even after digesting a ton of other superb extreme metal albums over the years, I still hold this as one of the best the genre has to offer.
After creating the masterful "Piece of Time," Atheist would tour for the album and in late 1990/early 1991, would start work on "Unquestionable Presence." This period is marked with intense sadness because in February of 1991, while the band was on the road, their van was in a bad accident, leaving Roger Patterson dead (not to mention the others were hurt as well). However, the band refused to let this stop them, as they got Cynic bassist Tony Choy to fill Roger's shoes, and Choy's contributions would have made Patterson proud.
The music style in "Unquestionable Presence" is pretty similar to "Piece of Time," but with a stronger emphasis on jazz and progressive elements, though the band doesn't abandon their thrash roots. It's a perfect balance of evolution, complexity, and all-out metal aggression.
As usual, Kelly Shaefer delivers excellent guitar and vocal work on this album. Shaefer continues the vocal style he mastered in "Piece of Time" with what sounds like a slightly more frenzied delivery, which is a good thing. His riffs and solos have improved as well (which is a surprise, since they were already amazing). Shaefer and Burkey deliver more jazz and progressive guitar riffs in their songs, all while still playing the thrashing metal mayhem they mastered in their previous album. Shaefer's solos have also matured as well, delivering a varied pallet of music while still being unmistakeably heavy f***ing metal. I think the best songs that reflect the evolution in guitars would be "Mother Man," "Retribution," "Enthralled in Essence," and "And the Psychic Saw."
Rand Burkey has also improved. Like Shaefer, Burkey has improved his riff construction and guitar solos. With the solos, instead of being the sporadic explosions of notes that they were in "Piece of Time," they show more maturity and development by playing longer, tuneful solos that perfectly display Burkey's and Shaefer's talents. I think the songs with the best guitar solos has to be in "Retribution" and "The Formative Years."
Tony Choy had a gigantic task to live up to Roger Patterson's masterful bass work. Thankfully, Choy not only filled those shoes, but evolved on what the band originally sought out. Choy's bass is not only very pronounced in the songs, but also shows more depth through good use of dynamics. Choy perfectly executed moments in the songs that assault the listener with frenetic bass while in some others, delivers more mellow bass lines that fit the songs like a glove. I think some of his best bass would be in songs like "Mother Man," "Retribution," "An Incarnation's Dream," and "And the Psychic Saw."
Steve Flynn, like the rest of the musicians here, has shown growth. Aside from perfectly delivering frenetic fills and beats perfect for a thrash/death metal album, he slows down with the rest of the band in the appropriate moments, and pulls it off perfectly.
Like in "Piece of Time," picking out favorite songs is extremely difficult since all of them are so brilliant. If I had to pick out favorites, they'd be "Mother Man," "Unquestionable Presence," "Retribution," "Enthralled in Essence," "An Incarnation's Dream," "The Formative Years," and "And the Psychic Saw." "Mother Man" has some killer bass towards the beginning while being followed by a jazzy metal section, then followed by mid-paced thrashing intensity. The guitar solo in it will wow you like mad, and the bass around 3:21 excellently transitions into something more mellow. "Unquestionable Presence" has some excellent dynamics in this one as it starts off pretty mellow but gracefully changes into a metal monster. "Retribution" has one of the best guitar solos on the whole album, followed by nifty bass patterns that are really uncommon in metal circles. "Enthralled in Essence" has a really cool guitar solo near the middle followed by one of the coolest sets of riffs I ever heard in a metal album. I can keep going, but I want to save you some surprises in this album.
As usual, Scott Burns and Morrisound do a great job producing the album. Everything comes in crystal clear, including the bass. Despite the crystal clear sound quality, nothing sounds sterile. The sound quality helps enhance how full of life all the music is.
Relapse Records' reissue of this album also has nine bonus tracks. This includes a one track demo featuring Roger Patterson, a pre-production demo featuring Patterson, a "drum and bass" track, and a rhythm track. The pre-production demos with Patterson in them are neat to listen to since they serve a little as reminders as what the album might have sounded like had Roger still lived. The most interesting track on here is the "drum and bass" track of "Mother Man." Since Atheist is a band with excellent drum and bass players, it's neat to hear only these instruments do their work for this song. I actually would have liked to hear more renditions of others songs in this manner.
In a world where the term "masterpiece" is used too much, Atheist's "Unquestionable Presence" is an album truly deserving of such a label.
This album is the perfect successor to "Piece of Time." If you're a death metal fan, you owe it to yourself to pick up "Piece of Time" and especially "Unquestionable Presence." You won't be disappointed in either.