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The Absence – Riders of the Plague Review

September 5, 2007 | Posted by Jesse Coy

The Absence
Riders of the Plague
Metal Blade Records

I can’t say I’m a death metal connoisseur. There are a few bands who do it really well, with their own take on the genre. In my collection, I probably have about a dozen death metal/grindcore acts, and it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a new death metal band. So here we go with one… first impressions?

This Tampa-area death metal act comes out of the pen swinging with the title track of their sophomore release, “Riders of the Plague.” Vocalist Jamie belts out a growling howl, drummer Jeramie relentless attacks the drums, and Patrick and Peter slam the riffs out. That blast of an opening leads forward, bringing the song to some excellent technically assembled material, which I’ve read described as melodic death metal. To me, it’s akin to some of the work on later Death albums, or even the thrash band, Testament, who kind of morphed into a death metal act at times.

Interesting comparisons to bring up, of course, because the release not only contains a guest appearance by James Murphy, guitarist from Death’s Spiritual Healing release, and for Testament’s Low and The Gathering albums, but the Absence also covers Testament’s “Into the Pit.” The funny thing is, back in the day when thrash bands covered some of their metal forefathers, the rendering was usually at hyper speed compared to the original, and filled with three times the metal. This cover, certainly cool and with a bit more of a death metal flare, is maybe only a half notch more intense than what had already been an intense song to begin with.

The Absence seems to do an interesting balance act between the two genres, as in death metal and the more intricate thrash style. The second track, “Dead and Gone,” at part sounds like it could be intricate thrash, but then the drummer whips up an intense bit, and you’re bumped into the grinding stuff, maybe even a bit reminiscent of some of Carcass’ evolution. The guitar solos are the other element that nudges the material back in the technically grounded thrash camp. “The Murder,” for example, starts with a very mellow acoustic opening (it says here, it was a banjo). “Merciless” also has some lighter ending guitar work, sandwiched between a heavier death metal sound.

The other very important element, at least for me when it comes to a death metal or grindcore act, is the vocalist. To me, Jamie Stewart has a similar quality to his voice as Jeff Walker of Carcass. There is a deeper voice on many tracks, which I’m assuming might be the drummer, because he gets backing vocal credits, unless both voices are Jamie, the voices overlaid. No matter, I like the contrast with the deeper bass blast of a voice, and then the scratchier, abrasive style. Carcass did this on their earlier releases, but unfortunately did not continue with it.

I’m listening to the album once more as I write this review (as is my habit). Once more, I am struck by the guitar solos, which sound like old school thrash metal solos by some of the really good thrash guitarists. Guitar solos aren’t something I associate with death metal, but they work really well here. Just to prove how much this band interestingly straddles both genres, listening to the instrumental, “Prosperity,” it could probably fit very nicely on an intense thrash release.

“The Victorious Dead” is the last song (well, there’s actually “Outro,” an instrumental ending), closing Riders of the Plague out on the right note. Pretty good, I’d say…

The 411: Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve heard some new, intense music. I’ve really been craving it in general lately. As for the Absence and this particular album, the lyrics are quite good, and if you like your death and/or metal with precise craftsmanship, such as how Death or Testament have been known to do it, you won’t go wrong here.
Final Score:  7.5   [ Good ]  legend

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Jesse Coy
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