Absu – Absu

Author: BD Joyce

Absu – Absu
  • Artist: Absu
  • Album: Absu
  • Year of Release: 2009
  • Country: USA
  • Label: Candlelight Records
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: Candle220CD

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.

Score: 79%

Absu – Tara

Author: BD Joyce

Absu – Tara
  • 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.

Score: 86%

Absu – The Sun Of Tiphareth

Author: BD Joyce

Absu – The Sun Of Tiphareth
  • Artist: Absu
  • Album: The Sun Of Tiphareth
  • Year of Release: 1995
  • Country: USA
  • Label: Osmose Productions
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: OPCD 029

The Sun of Tiphareth is Absu’s second album, released in 1995, and is very much a product of its time. With a slightly thin production featuring buzzing treble-heavy guitars and clattering drums, it’s a throwback to the kind of 90s black metal that Osmose absolutely flooded the market with at a time when relatively limited competition emanated from mainstream labels yet to understand the commercial potential of the new underground forms. The only surprise is that Absu hail from Texas, with a sound that leans heavily on European influences. Although the sound itself is not especially startling, the fact that is was generated by an American band in the mid-90s certainly was.

‘Apzu’ kicks things off in fine style, showcasing the various elements of the Absu sound, juxtaposing thrashing black metal, with Celtic melodies and clean female vocals. The interesting rhythmic interplay between the guitars and drums, a feature of Absu’s sound throughout their discography, elevates the composition above many of their more mediocre peers, and demonstrates the value of boasting Proscriptor McGovern as not just their drummer,but unusually, their vocalist and key songwriter. McGovern once reportedly came close to replacing Paul Bostaph in Slayer, but here in his own band, he gives a tour de force performance behind the kit, and indeed the mic.

The rest of the record, aside from a short atmospheric keyboard interlude, is an unrelenting barrage of black / death metal. At times Absu call to mind Celtic Frost with the barreling arrogant riffing of the monstrous album highlight ‘Feis Mor Tir Na N’Og’, and at others early Bathory if only they had incorporated a human drum machine, such as on ‘Cyntefyn’s Fountain’.

As may be apparent from the song and album titles, Absu have a fairly unusual thematic and lyrical approach. While esoteric theological and occult themes and metal are frequently comfortable bedfellows, Absu choose to combine the predominant Celticisms with Crowleian Satanism and Sumerian mythology in a somewhat bewildering combination. Although these concepts may not hang together as a coherent belief system, it is difficult not to admire the completeness of Absu’s bizarre vision and depth of their imagined worldview, and it undoubtedly adds a layer of intrigue to an already compelling proposition. Not unlike Melechesh (probably the nearest musical comparison, and a band that McGovern briefly joined), and even Nile, Absu often bring the influences to bear musically, which adds a welcome dimension to music that occasionally threatens to be little more than a collection of riffs and tempo changes.

If there is a criticism to be levelled at what is a frequently enjoyable album, it is the fact that the songwriting ultimately fails to match the obvious ambition of musicians that have the skill to execute almost anything they compose. The Sun Of Tiphareth is labyrinthine in scope, but not as sophisticated as one imagines Absu thought it could be. Transitions between riffs are generally perfunctory, and not infrequently, the band pile riffs atop one another while failing to develop some of the ideas with the most significant potential – the brilliant duelling riff that occupies the first section of the closing title track being the foremost example. It is, however, never less than an intriguing early milestone in the developing career of a superb band who would truly hit their stride in the albums to follow.

Score: 76%