The long overdue reissues of the three Atheist albums are finally available thanks to Relapse Records. Formed back in the late 1980's in Florida, Atheist were perhaps the first technical extreme metal band. Taking their sound from early Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Exodus one step further, Atheist channeled the brutality of death metal, the speed of thrash, and the intricate technicality of progressive metal into one single sound, forging the way for bands like Watchtower, Death, and Cynic, as well as newer bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Spiral Architect. Unquestionable Presence was the bands second and best effort, as their sound really developed on this one into a force of immense talent.
Original bass player Roger Patterson was killed in a freak bus accident (ironically much like Metallica's Cliff Burton a few years previously) before the band recorded the album, and Cynic bassist Tony Choy joined guitarist/vocalist Kelly Schaefer, guitarist Rand Burkey, and drummer Steve Flynn to record Unquestionable Presence in 1991. The complexity of this album is pretty staggering, and as heavy as it is you can hear all the little intricate parts, something that modern technical metal bands like Cryptopsy and Suffocation have a hard time doing at times. Songs like "Retribution" and the kick ass title track feature Schaefer and Burkey weaving complex riffs around each other while Choy and Flynn engage in some seriously insane grooves. As for the lead work, there's no question that bands like Arch Enemy must have listened to Atheist at some point in time, as there is some seriously melodic shredding going on here, like on the mezmerizing "Enthralled in Essence". Schaeffer's vocals are pretty tame by today's extreme standards, but his thrashy death growl works just fine on these songs, and he's pretty decipherable which is a good thing. His aggressive vocals work as another instrument on the intense workout "An Incarnation's Dream", a song that features multiple time changes and blazing lead guitar work. Chugging thrash guitar riffs meet blinding bass runs on the rampaging "The Formative Years" , and Schaefer's lyrics of what goes on inside ones mind on "Brain" are as intricate as the musical mayhem that goes alongside it. The best is saved for last, the progressive metal anthem "And the Psychic Saw", a brutal yet catchy piece that has some of the sickest playing on the album which will have you dizzy as hell, as you scrape your jaw off the floor.
Included on this reissue are plenty of pre-production demos of some of these songs with original bassist Patterson (who was a wonderful player as well), in addition to a few rhythm tracks. The booklet is filled with history of the band at the time of this album, as well as photos and lyrics. It's a great look at a great and important album in technical/progressive metal history, and I have a feeling this reissue will gain Atheist many new fans along the way. Unquestionable Presence is one hell of an important and impressive album folks, and if you've never heard it, now's the chance to see what all the talk has been about.
1. Mother Man
2. Unquestionable Presence
4. Enthralled in Essence
5. Incarnation's Dream
6. Formative Years
8. And the Psychic Saw
9. Enthralled in Essence [*][Demo Version]
10. Formative Years [*][Demo Version]
11. Unquestionable Presence [*][Demo Version]
12. Incarnation's Dream [*][Demo Version]
13. Retribution [*][Instrumental][Demo Version]
14. Brains [*][Instrumental][Demo Version]
15. Enthralled in Essence [*][Demo Version]
16. Mother Man [*][Demo Version]
17. And the Psychic Saw [*][Demo Version]