Review Summary: Absu reaches a peak.
Hailing from Texas, Absu are one of the forerunners of American Black Metal, being one of the few bands to successfully combine thrash and black metal in equal parts without resorting to the satanic cheesiness that seems to plague most bands in the hybrid genre, (here's looking at you, Satanic Warmaster.) But in all honesty, this is quite literally one of the most technically accomplished albums ever released, putting the majority of technical death metal bands to shame with it's wrist snapping riffs and maniacal drumming. In fact, I don't think there will ever be another album that manages to stuff such copious amounts of wankery into it's music while retaining a as sense of good taste.
The production here is sterling. It's crisp, clear, and high on treble, making for a flat and rather artificial sound. The drums seem to pop out the most, especially the triggered kicks and snare. it's borderline 'Dimmu Borgir' clicking, but the snare seems to possess a little more pizazz than any metal album out there, sounding more than a little like a shotgun blast. I have a little bit of an issue with the guitars however, as they sound relatively weak and flat footed. They sound like they're just....there. There is no discernible crunch attributed to many thrash albums both past and present. In addition, even though the majority of the riffs are tremolo picked, there is none of the static fuzz that surrounds black metal. With the album being a hybrid of the two genres, the guitars simply lack the qualities that make each respective genre distinct, sounding a little bit too slick and polished for it's own good. The bass can hardly be heard, but given the production, this is not a surprise. The vocals seem to reside on the same plane as the guitars, a strained witchy sounding rasp that acts as an additional rhythmic device.
Now, Absu are a bit of an anomaly when it comes to songwriting. Proscriptor said himself that he writes the drum parts first before creating the rest of the song on top of it. This has only been done by a handful of bands, but Absu seem to be one of the few to pull it off without sounding repetitive or jarring. Needless to say, all the songs are rhythmically driven texture based songs. Melodies do not carry these songs, it is the constant masturbatory soloing and abuse on the drum kit. Proscriptor could very well be one of the most eclectic and creative drummers ever, making use of jazzy and fusion influenced drumming coupled with double bass sprints that could easily be mistaken for a drum machine. Unlike the majority of 'blasturbators' on the black/death scene (such culprits including Derek Roddy and Nefastus from Belphegor) Proscriptor uses his speeds sparingly, utilizing them only to accent the appropriate parts of the song. A clever analogy from a reviewer from the Metal Archives puts forth a very accurate image: '(it) is akin to that of a machine-gunner spraying a field of men yet only picking out the enemies and never his own men' His drumming must be heard to be believed. I believe however, that this is the only album in which he flaunts his talents so shamelessly-all other efforts by Absu see him holding back a lot. It should be noted that Proscriptor is the primary vocalist of the band, accomplishing the lung draining feat of pulling off such acrobatic drumming all the while belting out his dried rasps. As mentioned above, the oddly parched and spastic vocals here serve only as an accompaniment to the drums, punctuating negative space and accenting dramatic parts in perfect concordance. Now, although the guitars are a little bit bland sounding production wise, the riffs that played are quite intriguing. They have an ambient sort of flavor to them in that although they are quite technical, they become atonal and droning after a few repetitions, snaking and sliding seamlessly between phrases in tremolo flutters. As with the production, they take a backseat to the drums, serving only as devices to complement the diverse rhythm section rather than the other way around as most other bands do. When there is a guitar solo however, they are insectoid and seizure-like in the manner of Kerry King's frenetic Slayer solos. If Slayer's riffs were to be combined with something obtuse and possessing a perversely dissonant parody of melody like early Averse Sefira and then simplified, this is what the result would sound like. However, this trend is oddly averted in the strange closer 'The Stone of Destiny', when the guitars seem to take on a grooving early Mercyful Fate manner, and where Proscriptor seems to attempt to show off his vocal range by belting out a rather impressive Rob Halford and Dio mimicry. it's an odd choice to suddenly change styles like this on the band's part, but it makes for a climatic closer that works just as well as another dissonant drum abusing track.
Tara represents a landmark of sorts in extreme metal, taking the concept of rhythmically driven music to a whole new level. This is kinetic music at it's best and I highly recommend this album to any extreme metal enthusiast.