"INFINITE AND PROFANE THRONES"
A DISSERTATION ON MY ODYSSEY THROUGH THE MACROCOSM OF ABSU
By: Peter D. Tucker, Curator of the Mythological Occult Reliquary
Luck. It had to be luck - but perhaps not. In the past, I had created and worked on some other unofficial band sites including Darkthrone, Nocturnus, Carpathian Forest and Graveland (none of which exist anymore due to the fact that they have their own websites now). In discovering ABSU, I was always puzzled by the lack of web presence for them. There were some websites out there but they just didn't seem to give the right justification for ABSU that I felt they deserved (no offense intended to any previous ABSU website creators). Then it just so happened that I was offered this job along with my friend, Tom Busler.
Before we get into that, let's rewind to how I 'met' ABSU originally.
PART IA - DESCENT TO ACHERON (Discovery, Compilation, and First Live Show: February 22, 2011 - Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL)
It was around 1999 and I was at a record store, purchasing some CDs from the guy who just brought in a new shipment of metal CDs (he had a distribution agreement with Necropolis Records). At the time, I was super into black metal and was collecting anything I could get my hands on. I recall seeing two ABSU CDs, The Third Storm of Cythrául and In The Eyes of Ioldánach. I went ahead and picked these up based on a recommendation and various reviews. I liked them well enough, but I wasn't really paying attention at the time - so they sat in my collection for with only occasional plays. It wasn't until Tara appeared in 2001 that I was knocked off my feet. It wasn't just the music - it was the passion behind it - the packaging, the lyrics, the glossary - this wasn't just any ordinary band, this was something special. I immediately ordered Barathrum V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and The Sun of Tipareth to complete the collection and have been hooked ever since. As the internet was still relatively new back then, I immediately searched the web for information on ABSU. Web information at that time was spotty and scarce so I tried to research as much as I could. A fairly helpful site was 'www.absu.net' (inactive since around 2005) which contained a ton of information, but it was fairly obvious that English was not the webmaster's first language. Regardless, it helped and as I continued to research, I also noticed that site mentioned some unreleased material as well. Since I caught into the band so late, several EPs, demos and compilation appearances were not available to me in original format. In addition, by this time, the band was on hiatus due to the departure of Equitant (and later, Shaftiel) as well as Proscriptor's hand injury. Later interviews from Proscriptor (circa 2004) stated that he intended the resurrect the band, but at a later time.
This is where I thought I would have an interesting opportunity. I knew the band wasn't going to release anything new but in the same interviews, Proscriptor talked about releasing some sort of box set later down the road for the rare stuff. I then gathered up all the information I could find regarding unreleased material and created one of those online petitions (link removed as they have taken it down after all these years) to see if I could get the band to release a compilation since the band was not releasing anything new anytime soon. I copied the last known email I saw of Proscriptor and also copied the band's label, Osmose Productions. I honestly didn't think they would reply or if they did, would just sort of laugh it off.
To my surprise, I was answered very quickly by Proscriptor who really liked the idea. While he didn't care for the name I suggested (and it probably didn't make sense anyway), he did like the idea of at least getting something out there to the fans since the band was still going to be on ice for some time. He even later asked me to give my opinion on what tracks should be on this compilation based on a list he sent me. I gave him my input and around about nine months later or so, a double album was released titled Mythological Occult Metal : 1991-2001 and Proscriptor thanked me in the albums notes. I was overwhelmed. Not long after that, I was contacted by Equitant who wanted to thank me as well.
