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While Absu is typically known for its take on black/thrash metal, it is with death metal that the group makes its debut album. Yet this is death metal with some serious black metal tendencies, certainly more so than their previous work, notably “The Temples of Offal.” Considering that they don’t play death metal anymore, Absu’s prowess in the genre could be interpreted as doubtful without even listening. But this is not the case! Sure, it’s not the best death(-y?) metal to grace my ears, but Absu’s take on it is satisfying enough.
The vocals are low in the mix (sometimes on more songs than others, especially as the album progresses) and focus attention to the drums and guitars. For the most part, the guitarwork is well done, but not consistently. The main emphasis seems to be on death metal compositions, but at times the composition turns noticeably black, which helped keep the music interesting at times. The problem for me was that the shifts between both styles didn’t sound connected, like on ‘An Equinox of Fathomless Disheartenment.’
Drums play well, making good use of fills to keep it interesting when appropriate and not getting too stuck in a blast-beat rut. The bass drum sounds decent: high enough to make it out, not too poppy to sound bad. Bass guitar is fairly audible, and even sticks out at times, which is nice since many times I struggle to pick out the bass in death metal. Effects to give depth and ambience to the music often fall flat: operatic vocals that really diminish the music and seem to try and take over the song, especially in ‘Descent to Acheron….’ The same goes for the first track and other attempts to make it sound occult: it comes across as trying too hard and undermines anything created by the music.
But despite these shortcomings, Absu’s “Barathrum…” is still enjoyable. It blends ideas in both black and death metal fairly well, is composed decently, and only suffers from trying a little too hard. Look at the album name; look at the song titles; or just look at the cover: he's pleading you to like the music! But it definitely earned a spot in my personal library, and will get some more listens in the future—but not many.
Before the Prosprictor-headed Absu became a household name with Tara, before he auditioned for Slayer, before the band had found the sound they became known for, there was Barathrum - V.I.T.R.I.O.L., henceforth referred to as just Barathrum. It is an album vastly different from what came later on. First off, while it does feature all three main members that formed the core of Absu for the Celtic-trilogy that defined the band, they also had a second guitarist as well as a keyboardist along for the ride. Proscriptor was also fairly new to the band at this point even though he did write the lyrics for the album. Of course, the most notable difference is in the music itself: The approach and stylings are completely opposite of what they were before.
For all their claims on being mythological occult metal, Celtic black metal or what have you, Absu's take on black metal has been rather hokey and light. Certainly nothing to deserve adjectives like mythological or occult to describe it. Or perhaps appropriate for leprechauns to do a little jig to. Now Absu started out originally as a death metal band and the black metal influences didn't really start to creep in until Proscriptor joined the band. Comparing Barathrum to their Temple of Offal demo - done before Proscriptor's time - clearly the change is there. Temple of Offal is brutal-for-its-time death metal with an affection for darkness and occult, but Barathrum is completely immersed in them, or at least the latter. It is slathered with occult from the intro and outro incantations - drawn from the works of J.F.C. Fuller - as well as the rather unorthodoxly composed mixture of death and black metal that is the bulk of the album. Of course, at the time black metal was yet to be codified into the Norwegian-style so Absu had to draw their influences elsewhere.
A lot of Proscriptor's drumming is very reminiscent of Fenriz's style on early Darkthrone albums. When the band gets slows down for a doomy, Incantation-influenced section, he sounds like Soulside Journey is the only album he's heard. He doesn't have his d-beat down though, which is a good thing. It would sound very much off on an album as American as this. The Swedish riffing is not to be found here either. But rising from such unique surroundings and without much of a scene around them, the band and album as a whole end up sounding quite unique. A big influence on the band was the Texan thrash band Morbid Scream and you can hear it on the thrashiness of the sound though that could as well be attributed to the death metal of the time and scene. The death metal influences sound like they're drawn from the Floridan scene with the bent out aggression while leaning on Incantation's occult atmosphere for the slower and doomier sections.
The band manages something not many do, creating a very dark and occult atmosphere while retaining thrashiness, albeit not much of it and it is probably the weakest link of the album. The black metal brings in most of the atmosphere while the death metal provides the heaviness and the rest of the atmosphere. The thrashiness makes the combination even more unique, but too often the out of place outright aggression releases the tension too early. The atmosphere is suitably morbid, especially with the meaty buzzsaw guitars and sparsely used ambient keyboards, but a lot of the songs don't carry completely to the end, climaxing early and then going on for a minute afterwards without having much to prove. Even so the album feels short at a tad over thirty minutes, of which about six are put towards ambient intro and outro though especially An Involution of Thorns serves as a great introduction to the occult atmosphere of the album. Perhaps Absu bit off more than they could chew with trying to create a full-length at such a point in the band's career. Barathrum - V.I.T.R.I.O.L. has been left aside by fans of Absu as well as general black metallers and perhaps its immaturity is one reason. However it is still a whole lot more efficient, mystic and occult than their banal later output.
US Black thrashers Absu are usually known for the three recordings following this while this one is usually tagged as generic. Who can blame the average person, after all, those albums were so good they made this one look bad. Well let me tell you, this isn’t anywhere near bad.
Here we have about 7 tracks amounting to 30 minutes worth of music. The first one is what I refer to as the kind which is to get you into the mood and atmosphere. I think each black metal record should have one as it takes a couple of minutes for the listener to actually be able get into the thing and adapt his mind (and body? :P) to the corrosive and diabolic sound, so different from every other form of music. Here, my wishes have been taken care of.
