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The Absence - Riders of the Plague

Label: Metal Blade
Format: CD
Released: 2007
Reviewed By: The Goat

I am utterly blown away. "Riders of the Plague" is destined to be a classic. This is The Absence's sophomore album for Metal Blade and it exceeds its predecessor by leaps and bounds. "From Your Grave" was a good slab of At The Gates-ish death metal. Yet, with so many bands out there utilizing that style, The Absence's debut album did not stand out. I don't what they did but "Riders of the Plague" is an incredibly destructive release. It still retains the ATG-ish sound but there is something - and I can't put my finger on it - that is different.


Jamie Stewart's vocals sound like Tomas Lindberg's snarl but do not go as high as Lindberg's go, thus defeating the comparison. The musicianship has elements of Testament and Megadeth but only if they were put in a blender and then strained through the At The Gates back catalogue. Yet, this does not fully do The Absence a justice.

The album blasts off with the title track. The whirlwind of guitars and driving rhythm of the deathrash attack had this jaded metalhead's head bouncing to its energetic pace. Patrick Pintavalle's solo is quite effective, it is almost delicate and airy over the thrash. The melody that the rhythm guitars rip through you would not hear on any Swedeath album - which could be what makes the difference between ATG and The Absence.

'The Murder' opens with some acoustic guitars that are a little folky and also seem to have a little Middle Eastern flavor to them. When the song kicks in proper, it can certainly be described as one of the songs sounding closest to what Testament delivers than the other songs, but as I have said before The Absence are no imitators. The deliver something quite original. Paradoxically, there is a subtle and distinct difference between The Absence and all the bands you might think you hear in their sound.

By far the most rousing (and my favorite song) is 'Echos'. It kicks off with an almost ATG rhythm but this changes into something else entirely. The guitar tones are melodic and hold a trace of melancholy. Take a listen to how the rhythm changes when the bridge comes around the second time and you will know what I am talking about. The best surprise comes when the song just passes the 2:00 mark and begins its trajectory towards the end. There is an incredible group chant that harks to older days of thrash. This is what I'm talking about, this is old school. This is guaranteed to destroy the pit.

'World Divides' is another crazy death/thrash attack that just rolls and ripples along with the intensity of a tornado aimed at a trailer park. The soloing on this song is awesome and compliments the rest of the tune. If you listen to this song in the car, make certain your foot is nowhere near the gas pedal. 'Prosperity' is an effective instrumental that demonstrates the band's chops and thrashiness. Listen for the delicate acoustic and electric guitars on 'The Merciless'. This song made me so nostalgic for all those 80s thrash bands who would often do the same. When the song proper kicks in, it will tear your face off and remind you of why you liked metal in the first place.

In a surprising twist (or not so surprising), The Absence cover Testament's 'Into The Pit'. When I first heard this song, I thought “Damn, this sounds like Testament” and then I read which song it was. The Absence offer an amazing version that retains the initial intent of the song and is most certain to deservedly honor Testament. This is by far one of the best covers I have ever heard. Hopefully, this will cause some newer metalheads to explore their father's thrash collection and borrow a CD/LP or two.

All in all, this simply one of the best releases I have heard all year. I have heard a lot of good stuff but The Absence has exceeded my expectations. This album is going to be spinning a while in my car as I drive on my commute. Shame on you if you do not pick this one up. Trust me, you will not regret it and you will find that The Absence are the perfect compliment to Lamb of God and Mastodon and most assuredly belong up there with them.

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