(Today M-Theory Audio releases the first new album by The Absence since 2010’s Enemy Unbound, and here we present Andy Synn’s review along with a full stream of the album.)
Let’s get one thing clear right away – while Riders of the Plague, the second album by Floridian firebrands The Absence, is a bona fide underground classic, the band’s erratic follow-up, Enemy Unbound, singularly failed to capitalise on the critical acclaim and momentum generated by its predecessor, and the subsequent array of label woes and line-up changes certainly didn’t help matters either.
Thankfully, the general consensus appears to be that the group’s long-awaited fourth album, A Gift for the Obsessed, is a more than worthy sequel to Riders…, even if I’ve have seen more than a few writers/reviewers bemoaning the fact that the band haven’t massively changed or updated their style and still sound like “an American version of Arch Enemy.”
But while this comparison isn’t necessarily invalid – their penchant for thrashy, high-octane riffs, adrenaline-pumping drums, and shamelessly infectious hooks certainly shares more than a few similarities with the works of Amott and co. from before they became a toothless parody of themselves – it’s also not necessarily a bad thing.
After all, the overall decline of the Melodeath/Melodic Death Metal scene worldwide has left behind something of a void, which The Absence seem more than happy to fill with their vintage-yet-visceral brand of melody-infused metallic mayhem.
Clearly fully aware that their long… absence… leaves them with a lot to prove, the band have made sure to put their best foot forward by opening the album with a triptych of tracks which could easily have been culled directly from the writing sessions for Riders… both in terms of quality and consistency (and sheer riffosity).
The opening title track is an irresistible headbanger that immediately delivers your daily recommended dose of bombastic guitars and gymnastic drum work (courtesy of returning drummer Jeramie Kling) in the space of just over four minutes, followed in quick succession by the venomously virulent strains of “Misery Trophies” and the ’80s-inflected (not to mention Arsis-esque) riff orgy of “The Forging”, which provide a collective testament to how good The Absence can be when they’re firing on all cylinders.
The band maintain this early impetus with the increased aggression and intensity of “Thought & Memory” and “Celestial Hysteria”, which comprise the album’s heaviest and most hard-hitting numbers, but which still don’t scrimp on the soaring leads or scorching vocal hooks, even while Kling seems to be doing his very best to batter his kit into splinters, after which the cruelly catchy “Septic Testament” finds the quintet (rounded out by vocalist Jamie Stewart, bassist Mike Leon, and new-ish guitar duo Taylor Nordberg and Joey Concepcion) at their most anthemic, throwing a plethora of heart-stopping rhythms, spiralling solos, and moody acoustic moments, into the mix with almost reckless abandon.
Admittedly by this point you might expect the band’s formula to begin wearing a little thin, and it’s true that “The Alpha Illusion” probably feels a little too familiar and formulaic for its own good, but any slack is quickly picked up by the voraciously energetic “Fear of Existence”, which, while perhaps not an all-out blockbuster, still succeeds in righting the ship by virtue of the sheer enthusiasm with which it is delivered.
As impressively invigorating as this album is, however, the inclusion of an unexpected (though not unenjoyable) Suicidal Tendencies cover (“You Can’t Bring Me Down”) turns out to be a surprisingly ill-fitting and potentially momentum-killing choice, with the track ultimately coming across like an undiscovered Soilwork b-side (and not just because of the guest appearance by Björn Strid) that doesn’t seem to quite fit with the established flow of the record (although you know what does fit surprisingly well? The band’s 2013 stand-alone single “Oceans”… just saying…).
Fortunately this proves to be only a minor stumble in the grand scheme of things, and A Gift for the Obsessed still ends on a strong note with the gripping leads and gritty hooks of “Idle Thrones”, which is the sort of suitably climactic cut designed to make you immediately want to spin the entire album all over again.
And while it may not quite be on the same level as the band’s 2007 magnum opus, this is still a more than welcome (and occasionally stunning) return from one of the underground’s most promising, yet underappreciated, artists, as well as a reminder that any rumours of the demise of this particular genre have been greatly exaggerated.