It is after that that we are able to luxuriate in demoniacal beauty of black metal, whose portrayal by this band in this album is above satisfactory, contrary to popular belief. Proscriptor’s much celebrated and acclaimed drumming can be heard here along with a bunch of good power chord riffs. The speed is unfortunately a tab bit slower than what you probably know Absu for, but surprisingly the fact won’t disappoint you at all.
Another reason why I like this band so much is that they don’t have any stupid stories to support them (Ahem, Mayhem anyone?). It’s simply all about the music. I just hate the fact that people fail to realize that this album predates most so-called Norwegian masterpieces (I am again talking about the terribly overrated “Mayhem”, in particular).
Best song - Infinite And Profane Thrones.
The first full-length CD for this black metal act from Texas was released in a time that their country didn' t produce many similar albums. It wasn' t so common to play black metal in the States 15 years ago and especially to have a different sound than the dominant force of the early '90s (Norway). Having a wealthy background in the underground, Absu showed a strange attraction for the occult in their early days, something that 's obvious by a look at the original cover artwork of this album (shows the band members in corpse paint in an enactment of a satanic ritual in black & white). It wasn't until -their now leading figure- drummer Proscriptor joined in and with their 1993 promo tape they were signed by the French Osmose. The two tracks of that tape are featured here in the total of 7 tracks of rough, aggressive and with explosive fast rhythms black metal that 's quite influenced by Bathory, Mayhem, Dark Throne from one side and from the American death/grind Morissound stuff on the other with some small references to the thrash metal of the '80s. Their harsh guitar sound, their screaming black metal vocals and their dark lyrical themes determine their sound as black metal, however different from their Norwegian relatives, even though this is only their debut. And this is the big advantage of this album and this band: they 've created a somewhat personal sound from this very first full length and they continued to expand on it until they presented their finest work 7 years ago (Tara). Of course the use of female vocals isn 't always successfull here and at times, even though the album is only about 30 min. long, the songs aren' t so memorable and the riffing sounds weak and common at the second half of some of the tracks. Despite these the album is a very promising debut and the opening path to discover and comprehend what the band accomplished with their next releases or simply why Proscriptor was chosen and finally auditioned with Slayer before Dave Lombardo 's final (?) return...
Barathrum V.I.T.R.I.O.L. was Absu’s first full-length release after two demos and an EP and even though it’s not as polished or as intricate as later releases, it is still a very solid release that should not be overlooked.
Absu kind of tread the middle-line of Black Metal. Their production isn’t as raw as the Graveland or Judas Iscariot’s of the world, but they're not as polished or as crushingly produced as newer Immortal releases either. Barathrum, perhaps because of its moderate age, is the most raw of Absu's releases but from a musical standpoint it is still similar to their newer releases. What Absu does well on the majority of this release is successfully blend aggressive and fast Black Metal with a Death/Thrash mentality with more traditional Black Metal riffs that provide an appropriate amount of melody and atmosphere. There aren’t really any completely Death or Thrash riffs on display during the fast sections, but the way the fast sections are structured from a rhythm and drum style standpoint there mine as well be. Here in lies the problem with this release as well. Occasionally the riffs and atmosphere just get lost in the blast of noise that every instrument creates. What was once a mildly atmospheric song that you could still head bang to turns into a mish-mash of aggressiveness. This aspect of Absu’s music would be almost completely rectified on later releases, but as far this one goes it only shows up in a couple of songs. The majority of this release is filled with a clever mix of atmosphere and aggression that doesn’t sound out of place or misconceived, though.
Another highlight of Absu’s debut, as is the case with any Absu release, is the drumming. The drums have an excellent tone and mix to them and if it were any other way Proscriptor’s maniacal drum performance would be lost. There are a lot of talented drummers in Black Metal but because of the nature of the music their abilities are rarely shown to their full extent (Fenriz is a perfect example of this). This is not the case at all with Absu, however. Proscriptor is intensly fast and precise with incredible fills and head-spinning double bass. That Thrash and Death Metal mentality seeps its way into the drums more than anything and even though there are common-place Black Metal blasts, there is plenty of double bass and Thrash runs. Meanwhile the lyrics are very good as well. Dealing with the occult and various mythos (primarily Celtic) Proscriptor’s lyrics are both poetic and intelligent, but you’re going to have to read the booklet to get anything out of them since you’re certainly not going to hear anything from listening to the music. The vocals come in two varieties. There is the rapsy, shrill stylings of Shaftiel and the more mid-range stylings of Proscriptor. Shaftiel populates most of this release and he is the weaker of the two. It's almost as if his vocals are just spewed forth without much thought to their place within the rhyhtm structure during the faster tempos. Meanwhile Proscriptor proves he's not only an amazing drummer but an above average Black Metal vocalist as well. Unforunately, he only appears on a couple songs. The guitars are well played for the most part and have a nice chainsaw styled tone to them. Keyboards also dot a couple of songs with laid-back, low-key, mid-paced synth.
For most people the version that is available these days comes with three bonus tracks. The introduction Proscriptor gives for 'The Coming of War' is probably the most psychotic introduction I've ever heard and has to be heard to be believed. The sound on these live tracks comes with the style of no frills, raw live mix. Hardcore fans of the band will like the bonus tracks a lot. The live sound is even rawer than the studio sound and the riffs become even more undistinguishable, but for the majority of Absu’s fan base they are nice additions.
If you’re new to Absu this is a great place to start and keep in mind that the band gets better with age. Strangely enough, most Black Metal specialist (or elitist, depending on your point of view) hold this release in very high regard. For the casual or general Metal fan though, there are noticeable flaws, but they are overcome with a strong mix of very catchy traditional Black Metal parts and violent aggressive parts. The drum performance and lyrics are added bonuses that just sweeten the package.