(NCS writer BadWolf returns to our fold with his take on the forthcoming sixth album from Texas-based Absu.)
Absu’s 2011 pseudo-self-titled album, Abzu sends a message: “We are back, baby!” But wait, you may say, didn’t they already release a comeback album in 2009? With a near-identical title? And a similar cover? And the same funky wyvern mascot? Correct on all counts. But where Absu was overweight and boring, Abzu is sleek and stimulating—it is the sound of a band dedicated to constant improvement 20 years after its formation. If only more veterans shared their vitriol and dedication.
While Absu may have the lyrical and vocal aesthetic of black metal, at heart they want to be Slayer. At this point, aping LA’s finest is more than cliché, it’s juvenile. Bands trying to be Slayer (or Exodus for that matter—I’m looking at you, Heavy Artillery records) ceased to be interesting or innovative years ago. Props to Absu, then for doing their heroes justice and only cherry-picking those elements that work: They embrace their little beauty marks (the Araya-worship screams that punctuate “Earth Ripper”), not their most-xeroxed techniques (no trem-bar solos here).
Love of thrash keeps Abzu from inducing black metal fatigue, unlike some of their older records. New guitarist Vis Crom has elegance in his riffs that Shaftiel and Aethyris lacked, and his aptitude for middle-eastern-style solo melodies finally feels at home in Absu, not shoehorned in. Band leader Proscriptor McGovern works his hardest to out-fill Dave Lombardo, but has a style of his own. Nobody strings together tom hits the way he does.
Concordantly, Abzu feels at once familiar and unique. The production mirrors this: The instruments are dry and crunchy, but register with modern digital clarity. And god damn do those drums pop nicely. I felt a click when I heard this record, like when I try on a jacket in a store and it instantly registers as *the* article of clothing I was seeking. For the first time since Tara, the band is painting by magic, not numbers. (more after the jump . . .)
The album’s side B, the 14 minute epic “A Song for Ea,” is sure to stir up discussion—it’s the longest piece of music Absu have ever recorded. As far as self-conscious focal points go, it’s serviceably melodramatic and atmospheric with subtle keyboard harmonies and great military-cadence snare-rolls, both courtesy of Proscriptor. The best guitar solos on the album lurk within.
That said, the song is very self-consciously divided into separate movements with audible track breaks that seriously dampen the piece’s momentum. As a result it feels more like four separate thrash songs with a synth interlude than a cohesive work. I’m willing to bet that the decision to not break the movements up into separate tracks was a combination vinyl throwback and middle finger to the iPod generation—a fine choice, but one that fails to address the advantages of true through-composition.
Word to the wise, the people who would skip between movements will just fast-forward to their favorite section or skip the track entirely rather than suffer through irritating pauses where track breaks would have been, which is a shame considering that “A Song for Ea” is some of the most creative work Absu’s ever put to tape (hard drive?). A little more tweaking could have made it the perfect capstone to what is already a fine piece of art by some of the scene’s most under-appreciated veterans.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Abzu is set for North American release on October 4th on Candlelight — so, yes, we’re way ahead of the game with this review, perhaps frustratingly so for readers. Candlelight Records USA has posted special CD/shirt preorder packages for Abzu at this location, and we understand they’ll be premiering a song from the album in the near future.
The album was recorded at Nomad Recording Studios in Carrollton, Texas, and the absolutely amazing cover art is by Polish artist Zbigniew Bielak (Watain, Behemoth, Destroyer 666, Vader). You can read an interview of Proscriptor McGovern about the new album here; it pre-dated completion of the recording process but includes some interesting insights.
Absu has scheduled some performance dates on the East Coast in November (accompanied by Philadelphia’s Infernal Stronghold) as well as a San Antonio appearance in October sandwiched in between some international gigs. And then on November 26, they’ll be appearing at Montreal’s Messe des Morts festival along with Inquisition, Glorior Belli, Forteresse and more. Here’s the Absu performance schedule so far:
9/10/2011 An Club – Athens, Greece
10/22/2011 007 Rock Bar – San Antonio, TX
10/29/2011 Aurora Infernalis Festival – Driel, Netherlands
11/10/2011 Strange Matter – Richmond, VA [info]
11/11/2011 Club Europa – Brooklyn, NY [info]
11/12/2011 Reverb – Reading, PA [info]
11/13/2011 TBA – Boston, MA [info]
11/26/2011 Messe des Morts Festival – Montreal, QC [info]