That was the beginning of my collaboration with ABSU. I heartily followed the band and was ecstatic when Proscriptor announced two new additions to the band and the beginning of the recording of Absu in 2007. I rigorously kept up with information on the band through their Myspace page but I continued to believe the band deserved a better web presence. Around November of 2010, word made around that ABSU would tour with Immortal in the US on a few select dates. I was desperate to go as I missed the 2009 tour due to the birth of my first son. So I gathered some friends of mine (including the aforementioned Tom Busler) and we hatched a plan to see the band in Chicago in February of 2011. After an 8 hour drive, consumption of deep dish pizza, and a stop at our hotel room we were on our way to see the band. With no opening acts, ABSU began the performance and executed the following set list:
The Coming of War
Swords and Leather
Night Fire Canonization
The Thrice Is Greatest to Ninnigal
Four Crossed Wands (Spell 181)
Highland Tyrant Attack
Never Blow Out the Eastern Candle
A fair set given the band only had 45 minutes to play - one treat was the artwork used on the stage would soon become the album artwork for Abzu. They executed their set flawlessly, although Tom thought the band sounded better with two guitarists (he had previously caught the band the previous year on tour - damn you, Tom!!). Regardless, I set out to see if I could meet with Proscriptor following the show. I was fortuitous enough to catch him as he was helping some of the roadies load equipment for their next date on the tour. He signed some autographs, posed for pictures and hung out with us, despite the below freezing temperatures as well as the fact that he was likely exhausted.
(Image #1: Proscriptor and Tom; Image #2: Proscriptor and Myself)
It was after this meeting that Proscriptor contacted me regarding the website. He asked if I could assist in creating a better web presence on the internet for ABSU. What could I say? I accepted on the condition that Tom could assist me in this endeavor. Proscriptor agreed and Tom and I immediately collaborated on ideas while Proscriptor began to send thousands and thousands of files to me of images and information regarding the history of the band. We decided to with with an "occult library" theme for the site and in the meantime, I created a newsblog for the band in addition to creating an official Facebook page for the band. By August, the official site was up and running. Some may question the need for an official site since Facebook is such a dominant media but rather than get into a debate on the pros and cons of Facebook, I'll state that I felt that ABSU deserved a site that was rich in information and media but was free of the context of some other site. The point of the Facebook page was to take the place of a "forum" but I also added other applications such music streaming and tour dates.
To me, ABSU had to have a site that had answers to many questions their music presents but also may lead to more questions, which I hope the reader can discover themselves as I encourage anyone to send feedback or information to me about the site. In the end, the ultimate point of this page was to create something I felt even a casual fan could find what they needed quickly but also for a die-hard fan to find out much more about the band including their rich lyrical content (an "ABSU-niverse of Knowledge" or "ABSU-niversity", if you will). It is my hope that this is where this website succeeds.
Since the creation of the site, I continue to work with Proscriptor in association with ABSU's various partners (i.e. Record Labels, Publicists, etc.) as a "silent partner" with continuous site updates, archiving information and future projects. My hope is that people will turn to this website for all their ABSU needs in regards to the latest information on the band, tour dates, extensive discography information, merchandise and perhaps finding the definition of what the hell "Cuchulainn" means.
Addendum: In 2018, Proscriptor and I decided to revamp the website into it's current format, keeping it much more focused on the band and less graphic/image heavy. Imagery has been moved to the Facebook page for documentation and all albums are linked to their Discogs page for additional information.
PART IB - CIRCLES OF THE OATH (Secret Meetings and The Birthday Show: November 11, 2013 - FUBAR, St. Louis, MO)
After working with the site for some time, I was looking to see if I could get ABSU to come through my home town as driving to far off locations isn't always the easiest thing to do, especially with kids. Unfortunately, it just did not appear that it was going to happen anytime soon. At the time, I did not know that my wife and brother were conspiring behind me to bring the band to my city to perform or at the very least, visit. Unfortunately, plans for that fell through. Regardless, my wife did not give up and when I discovered the band would be touring again in November 2013, I tried to see if they would come through our area by securing a location. They were able to book a show in St. Louis which is not a far drive for us. Later, I discovered my finances were not in order so I was going to have to cancel going until I found out later that my wife had contacted Proscriptor and told him that we would be there and she was going to do it as a birthday present for me (and had been saving up for the trip without my knowledge). I was extremely happy when I found out the news. We booked a hotel and drove to St. Louis to check in. Following that, we drove to the venue to get in and saw it probably wasn't going to be a huge crowd but a solid one none-the-less. Proscriptor was putting the finishing touches on setting up his drums and then we met with him and talked briefly. He disappeared backstage only to emerge later asking if we wanted to stay with the band backstage. Of course we said yes and we were able to be up close and candid with the band for the duration of their backstage time until they went on. They then performed the following set:
The Waters - The Denizens [Intro] / Apzu / Never Blow Out the Eastern Candle
The Winter Zephyr (...Within Kingdoms of Mist) / Morbid Scream
Skrying in the Spirit Vision
Highland Tyrant Attack
Tara [Intro] / Pillars of Mercy
Encore featuring Proscriptor on Vocals and Grzesiek (aka Drekavac) on Drums
Bron (of the Waves) [Intrerlude] / Stone of Destiny (...for Magh Slécht and Ard Righ)
Tara (Recapitulation) [Outro]
Another flawless set of Mythological Occult Metal. Afterwards we took photos with the band and helped pack up equipment. It was one of the best nights of my life and probably the best birthday present a guy could ever get.
