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The Absence – A Gift for the Obsessed Award winner

The Absence
A Gift for the Obsessed
by Alexis Lareine at 14 May 2018, 4:34 PM

“A Gift for the Obsessed” is the first new release from THE ABSENCE in 8 years, since 2010’s “Enemy Unbound”. They were once signed to METAL BLADE RECORDS, home to death metal giants such as AMON AMARTH, CANNIBAL CORPSE, CATTLE DECAPITATION, and THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, but now they return on M-THEORY, which also happens to be owned and operated by the owner of METAL BLADE. After forming almost 15 years ago, the band released 3 albums that were considered ground-breaking in finding the perfect balance between death metal and thrash. With a track record such as this, I have high expectations before hearing a single note.

The title track opens with an immediately thrashy, well-rounded, catchy sound. The verse has a very modern techdeath feel to it at times. The sections flow and progress and build, each riff catchier than the last. The guitar tones are fantastic: full, mid-y, and the lead tones sit so well on top of the mix. The guitar solos are simply incredible; the first solo has these mischievous, cheeky licks that are just fun to listen to. The next solo is technically brilliant; this is everything shreddy licks should be – melodic and perfectly clean. The bass cuts through clearly, and the snare has a great crack to it. The vocals are a malicious, higher fry and suit the style of the music perfectly. The song builds, releases, and progresses in a very catchy way. The drums vary in a way that keep the simpler sections more interesting. I’m immediately hooked; this first track is definitely indicative of that perfect balance between death metal and thrash, but it has such a modern sound to it that is astounding, especially considering THE ABSENCE haven’t released an album in 8 years.

“Misery Trophies” is another hard-hitter, with catchy but vicious vocal patterns, these creamy lead guitars on top, and memorable riffs. The drums really get to shine on this track – they’re so versatile, switching from blazing double kicks to these groovy, catchy patterns with cymbal work that keeps it fun. The change at 3:00 is a punch to the gut – it hits so hard. Then an acoustic section comes in out of nowhere. I love when a band can surprise me, and this section is quite the pleasant surprise. With a lot of acoustic interludes, the section stays stagnant, but this builds beautifully. The guitar solo also builds fantastically – it begins simply and progresses in energy and technicality as it goes, but it stays melodic the whole way through. The solo is so clean; there’s this sense of melody and discipline to it that is reminiscent of Steve Morse.

“The Forging” begins with a straight-up thrash riff with gorgeous leads on top, and it just continues with even heavier, melodic as hell thrash. This is just music that makes you feel good; it’s genuinely fun to listen to. This song makes great use of silence, when everything intermittently comes to a halt; there is so much power in silence, and this riff incorporates it in a great way. The sections progress with some of the catchiest riffs I’ve heard in a long time. The transition at 2:30 is so unexpected – it builds in a way that you think something really heavy is coming, but it goes into a gorgeous clean guitar section with those delicious lead guitars on top. The sense of melody that Joey and Taylor have is just astounding. This section also exhibits how fantastic this mix is. The kick has a great click to it, the snare has the perfect crack, the bass has room to breathe, and the guitar tones are just lush and full. And then comes the change at 3:38. This actually left me speechless. It goes into this incredible groovy, unexpected riff, with the vocals coming in with this completely evil high rasp, and the vocals veer into guttural territory by the time the guitar solo rolls around. This section really exhibits Jamie’s versatility, and I hope I get to hear more of those low growls throughout the rest of the album.

This band is so well-rounded – everyone is a master of their craft. They know how to write these riffs that are so catchy with a lot of unexpected intervals. “Thought and Memory” opens with a straightforward death metal riff but is followed immediately by a purely thrash riff with drum patterns that accent the styles perfectly. Jamie’s vocals get lower at some sections throughout the song, and he can clearly excel at a wide variety of styles. The melodies in this guitar solo are just fucking cool – they’re so unique and well-executed. The way this song consistently builds tension is brilliant. I love the progressing lead guitar lines on top of the vocals – it doesn’t feel like they’re competing with each other but are complementing each other. The section before the fade-out feels like it’s dragging just a bit, but at this point I have to nitpick: this album is perfection so far.

