Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Absu
- Album: Tara
- Year of Release: 2001
- Country: USA
- Label: Osmose Productions
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: OPCD098
Tara completes a trilogy that began with 1997’s The Third Storm Of Cythraul, and continued with the EP In The Eyes Of Ioldanach, and demonstrates beyond doubt that after the slightly scattershot, and somewhat derivative Scandinavian black metal stylings of their earlier works, Absu have truly found a singular sound that allows them to stand apart from the crowd, and plough a furrow very much of their own.
Just in case anyone was under the impression that Absu were outgrowing their Celtic obsession, the album opens with a lone piper describing a plaintive melody, very much the calm before the furious storm unleashed by the first track proper. Ever the knowing employers of classic metal cliches, ‘Pillars Of Mercy’ commences with a huge and extravagant tom-tom cascade, a fraction of a second before the Slayer plays Morbid Angel attack of the vicious riffing eliminates all traces of the black metal Absu, replaced with a sleek death / thrash hybrid. The restless melodic and tempo changes remain, but coalesced into a seamless and unrelenting barrage, with tight, focussed songwriting. When the inexorable speed of McGovern’s double-bass work synchronises with the guitars in the chorus, the results are irresistible.
The mayhem continues through exhilarating variations on Absu’s signature sound; ‘A Shield With An Iron Face’ prefaced by a riotous Araya-esque scream from McGovern, and ‘Manannan’ punctuated by demonic tritone harmonies that open up an intriguing melodic element to Tara that is not explored as fully as it might be. The first part of the record culminates in the majestic ‘The Cognate House Of Courtly Witches Lies West Of County Meath’. Although not quite challenging Bal-Sagoth in the prolix title stakes, the cumbersome title belies a perfectly judged combination of tremolo blasting, mid-paced chugging and an unreasonable amount of outstanding riffage.
Perhaps understandably, given the cornucopia of ideas displayed in the opening section of the album, things sag a little in the middle. The obviously triggered drums of ‘She Cries The Quiet Lake’ are a little intrusive, and the desultory meander of both this and the unnecessary interlude that follows rob Tara of some of the momentum built up thus far. Thankfully, the dizzying velocity and thrilling guitar / drum interplay of ‘From Ancient Times (Starless Skies Burn To Ash)’ delivers an immediate recovery, and forms the introduction of a wonderfully varied second half of the album.
‘Vorago (Spell 182)’ is the pinnacle of Tara. The impenetrable magickal numerology suggested by the lyrics creates an arcane mystique that wraps around epic thrashing death metal. The song showcases a more technical side to Absu, and climaxes with an instrumental section that employs Middle-Eastern modal scales to bring the song to a furious conclusion. At times recalling Nile, who were surging in popularity around the time of Tara’s release, these sounds are familiar but not derivative, and represent a splendid addition to the Absu armoury.
Following the brilliantly over the top ‘Stone Of Destiny (…For Magh Slecht And Ard Righ)’, which although being somewhat incongruous with its combination of Sabbathian power metal riffing and King Diamond falsetto vocals, brings some much-needed dynamics to Tara as well as signposting the evolution of sound that would find a more developed expression on 2009’s self-titled effort, a final bagpipe outro brings things full circle. The calm before the storm becomes the calm after the storm, the melody calling to mind a single mournful survivor surveying the carnage of a broken battlefield, smoke rising in the distance. Arguable a career-best effort, Tara stands toe to toe with almost anything produced by the extreme metal scene in 2001, and thanks to its punchy and vibrant production still sounds as good as it ever did.