The Absence - _Riders of the Plague_
(Metal Blade, 2007)
by: Aly Hassab El Naby (7.5 out of 10)
The state of Florida has a long standing history as far as death metal is concerned, since it is widely perceived as the birthplace of the genre during the second half of the '80s. Emerging out of Tampa with their sophomore album _Riders of the Plague_ is The Absence, a young band that provides a sound that is believed to have successfully merged thrash and death metal with subtle melodies thrown in for good measure. While sounding more European than American at first listen, _Riders of the Plague_ is definitely a gripping album with a multitude of memorable melodies and sharp riffing. Of course the average melodic death metal fan would probably hesitate before pressing that play (or download) button because these guys are not really famous, or assume that they're just another Dark Tranquillity rip-off. The fact of the matter is that they do have some obvious influences, but do not childishly portray them like some other bands do. _Riders of the Plague_ proves that whatever these guys used to listen to was for their benefit when it came to writing music.

_Riders of the Plague_ is an eleven track affair kicking off with the title track that instantly disturbs the listener's peace with its fast tempo and varied vocal screams; from the Tomas Lindberg style of high pitch screaming to the low pitch growls. Following it is "Dead and Gone", which has a catchy twin-guitar chorus melody and builds up the momentum while maintaining its mid-tempo as it slows down and rises again to that memorable melody. "The Murder" starts with a couple of Spanish guitars and makes way for a relentless barrage of tremolo riffing; a mosh pit igniter, so to speak. Arguably the heaviest track on this record, but the guitar solos drag on a bit. Clocking in at number four is "Echos". Also containing the melodies and flowing transitions with the only new idea being the march like drum rolls from drummer Jeramie Kling. "World Divides" is a track that elegantly displays the harmony among the band through intricate riffing, soaring solos and some demanding drum patterns all around.

Midway through the album is the eloquent instrumental "Prosperity". Stretching on for just above four minutes, this track is clad in melodies all woven into a general triplet structure that loops each time it's over and leaves the memory of a good hearing. Another intense piece off this record is "Awakening". Combining fast paced thrash drumming and a riffing pattern reminiscent of the Gothenburg mid-'90s melodic death movement, this tracks allows for a wide range of ideas from each band member, and they do provide that. A section of neat guitar work is the entrance theme for number eight, "Merciless". This is another high-tempo track with sheer violence that gently lends the lead to a melodic chorus, only to raise the bar once more in terms of aggression on this record.

Of course it's always great to pay homage to pioneers such as Testament, which is manifested on this offering through the cover version of the classic "Into the Pit" -- although from a personal perspective, I think it would have been better if just included in a few live sets. "The Victorious Dead" is the final cut on offer which witnesses a return of those heavy and catchy melodies. The final curtain of this work of art is the "Outro" track, which is basically the last installment of intelligent and catchy melodies, accompanied by precision drumming and a solid background, the best way to end proceedings.

In conclusion, the Americans do have talented acts such as The Absence in the field of melodic death metal, which is always a good thing, because Scandinavian domination over the genre is getting old. I'm not saying I'm against the Swedes and the Finns, but it's always better to have a wider variety. The Absence do incorporate lots of melodies in their music, but they have managed to trim the fat that could result from such an approach on _Riders of the Plague_. I wouldn't be too surprised to find some people thinking that this album is just another generic melodeath album and disregard it, but the truth is this album will grow on you after a couple of listens and then you'll come to appreciate the creativity and the effort cast into it.


(article published 8/10/2009)

10/10/2010 A El Naby 7.5 The Absence - Enemy Unbound
10/10/2005 J Smit 6 The Absence - From Your Grave
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