The Absence: Riders of the Plague

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The Absence: Riders of the Plague
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The Absence: Riders of the Plague
Melodic Death Metal
Metal Blade Records
August 7th, 2007
Release length: 55:23
Myspace
Riders of the Plague makes the first actual full-length recording featuring all new material, but is actually the second by the Florida based Melodic Death Metal band The Absence. With it, this release ushers in an obviously maturing of the band with much tighter material this time around then on the first, as well as a more diverse performance. However, with it, the band may shed one layer of idol worship, but it’s clear that not all has been stricken from the band’s main influences.

While the group’s debut material clearly showed a heavy influence from At the Gates, much of that influence has clearly been removed on this release, and replaced with more of an obvious Arch Enemy influence, which can be easily picked out from the line-up right on the first track, “Riders of the Plague”, thanks to the more anthem-sounding Melodic Death Metal guitars that litter the album that really carry that signature sound, but still hold the more original haunting vibe that The Absence brings with them. This is a nice change of pace, as it offers a better diverse performance throughout, such as a stronger vocal performance that does more then just have a rhaspy scream similar to At the Gates. Instead, this performance is greatly varied between a more traditional rhaspy shout common to the Melodic Death Metal genre, but mixes things up by also bringing in the higher pitched shouting fans have come to know and love, but really incorporate some gutteral vocals to the performance as well. All of this is expressed in basically every track of the album, and it just makes the material sound much more intense, as well as much more professional in the long run.

Musically, it’s clear that not all the material The Absence plays is completely original, but there’s no denying that this release is a far more intense recording that introduces some more intricate and technical music, as well as steers clear from using many stereotypical song compositions for the Melodic Death Metal style. “The Murder” is a nice example, as the song starts off with a slightly Egyptian feel in the guitars, which is carried over into the start of the guitar solo as well. The track flows at a somewhat slower pace, but still has plenty of technical guitar work and drumming, but still retains the general structure of Melodic Death Metal, and some fantastic double bass kicks that come at you like machine gun fire, all working together with a great vocal performance of rhaspy and gutteral vocals to create a unique sound that bites down hard and refuses to let go.

While the title track makes for a fantastic opening and really highlights the album nicely, it’s actually the song “Echos” that really stands out on this release. The song goes at a much slower pace, only coming off fast due to the well paced bass kicks that flow throughout the song, and features some great guitar work that gives off the best haunting atmosphere you’ll find on the album with a chorus that is as catchy as it is heavy, thanks mostly due to the combination of both the rhaspy vocals layered with gutteral to give it that much more of an impact. Grated the “pound your fists in the air” moment that hits prior to the guitar solo seems a little odd to have in the song, it all works well to create a very down to earth sounding track the better highlights the album then the title track does, as well as shows the progression that band has made since their debut album. However, some of that is shot down greatly with the start of “World Divides”, which features guitar riffs that could be declared as stolen directly from “Coerced Coexistence” off Colony by In Flames to the point that you’ll be singing the opening line as the opening of the songs winds to it’s close. In the end, this song is enjoyable, but just doesn’t quite have the same impact as any of the songs before it. This is also where the album begins to sound a bit cluttered.

“Prosperity” is an instrumental, and it’s a catchy song, but the lead guitars on it sound absolutely horrible at times and clash terribly due to the effect utilized when they are to really stand out, sounding as if they were jumping horribly from one note to another and being washed out in the process. “Untitled” is simply four seconds of silence which [according to the band when I spoke with them years ago] was put there as if you were turning the casette tape to the other side. It’s a nice thought, but in the end winds up just being an inconvenience for a few seconds and is absolutely pointless. Then there’s the cover of the Testament classic “Into the Pit” that is placed near the end of the song. While the band tried to make the song their own, and did a good job of that, as well as performing the cover, it clashes with the group’s sound on this release, and still retains much of the original Thrash sound, which is nonexistent on this album to begin with. Had it been placed at the very end, prior to “Outro”, instead of having “The Victorious Dead” follow, it wouldn’t have interrupted the flow of the album as bad. The tracks in between are still highly enjoyable and come off much like “Riders of the Plague” as well as “Dead and Gone”, though nothing that really stands out as much as “Echos”. However, the closing track “Outro” is essentially just that, featuring a catchy instrumental that honestly works best as an instrumental and will hold the listeners attention until it starts to fade out around the two minute twenty second mark, leading to silence until around six minutes and thirteen seconds when you hear a phone ringing on the caller’s end through the speaker piece of the phone, leading to a voice mail greeting, making it just not worth the long wait to get to it.

Riders of the Plague starts out strong with some impressive material that shows great maturity and focus in the band’s song writing skills, as well as their performance. However, once you hit “World Divides”, things start to fall apart, and they fall apart rather quickly. Much like From Your Grave, the release starts to feel more like a compilation, though no previous recorded material is included. Instead, while the actual tracks are enjoyable, such as “Awakening”, “Merciless”, and “The Victorious Dead”, there’s a bit too much going on that winds up holding the album back, as outlined above. Had a few changed been made to the track listing, as well as the omitting of “Untitled”, this album would have a more professional set up instead of coming off as a bad looking for things to tack on to the album to make it appear like a full-length with more tracks for the consumer to enjoy then are really there. The instrumentals here are enjoyable, and the original songs are tight and have great replay factor, but after a few spins, even the initial one, you’ll be reaching for that skip button, or making a custom version of this album with an altered track listing yourself.

01. Riders of the Plague – 4:01
02. Dead and Gone – 5:04
03. The Murder – 5:22
04. Echos – 5:05
05. World Divides – 5:35
06. Prosperity – 4:08
07. Untitled – 0:04
08. Awakening – 5:13
09. Merciless – 6:44
10. Into the Pit (Testament cover) – 2:48
11. The Victorious Dead – 4:16
12. Outro – 7:03
Overall Score: 7/10

Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.