While it doesn’t always help the credibility of a review, it’s fun to toss critical analysis aside and say that Absu‘s newest album, Abzu, is freaking awesome. The vaunted Texas outfit has seen its share of starts, stalls, and potentially devastating line-up changes, but none of it stopped this album (the 2nd in a planned trilogy) from living up to its potential.
As with previous release Absu, drum spectacular and Absu mastermind Proscriptor McGovern and bassist/vocalist Ezezu are back, but this time they’re rounded out by new guitarist Vis Crom. Fans held reservations about yet another replacement axeman in light of losing both guitarists from the previously revised lineup, but the latest combo is more effective than anyone might expect. While Absu was hemmed in by a clinical production and being all but written by committee, Abzu dives right back into the ripsnorting frenzy that typifies everything great about Tara and The Third Storm of Cythraul.
Magister McGovern remains in the driver’s seat and puts the metal to the pedals as he breaks into the opening track of “Earth Ripper” with his skyward nightingale shriek. This time around, the production acknowledges the famed percussionist’s third-rail intensity and treats listeners to the rare phenomenon of lead drums. There is a lot going on behind the kit as usual, and skins and brass are captured with brilliant and visceral clarity. That isn’t to say that the guitars take a back seat; in point of fact, Vis Crom’s blazing fretwork seems to be in a wild race with the drums to the finish line. Notes match the beat throughout, and the overall effect is high-impact, high-octane, and high-concept. When Absu isn’t trying to set the land speed record, they do make occasional seamless downshifts into movements that hint at ’70s prog rock without losing context or becoming cheesy. The entire experience proves grand and epic regardless of the tempo, which is rare outside of the speed-metal gold standard of Reign in Blood.
Despite the heavily percussive nature of the material, there is still plenty of melody in the margins. Absu has always been savvy when it comes to grafting heavy metal conventions to speed metal urgency, so even the fastest parts never feel claustrophobic or indistinct. McGovern’s drill sergeant bark telegraphs the direction, and the unit remains comfortable with pushing things into the red without losing control.
More than anything, Abzu is a great listen because it is celebratory; the group is once again revitalized and ready to properly reclaim their place in the underground pantheon. At its most refined, this album is a statement of intent, at its most barbaric it is a wild swing of an axe aimed at the head. Plenty of Absu’s peers have been more prolific and have become more popular for it, but I defy any of them to match the energy that has come flying out of the gate on this LP. Song highlights include “Earth Ripper”, “Abraxas Connexus”, and “A Song for Ea”, which is expressed in six movements much like an ambitious classical effort.
2011 keeps heaping on contenders for metal album of the year, and Abzu definitely belongs on the list. This is Absu – pure and uncut, and ready to once again plant the flag of Texas metal where the sun doesn’t shine.
For more info: Abzu comes out on Tuesday, October 4th, via Candlelight Records.