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Absulution - 79%

Hellbent, January 27th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2009, CD, Candlelight Records

After 8 years, a brief hiatus, and a label move to Candlelight, Absu finally followed up their high watermark Tara in 2009, commencing what is still due to be the first in a second trilogy of albums. This quasi-eponymously titled series (Absu, Abzu, Apsu) is as-yet incomplete, but Absu is a fine start. It is worth noting that even before the listener opens the CD case, the splendid Kris Verwimp artwork bewitches with its spectacular imagery, and this sets the tone wonderfully for the music found within.

After such a long period of inactivity, it is not surprising that Absu’s sound has evolved once again, and in many respects, Absu forges a twisting, turning path almost equidistant from the Scandinavian-influenced black metal sounds of their early career, and the more death metal stylings of Tara. Although ‘Between The Absu Of Eridu & Erech’ retains the constant tempo changes, and off-kilter technical riffing style that the band are known for, the ubiquitous use of minor key tremolo blast sections throughout the thirteen tracks that comprise Absu place their sound firmly in the black metal realm this time round. The occasional folky melodies and Celtic feel of Tara is also conspicuous by its absence, and the lyrical focus, possibly inspired by Proscriptor’s tenure in Melechesh, is predominantly on Sumerian mythology, befitting the title of the album.

Not unusually for Absu, or in fairness almost any good band that falls just short of greatness, the album is very much front-loaded. The opener’s astute use of melody manages to convey an epic feel despite it’s relatively brief length, and is embellished by Proscriptor’s outstanding drumming, particularly the complex snare work that enlivens the track. The syncopated Slayer-like thrash of ‘Night Fire Canonization’ is almost reminiscent of Volcano-era Satyricon, and after the strangely novelty feel to the oddly bluesy riff that bookends ‘Amy’, the stately chord progression of the main section of the song, together with an unusually tasteful guitar solo develops a classic metal approach to songwriting hinted at on the previous album which really suits their sound.

After such a stellar and memorable opening section, the remainder of the slightly overlong Absu is inconsistent. Although the Akercocke-style chromatic riffing of ’13 Globes’ is intriguing and proves that Absu have paid some attention to some of the extreme metal released during their protracted absence, the song overall is aimless. We have to wait until the multi-part epic ‘…Of The Dead Who Never Rest In Their Tombs Are The Attendance Of Familiar Spirits…’ before the album reaches such heights again. As so often is the case with Absu, it is when they add a little variation to their core sound that they really soar. Combining furious demonic black metal with a waltzing bridge containing a violin solo verging on klezmer, and culminating in an eerie 70s synth workout that evokes a deserted fairgound setting, ‘…Of The Dead…’ is a wholly successful experiment that holds the listener’s attention throughout.

The middle-Eastern modal melodies of ‘Magic(k) Square Cipher’, and the soothing acoustic mid-section of ‘Those Of The Void Will Re-Enter’ which provides a pause for breath and reflection are both highlights of the latter half of the album, and things finish on a high note with the superb ‘Twix Yesterday, The Day & The Morrow’. The close stands out courtesy of a discordant intro which returns as the chorus riff later in the track, and again makes an impression by being just different enough from the majority of what precedes it.

Absu is a superbly well-crafted and very competently played album of thrashing black metal. Instantly recognisable as Absu, despite the evolution of their Tara sound, the dry but punchy production is well-matched to the style. In many ways, this album is their most consistent to date, but it audibly lacks some of the vicious fervour of its predecessor, sounding a little too safe at times. Consequently, although its floor is somewhat higher in quality than Tara, its ceiling is lower. The dizzying tempo and riff changes are initially exhilarating, but ultimately fatiguing, and one can’t help but feel that allowing some of the better riffs and grooves to breathe a little more, together with a bolder approach to sonic experimentation would benefit Absu hugely, and possibly add the magic that would elevate this record to above the good, but not quite great level that it attains.

First published here: https://alifetimeofmusic537956501.wordpress.com/2020/01/26/absu-absu/