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Masterclass in Festering - 40%

Frankingsteins, October 7th, 2007

The first and so far only release from Dortmund’s Absence is just about the most pointless melodic death metal album I’ve ever heard, in a genre that’s been spiralling increasingly downhill since its conception in the early nineties. Taking all of its cues from the rotting corpse of Gothenburg metal (perhaps explaining the album’s title), every repetitive nuance of every song seems lifted from In Flames’ ‘Whoracle’ released ten years earlier, which to many represented the start of Gothenburg’s decline. In a genre infested with soundalike In Flames clones on the one hand and metalcore on the other (with only rare, occasional bands producing something truly powerful and forward-looking), for a 2006 newcomer to impress would take something bloody spectacular. The most positive thought I managed to have while listening to this album was, “ah well... at least it’s not metalcore.”

Nothing about this album stands out whatsoever, apart from hazy memories of repetitive, unconvincing riffs and occasional pleasant guitar solos. The songs are all pretty much the same and it’s impossible to distinguish between them; that’s not to say that the band needed to employ a drastic change of style, such as was found throughout ‘Whoracle’ (a significantly flawed album that I now enjoy far, far less than when first exposed to it many years ago), but there’s no deviation from the standard formula and style of guitar playing, other than some songs featuring a greater focus on lead melodies.

Marcus Gasper yells the whole thing in a standard death metal growl that could really be anybody, lapsing very briefly into some clean singing on ‘Dead Reckoning,’ one of the slightly better songs, but still taking all of his influence directly from the forerunners of the Gothenburg scene. Guitarists Jens Scheiwe and Lars Dietrich are the most competent musicians, and come up with some enjoyable main riffs, nice leads and some even nicer solos, but it’s still not enough to properly distinguish these songs from the rest of the overpopulated scene. Hartmut Stoof’s drums have a processed, clinical sound that robs them of their energy, and try as he might in some songs more than others (especially ‘Torrent of Hatred’), this never reaches a level of heaviness beyond the old stereotype of melodic death sounding like Iron Maiden with laryngitis. Though nowhere near as great or amusing as that would be.

While repeated listens would undoubtedly breed familiarity and a preference of some songs over others, it was difficult to find much to enjoy on my sole listen, largely due to the extreme sense of disappointment I felt. If this album was approached by a newcomer to the genre who hadn’t been exposed to In Flames or some of the superior bands such as Dark Tranquillity and Amon Amarth, they would probably find a whole lot more to enjoy in it, before later discovering where it was all stolen from and turning against the band in disgust. There are a few songs such as ‘Godmode On’ and ‘Mindbreaker’ in which the guitarists come up with a pretty fair forgery of the In Flames sound in their apparent quest for “the lost In Flames dual lead harmony melody,” but for each point of interest there are at least three songs to sap the soul. The attempt at Amon Amarth style slow heaviness in ‘Symbols of Decay’ is a real failure, and on occasions where the generically hostile lyrics are more audible such as near the beginning of ‘The Outcome,’ where Gasper tells me that he hates my soul, elicit a reflexive, out-of-character “f*** off” towards the stereo, which surprised me more than anybody.

There could not be a more generic and repetitive clone of Gothenburg-style melodic death metal than Absence’s debut, offering nothing whatsoever to fans who have moved on from those 90s bands and are searching for something new. The musicians have obvious talent that could be combined with a more powerful production and some genuinely original ideas to come up with something much better as a second release, and I’ll certainly make sure to check it out if that’s ever in the pipeline. Thousands of bands are playing this very same style, and it’s probable that Absence aren’t even in the top half.

Still, at least it’s not metalcore.