Review Summary: Thrashy black metallers return with their most solid, palatable set yet.
If it reaches the audience it has the potential to, Absu
will probably be compared to Cynic's Traced in Air
, at least in terms of context. Like Cynic, Absu have been on hiatus for a hell of a long time (8 years, to be precise), leaving time for a legacy to fester; make no mistake, even if Cynic have generated a much greater fanbase and a much greater respect with death metal circles, Absu's excellent Tara
did much the same in the black metal world on a smaller scale. Perhaps if they'd waited the full 14 years like Cynic did, maybe they'd have the same following. Who knows"
In any case, the other key similarity to Cynic is that Absu make the kind of music that can keep the nerdier end of the extreme metal fanbase locked in never-ending debates about what their genre actually is. Are they genuinely blackened thrash" Are they a thrash band dressed up in black metal vocals and blastbeats" Are they just a well-produced black metal band with some catchy riffs" Should they actually just be considered prog or avant-garde" And so on. Here is where the similarities end; sonically, Absu are relentlessly heavy and unashamedly metallic, with very few influences coming from outside the likes of Kreator and Mayhem.
And yet, the thing that really distinguishes Absu
from anything you might compare them to is their accessibility. Black metal this might be, but even Mastodon's latest is more difficult to get into than this, let alone Traced in Air
or the other major black metal release of the moment, Black Cascade
- where too many of the bands that populate the scene use the genre as a screen between themselves and any but the most devoted listener, as a way of making their music as outside prevailing culture as possible, Absu have managed to carve a vision of black metal that never cuts back on the heaviness, but that won't alienate 98% of the population. It might seem like a backhanded compliment, but in all honesty, just one or two listens to any of the first four Metallica albums is ample preparation for this. In fact, early Metallica is a stronger reference point for this than you'd ever reasonably expect, particularly in the Hammett-esque guitar solos that appear intermittently, but also in a lot of the simultaneously hooky and heavy rhythm guitar work.
Other interesting influences creep in, too, as they do with all the truly great black metallers. Two particular sections, even if they are just intros and outros, display the band's awareness of composers like Krysyztof Penderecki and Cornelius Cardew. There are occasionally proggy keyboard solos, too, which might prove a sticking point for some listeners (one other Sputnik staffer has already expressed his distaste for them and said he preferred it when they were experimenting with bagpipes instead), but which provide a necessary ballast and an extra edge to the moments in which they appear, moments which might otherwise have flagged. There's even stop-time passages in some tracks which could be compared to classic rock'n'roll, at a stretch - it might seem like a simple thing, but it's a simple thing that black metal bands generally don't do, all the same.
In all honesty, it's very easy to praise Absu
too much for what it achieves, and while there will undoubtedly be plenty who call this the metal album of the year, it won't be; it might not even be remembered as the best Absu album. But what this album does undoubtedly have going for it is the fact that it's got the potential to be a very important album for thousands of individuals - to be plain about it, this is the single best gateway into black metal for a newcomer that this reviewer has ever heard, and it doesn't sacrifice any of its underground credentials in the process. And for that, as well as for the quality of the music, it's a great album.