Call it “death jazz” call it innovative, call it whatever you want…there was an unquestionable feeling that metal had evolved when Atheist released their second album Unquestionable Presence. Metal had always been known for its technical chops, but the lengths to which Atheist contorted those chops to encompass so many style, including – yes – jazz, were quite frankly unknown. Today it stands as a monument to the pinnacle of technical death metal: dazzling without being too overwrought, fast and frenetic and still cohesive as a death metal album.
Probably the biggest thing about Unquestionable Presence outside of the actual music is the story of how original bass player Roger Patterson was tragically killed in an auto accident before he could record all the phenomenal bass parts he wrote, so Tony Choy was brought in to play them. My copy of the album has the early demos so I could actually hear Patterson play and he was just unearthly in his ability to create baselines and melodies that would wend and weave within the music, popping out at odd junctions, then returning to solidify the riffs coming in from the guitars. Take any track from “Mother Son” to the mid-album highlights of “Enthralled in Essence” and “An Incafrnation’s Dream” and you’ll hear a band that was was, for this moment in time, better than anyone else in metal, period. And at just over 32 minutes, they knew exactly how long a song should be.
Just a monster of a metal record, and utterly essential in your collection.