Everyone loves a good comeback. Overcoming the odds to return triumphant is a theme that has resonated through the ages. Sinners Bleed know all about comebacks. Their first album From Womb to Tomb was released to a reasonable critical reception… 16 years ago. This gap almost rivals the legendary 17 years between Sabbath‘s Forbidden and 13.1 Personal issues, changes to the line-up, and various setbacks along the way made it seem like a follow-up would never see the light of day. Which would have been sad because these Germans showed with their debut that they had some serious chops. But despite the travails and setbacks, here we are with Absolution. And the first thing you’ll notice is the album art. Pretty sick, right? Looks like we’re off to a good start. Is this the harbinger of a triumphant return?
Mostly! For those unfamiliar with Sinners Bleed, the band plays a brutal and uncompromising form of death metal, with prominent technical elements. Think Immolation or Suffocation, sprinkled with just a dash of thrash and perhaps a hint of Archspire. The combination of these influences means that Sinners Bleed, while certainly not reinventing the death metal wheel, has enough of a unique sound that it doesn’t resemble an unoriginal clone of those great bands. The mood is foreboding and crushing, but rapid and catchy as well. This is best exemplified by “The Second Being,” which also happens to show off the supreme technical skill of guitarists Sebastian Ankert and Arne Maneke. Riffs and solos just fly about like limbs in a particularly malevolent mosh pit. Elsewhere, the slower, more crushing songs like “Obedience” are just as effective in creating an oppressive and thunderous mood. Erik Wenzel on the drums crashes his way through epics such as “Devouring Hatred” like a charging elephant. All these elements create compelling and dynamic songs. Crucially, although they are technical as hell, they’re driven by the riff and the atmosphere, not the technicality.
Such a long lay-off does come at a price, however. Sinners Bleed clearly have 16 years’ worth of ideas to share and the determined desire to cram every single one into Absolution. It flies by at a breakneck pace, with new ideas and passages zooming in and out of your ears at a ridiculous rate. Before you can say “that’s cool,” the cool thing has gone and been replaced by another cool thing. While this means the album is never dull, you wish it would sometimes just slow down and explore some of the many great passages that are unfortunately cut short. The rapid changes, often within single songs (like “Age of the Crow”) mean that by the second half of Absolution, tracks have started to occasionally bleed into one another.
Despite being densely compressed, the instrumentation is generally clear and allows the real heroes of the album—the guitars—to shine. Solos soar and drums snap with conviction. My only real complaint is the lack of bass. If you really squint your ears, you can make it out, but the mix does it no favors whatsoever. This is unfortunate, because it robs the album of the grounding it needs during some of the more chaotic moments. Jan Geidner’s vocals are also fairly standard. While he does offer the occasional shriek and yelp, for the most part he is content to provide a routine growl. In the pre-Relentless Mutation days, this would have been fine, but times have changed and Absolution would have benefited if he had pushed himself a bit further.
These complains aside, Sinners Bleed is a dynamic and fearsome band, and Absolution slays from beginning to end. In a world where too many albums drag on by repeating the same riffs over and over, there are worse ‘sins’ (ha!) than having a surfeit of ideas. Absolution is also bittersweet because while it’s great to have these guys back, you realize that we’ve missed out on 16 years of quality tech-death. For those who need their next fix after Atonement, Absolution won’t just scratch that itch, it’ll gleefully tear the flesh from your back. You’ll love every moment of it.