“Celestial Hysteria” is an incendiary 5 minutes and 45 seconds of pure energy. After a brief, slow, heavy intro it goes into this blazing, relentless modern thrashy riff that develops into groovy modern death metal and back again. The switch between styles is what really keeps the song interesting. The guitar solo again is melodic, tasty, clean, and just well thought-out and well-executed. The song builds into an ominous riff that ends with some whammy fun on top of the riff that sounds like it’s imitating a siren. A lot of metal bands take themselves so seriously, but it’s great when a band can have fun with the music, and this is one of those bands. “Septic Testament” opens with vocals from hell and progresses with a brutal, groovy riff. The super groovy feel remains for the entire song, even through the guitar solo, and it’s a great change-up from the rest of the album. There are lead guitar lines again over the vocal patterns at times, and neither get in the way of each other – it’s a rare dynamic that works. At this point in the album, the guitar solos are what I look forward to in every song, and this one does not disappoint. It’s shredtastic but so impeccably clean, it’s really something to marvel at. The song has such an intensity in that last minute, building and building until the very last second until a final small release to all the tension.

“The Alpha Illusion” is another testament to how fun an album this is to listen to, opening with a series of harmonics before the vocals come in, again this pure, vicious evil. The section at 1:20 hits so hard, and the lead guitar line is so damn catchy. The sections progress so unexpectedly, with chord progressions uncharacteristic of modern death metal. Again, my favorite thing is when a band surprises me, and the intervals and chord progressions this band uses, as well as the constant switching and meshing of styles, are so pleasantly unexpected. “Fear of Existence” continues the pattern of incredibly groovy and catchy, yet heavy, riffage. This is another headbanger, especially the unexpectedly brutal section beginning at 1:53 the leads up to the guitar solo. The vocals veer back into more guttural territory at times, and I wish that there were more points throughout the album that the lower growls were present.

“You Can’t Bring Me Down” is another unexpected turn for this album – it’s a SUICIDAL TENDENCIES cover, and an incendiary one at that. It features guest vocals from Bjorn “Speed” Strid of SOILWORK. Every single guitar solo on this album features these unique, melodic, shreddy at times but always clean phrases and licks, and the solos on this song only continue that pattern. Joey Concepcion is a force all his own; he could easily find success in instrumental guitar music. Every single lick held something new – these solos are the highlight of this already supreme album. Seriously, what do I have to do to make a solo album happen? The last track of the album, “Idle Thrones” returns to the modern thrashy feel. One thing I really liked about this album was that they didn’t bother with an intro track and an outro track. In modern metal, the intro tracks and outro tracks rarely seem to serve the album, and often I wish they would just jump straight into the brutality. With “A Gift for the Obsessed”, there was no bullshitting in sight – they get straight into their perfected modern mixture of thrash and death metal, and the boundless energy remains consistent through the entire album. For a band that has been around for almost 15 years, THE ABSENCE sounded so fresh and new, and the immaculate mix and master (courtesy of David Castillo, who has worked with bands such as KREATOR and OPETH, and Thomas “Plec” Johansson, who has worked with SCAR SYMMETRY) is a critical aspect of this fresh, modern sound. I will most definitely be dissecting the band’s entire discography now that I’ve heard the stunning perfection of this album. Every member of this band has obviously honed their craft, and I fully believe that they’re at the top of their game right now. This album blew my mind, and it was just a really fun listen.

Songwriting: 9
Originality: 9
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. A Gift for the Obsessed
2. Misery Trophies
3. The Forging
4. Thought & Memory
5. Celestial Hysteria
6. Septic Testament
7. The Alpha Illusion
8. Fear of Existence
9. You Can’t Bring Me Down
10. Idle Thrones
Lineup:
Jamie Stewart – Vocals
Jeramie Kling – Drums/Backing Vocals
Joey Concepcion – Guitar
Taylor Nordberg – Guitar
Mike Leon – Bass
Record Label: M-Theory Audio
     


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Edited 21 October 2018
 

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