Review Summary: While the idea is good, the actual music can get very repetitive.
I give credit to The Absence for trying to break the chains of the typical American metal sound. The country is awash with bands so similar you could hear two songs from completely different bands and think they are back to back from the same album. A sub-genre of metal which is almost entirely overlooked is melodic death metal, with pretty much every American Melodic Death band being toppled over by their Swedish brethren. The Absence though is breaking the chain and releasing an album which will attempt to put them on par with other, more prominent bands.
The formula is the standard melodic death style, with blistering solos, harmony-filled leads and technicality which is off the charts. This is where the first fault of The Absence's latest album Riders Of The Plague
lies, they simply don't offer anything new to the genre, they don't attempt to modernize the sound (like Dark Tranquillity has done with their album Fiction
earlier this year), they just play straight-up, no frills melodic death. Also in their distinct lack of innovation comes their first huge plus; they play their instruments with such precision and technicality it's impossible to absorb it all with just one listen. The furious solos, the mid-boggling harmonized leads, they ferocious vocals, the pounding drums, it all forms a really crushing (though sometimes serene) mood. Even the instrumentals are played with perfection. One side of me says "This album is brilliance in every sense of the word" while another says "This is simply another melodic death metal album". It's hard to decide which one is right, but right now there is no denying that this is indeed a monumental step forward for American Metal.
The obvious highlight of the album is the guitars. With every song comes a sound packed full of great riffs which are perfectly executed, along with some really shredding solos which will put a smile across the face of practically anyone. There are some acoustic guitars put in, like the beautiful intro to "The Murder", it's just a shame though that The Absence doesn't show off their acoustic talent in their instrumentals, because it would be a nice break from the constant electric guitar onslaught. The instrumentals on the album are just electric guitar, playing all-out constantly, it would be nice if they included a very calm acoustic instrumental to calm the listener down, making the emotional guitar leads all the more effective. Bass guitar is played fairly well, and is produced well, you can hear it if you listen for it, but nothing of particular interest is played with the bass. Drumming is very solid, with lots of great fills and double bass which adds a lot of variety while still maintaining the pace and the beat very well, the drums accompany the guitars perfectly.
The vocals sometimes make or break an album, and with Riders Of The Plague
they do not disappoint at all. They are always screamed with a growl which is not too throaty and low but not really high-pitched, they fit the music well, and provide a great melancholic and depressive touch. It would be nice if there was some variance in the vocals, but with this genre there often isn't, which is perfectly fine with me, especially since the growled vocals are so damn good.
Riders Of The Plague
is one of the more enjoyable melodic death metal albums I have heard in the past few years, it provides constant quality musicianship coupled with those fantastic vocals. Solo after solo will satisfy anyone who is craving guitars, but the distinct lack of creativity and innovation steals a lot of that sense of awe one gets when hearing something that has never been tried before. Each song has pretty much the same structure, and that makes most of the album a big blur. If you enjoy quality Melodic Death Metal, this is certainly a worthwhile purchase, but this is nowhere near the innovation or creativity required to put The Absence up there with the best of the best.