Even as a child of the internet era, there are a few things that have declined with its spread, for which I hold a bittersweet fondness. One of those is the once-geographic nature of the different metal scenes; while the influence of place is not gone, it hardly holds the sway it once did. Case in point: The Absence are a Tampa, Florida based act, but to the ear, they should be from Gothenburg. Offering an hour-long slab of At the Gates worship for their fourth album, A Gift for the Obsessed, The Absence bear a difficult task, as this style is well-worn. Do they have the chops to pull it off?
Yes! From the opening moments of the title track, all the way to closer “Idle Thrones,” Obsessed is stuffed with hooky, engaging riffage. The band has an excellent ear for melody; particular standouts include the “The Forging,” “Misery Trophies,” and “The Alpha Illusion.” Newcomer axemen Joey Conception (Armageddon) and Taylor Nordberg (Ribspreader) are clearly well-experienced in their craft, even if the chosen style is far from original. Also worth note is the cover of Suicidal Tendencies‘ “You Can’t Bring Me Down,” which manages to toe the line between respecting the source and offering a new take on the punky classic, assisted by the ever-deft Speed Strid of Soilwork in a guest spot. Other tracks worth a listen are the raucous “Thought & Memory” and “Fear of Existence.”
Only a scant couple of tracks bear any specific issues, but there is a general trend toward a lack of editing. All ten songs run a little long, averaging 6 minutes with little variance from that mean, which combined with the consistently fast tempo leads the record to seem a bit monotonous at times, but I went back and forth on this between different listens as the riff- and solo-craft are so on point. Overall, the album could probably be improved by trimming a track or two, like “Septic Testament” or “Celestial Hysteria,” down to reduce the slightly-bloated total runtime.
Moving on to the rest of the band, there’re even more positives, bassist Mike Leon (Soulfly) delivers a rippling, frenetic style of bass riffage playing off the treble, while Jeramie Kling (Necromancing the Stone) just kills behind the kit, dancing expertly between fills and rhythm like a seasoned professional should. Vocalist Jamie Stewart (Disevered) is a frantic monster on the mic and a dead ringer for At the Gate’s Tomas Lindberg — never a bad thing. The production is excellent, too, with solid choices across the board for guitar and bass tones, the latter playing off the punchy drum triggers to keep the rhythm sections audibly distinct. The mix contributes to this as well, as every component is offered plenty of room to move around, aided further by a much spacier master than one expects from melodeath. One shudders to think what this might sound like with greater compression.
While it’s not original enough to enter the canon of melodeath classics by any means, A Gift for the Obsessed stands as a reminder that even this well-worn style isn’t quite dead. Given the other bands The Absence’s members are linked to, this should hardly be a surprise, and this is definitely worth checking out!