Saturday, 13 August 2016

Atheist "Unquestionable Presence" (1991)

Revisiting records of old, Florida Death Metal outfit Atheist's sophomore record "Unquestionable Presence", a subtle oxymoron, is a gem of a record I seemed to notice of in my youth. Exploring the Death Metal scene many years ago they were another band I liked in a wash of many. It didn't stand out at the time but hearing "Enthralled In Essence" again after many years had me blowing the dust off and tuning in for another spin. With such a more experienced ear for Metal and extreme music it became quickly apparent that in 1991 Atheist were ahead of the pack. Introducing Progressive elements in a more diversified sound, they could well be the first labeled as "Technical Death Metal", marking their music with complexity, intricate workings and musical theory.

The record opens up with a vivacious bass guitar at the forefront, dancing away individually between the shuffling drums and the tenacious guitars. Something that would become a staple of Technical Death Metal. It rumbles in the unforgiving, building a weighted atmosphere spliced with temperate grooves and two minutes in a vigorous solo bursts light into the atmosphere before it shuffles its way back into its heavier tone with uncommon time signatures looping under a 4/4. To juxtapose the dense sound some soft, sombre clean guitars and the sounds of birds chirping set the calm before they deliver a mighty, stomping thrash groove. The chirping leads through to the next track and its a thoughtful arrangement of riffs and assembly of ideas that culminate into another great track.

Other bands at the time were largely pushing the boundaries of Death Metals aesthetic, intensifying its tone and extremifying its ideology. Atheist set their sights on an expansive sound that could transcend the genres traits while retaining its brutal aesthetic. It did so with a streak of Thrash Metal that you can still hear a fusion of today with bands like Revocation. They don't bludgeon but take that weight to groove and the infectious bursts of adventurous guitar solos really root themselves in scene that was giving way to new sounds at that time. "An Incarnations Dream" starts of with a sombre, moody and atmospheric acoustic that builds up a suspense in its opposition to samples of riots and police sirens. The lead guitar really transforms and elevates the instrumental before its cut away and we are lured into the records reality again. It drops into a fantastic spacious grove reminiscent of Pantera and another riff sounding like Metallica on "Kill Em All" plays briefly between an onslaught pounding riffage.

The band have an arsenal of ideas and bring them together in a chop, change and evolve approach. Every song is turning over at every moment, never resting on their laurels which adds up to rather short songs that get through their ideas in a sprint. They could easily be drawn out into epics like many progressive songs do but this band get straight to the point and condense everything. Its just the aforementioned "An Incarnations Dream" that I would of loved to hear more of the illuminating intro but alas it goes against the core principle of continual evolution and across the short thirty two minutes this record runs for it makes for an ever exciting listen that never lulls.

With "binge listening" my ears are well attune to what is an old, 90s recording. Even so I think this album sounds gorgeous with what they were working with. The guitars have texture in their heavy, lower reaches and stretch into the highs with a sharp illuminated tone. The bass guitar is everything you could ask for, upfront in the mix with a thick bold tone. It gets plenty of time to shine through the songs, rarely mirroring the guitars directly. The drums are fantastic too, sounds like your in a room with the kit, lots of natural reverb on the toms and a crisp snare. The kicks have both a notable clicking and deep thud, not great for blasting but the drumming hear is spirited, lively and going all over the kit, it compliments it well. My only "negative" point are the vocals, not bad but not particularly impressive, vocalist Kelly Sheafer has a screechy style, very Thrash with a lot of strain and force in his voice, it doesn't carry a lot of weight but its presence doesn't lesser the music. Terrific rediscovery, I'm compelled to go through their other records now.

Favorite Tracks: Mother Man, Enthralled In Essence, An Incarnations Dream
Rating: 9/10