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Revenge of the Highland Tyrants - 95%

RedMisanthrope, February 17th, 2009

I haven't even been into metal for eight years, and have been a fan of Absu for less than a year, so I'm not going to go on about long I've been waiting for the return of the maestros of of Mythological Occult Metal and their unique black/thrash blend of music. After an almost complete line up change, a snapped wrist, Slayer try outs, and other set backs that kept Absu from clawing out of its coffin, the million dollar question remains. Is this any good? You may rest assured fellow metalhead, though Proscriptor may be commanding a new army, the aural attack these Celtic stormtroopers manage to dish out is no less effective, satisfying, or devastating.

If you go into this album expecting "Tara Part Deux", you will be disappointed. In fact this album has more in common with "The Third Storm of Cythraul" than its predecessor. Lets face it, "Tara" is maybe the pique of Absu's extremity, being an absolute explosion of riffs, drum fills, and ghastly spells the band had kept tame for so long. So what else could they do to follow this up? Pull back on the reigns just a bit. The result is "Absu", a more cohesive, detail oriented album with more attention to song structure, and less to technicality. Proscriptor's drumming is far more strategic with more structured patterns and even cleaner blasts. He rarely resorts to outright bombarding his kit, although I will admit it's pretty awesome when he does, as seen on the mighty "Spectre Command" or "Girra's Temple". You'd think that after going eight years without barking orders or chanting destruction spells that Proscriptor's voice may not be up to par, but you'd be wrong of course. He's actually returned better than ever, just a bit deeper, and with a black metal hiss that's even more venomous sounding. Really, this is probably his best vocal performance, adding a lot of power to the songs and even make them sound more convincing, as on "Night Fire Canonization" ("So we shall finish them/And we shall burn them/And we will destroy them too/Under night fire!"), and I guarantee you will be chanting "Ah-ni_hi_laaaate!" by the end of "Ye Uttuku Spells". Unfortunately, his falsetto is nowhere to be heard on this offering. Maybe next time? The lyrics are also, as always, interesting. Not out of this world, or poetic, but they're still very good. Absu seem to have taken a back seat to writing about Sumerian and Celtic culture in order to pay homage to those maligning, faceless entities that haunt the dreams of Mesopotamian and Lovecraft affidacio alike, "The Ancient Ones". However, they do lean towards their old roots a few times by prophesying the destruction of some hapless, nameless army. Not that we would mind that so much.

One of the biggest complaints I've had against Absu was that a lot of the time, the guitars just lacked that "oomph" I was looking for. Don't get me wrong, Shaftiel is an awesome guitarist, and he has some great riffs to his name, but as far as pitch and tone went, there was just a little more that I personally was looking for. With the coming of this album, this minor complaint is on its way to being resolved. The guitars make their presence known far more often, and there are some really fantastic riffs to be had here. The build up on "Magic(k) Square Cipher" is just flat out awesome, and "Girra's Temple" show that they haven't completely fell out of love with thrash metal. These elements, combined with Proscriptor's drumming, compliment each other perfectly, creating a couple of future classics. Newcomers Aethyris MacKay and Zawicizuz draw fresh blood into the circle of Absu, and show that while they may be new, the fact that they will soon become an integral part of future Absu spells is undeniable. Hell, even the solos are sounding better, and unlike most solos, actually proceed to move the songs forward, instead of just being their for the hell of it.

One song that's likely to cause a stir is "Of the Dead Who Never Rest...", with a spacey little keyboard number that sounds like an evil carnival being transported to another dimension, with a drop or two of acid for good measure. I for one think it's great, and it's good to see that by moving back just a few steps with this album, they are able to move a few steps forward in other areas. They haven't let the idea of progression go to their heads, for the keys make only a few appearances and add real flavor, ironically leading to some of Absu's most "occult" sounding moments like on "Between the Absu of Eridu & Erech", amongst others.

So, do I like this album more than "Tara"? Right now, no, but ask me again tomorrow, and I very well could give you a different answer. This album proves that a band doesn't have to keep getting more and more extreme to keep putting out quality albums. Nor do they have to pocket themselves into one sound and keep utilizing it over and over again. "Absu" shows that a band can release a really fucking awesome record, and indirectly match it by unleashing more strategic songs, that while a bit softer around the edges, showcase a mature sound that many bands can only dream of. "Absu" truly stands alone in the band's discography, and I wouldn't be worried if this is the stepping stone into a new direction. You can keep holding your breath for another "Tara", but those years have long passed, and I think I hear a new age drawing for one of America's best extreme metal acts.

All hail the return of the Highland Tyrants!