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Long described as a black-thrash hybrid, I don't believe that manages to fully describe what Absu are all about, particularly with their more recent work. Sure, the rapidfire pace of a band like Slayer makes for a decent comparison when speaking of the band's intensity and aggression, yet it doesn't take into account the progressive complexity Absu brings to the table. The second in a prospective trilogy of like-titled albums, "Abzu" finds a perfect balance between speed and sophistication.
"Abzu" gets it right from square one. Taking less than three seconds to hit full-force, a martial drum roll and King Diamond-esque shriek are all it takes to beckon in the fury of the album's opening track, "Earth Ripper". For a three-piece, the band sounds incredibly vast. This is largely in thanks due to their respective virtuosities as musicians. Needless to say, frontman Proscriptor McGovern is one of the most gifted drummers in all of metal, and he doesn't disappoint here. A good word to describe his performance on "Abzu" might be 'busy'. The rhythm patterns are constantly shifting, and- paired with the unrelenting speed- this will pass the inattentive listener as indecipherable chaos. Vis Crom's guitarwork manages to keep up with Proscriptor, which is a feat in its own right. On top of some very memorable riffs played within thrash convention, Vis will often layer his central guitar with a brighter-sounding secondary guitar. Surprisingly, this brighter guitar sounds close to Mastodon guitarist Brett Hinds' signature tone. More surprisingly still, it compliments the otherwise aggressive sound. Although it's not surprising given the band's roots in black and thrash metal, Ezezu's basswork is given a disproportionately small amount of exposure in the sound, and given the skill of the other two, this feels a bit of a lost opportunity. On the other hand, Ezezu pairs up with Proscriptor on vocal duties, which round off the sound with a fitting rasp. Barring the outrageous falsetto that opens the record, the vocals generally keep within black metal canon. The lyrics are another matter, however. Taking the 'occult' theme to heart, there is esoteric terminology aplenty here. I think it will past most listeners as needlessly pedantic, although there has certainly been thought put into the use of words.
On top of that aforementioned black-thrash style, Absu bring a strong sense of progressive rock to their sound. Unlike the case of Opeth or Enslaved however, it is never overt enough to besmirch their aggression. A psychedelic twang can be heard underneath the colossal riffs of "Circles of the Oath", before the composition devolves into a short, but effective acoustic interlude. Absu may occasionally diverge from the intense speed, but the sabbaticals are kept largely brief and innocuous. The only time when listeners will be subject to a longer break from the thrashy carnage is during the progressive epic "A Song for Ea", a near-fifteen minute opus that recalls the dissonant strain of Deathspell Omega. After some of the album's most intense and engaging passages, the quiet guitars return, bringing about a haunting atmosphere that I might only compare to the sort of sophisticated sense of dread you find in mob movies. Before the album is through, Absu blast the listener with their most blackened slew of carnage, a sort of encore that manages to take the sound to even more aggressive levels.
At little over half an hour in length, "Abzu" leaves a listener wanting more. After a two year wait, I can see why some would be disappointed to receive something dwarfed by the size of most metal albums nowadays. Of course, with the speed and intensity these guys drive throughout the album, it may have been a good choice to leave things as they are. It's a masterful album, and I cannot wait to hear what the third installment will sound like.