Wednesday, 26 September 2012

CD Review: Unquestionable Presence, by Atheist (1991)

Modern jazz meets early death metal in Unquestionable Presence, and it's an uneasy courtship. On their second studio album, Florida's Atheist are not afraid to experiment and fuse together two disparate musical genres, but the relaxed vibe of jazz rubs just the wrong way against metal's aggression.

Unquestionable Presence only rarely pokes its head above the muddle, and then only when the metal elements are allowed to flex. Opening track Mother Man provides enough sense of doom to trigger a happy sense of dread, Steve Flynn's drums all over the walls while the guitars of Shaefer and Burkey shine the flashlight in all the wrong directions. Enthralled In Essence starts with a surrender to a melody that quickly turns out to be a ruse, but there is enough metallic structure for the track to stretch. Album closer And The Psychic Saw starts out as perhaps the closest thing on the record to a full-on celebration of metal, but the track, at close to 5 minutes, proves longer than what the band can handle and it frequently gets lost in aimless meanderings.

The other five tracks bounce between unfocused jazz and manic metal, rarely settling down into any sort of momentum-building rhythm. The technique is sound and the innovation evident, but the journey seems to turn on itself and ends up nowhere in particular. Atheist use fast pacing and a relatively sparse sound with frequent 90-degree turns, and ram the juxtaposition of the two genres at every opportunity in what turns into a demonstration of capable adjacencies rather than true integration.

There is no questioning Atheist's courage in creating odd bedfellows. It's just that on Unquestionable Presence the product is born slightly confused, neither playful enough nor powerful enough, and just a bit paranoid.


Kelly Shaefer: Vocals, Guitar
Randy Burkey: Guitar
Tony Choy: Bass
Steve Flynn: Drums

Songlist (ratings out of 10):

1. Mother Man - 8
2. Unquestionable Presence - 7
3. Retribution - 7
4. Enthralled In Essence - 8
5. An Incarnation's Dream - 7
6. The Formative Years - 7
7. Brains - 7
8. And The Psychic Saw - 8

Average: 7.38

Produced by Scott Burns and Atheist.

All Ace Black Blog Heavy Metal CD Reviews are here.

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