PART IC - THE WINTER ZEPHYR (Meteorolgical Problems and Third Show: April 16, 2016 - The Riot Room, Kansas City, MO)
[NOTE: This part could have easily been called The Third Storm of Cythrául due to its context but I kept it to song titles rather than album titles.]
In February 2016, I received an email from Proscriptor that contained tour dates. I hadn't spoken with him much in the past few months but this was very exciting to see. I wasn't aware they were planning anything since I knew they were working on their next album but perhaps they decided they wanted to get out and the timing was right. The itinerary showed they would be playing many shows with very few days off. It seemed crazy but if anyone could pull this off, I figured they could. The day before our show, they played Denver, Colorado. I was so excited for our show, but didn't realize the weather was going to play a factor. A fast moving low pressure system had developed and dropped south in to Arizona and moved NE quickly, developing a freak winter storm over Denver that evening. After performing the band was almost snowed in as their van skidded off the highway due to heavy snow and later found out they were on a highway that had just closed. Luckily, a tow truck was able to pull them out but not after a very long delay. This delay forced the band to take additional time getting to Kansas City and did not arrive until almost 11:15pm. They asked for my help to unload their equipment and with some help from my friends and family (Kelli, Matt, Mike & Chrissy), they were able to get set up fast to play. It was shortly after midnight they began their set.
SET I: Proscriptor on Drums
Terminus (…in The Eyes Of Ioldánach) [Intro] / Swords And Leather / The Sun Of Tiphareth
An Equinox Of Fathomless Disheartenment
The Cognate House Of Courtly Witches Lies West Of County Meath
Circles of the Oath
New Song - Either titled "Solipsism" or "Solipsistic Alarm" from the forthcoming "Apsu" - to be updated later when confirmed.
Highland Tyrant Attack
Never Blow Out The Eastern Candle
SET II: Proscriptor on Vocals; Drekavac on Drums
Prelusion to Cythrául [Interlude] / …And Shineth Unto The Cold Cometh…
The Gold Torques Of Uláid
A Shield With An Iron Face
Finale: Bron (…Of The Waves) [Interlude] / Stone Of Destiny (...for Magh Slécht and Ard Righ) / Tara (Recapitulation) [Outro]
I have to tell you folks, this being my third time seeing the band, they are a hyper-precision machine when they perform live. For a band that plays extreme metal, its incredibly difficult to stay on time, especially the style they do. And they missed no marks, especially after what they experienced the night before - I can only imagine they were more than tired. I don't know how Proscriptor does it, but the drumming/vocal combination is something he is so masterful at, it's a thing any one fan of this type of music (or drumming in general) must see live to experience - and he does it better than anyone I have ever seen. Ezezu is one of the fastest yet complex bassists I've ever seen live. He seemed to be playing 17 notes at once at 100 mph somehow, all while wearing gloves - and singing as well! When it was time for Drekavac to take the stage for the second half of the performance, I assumed that maybe he wouldn't quite catch every single beat, maybe miss a few crashes here and there. I was wrong. This guy studied every note, every bit of timing and every bit of precision with Proscriptor and he has it nailed down. This next part is going to be controversial but I honestly mean it: Proscriptor as a sole vocalist is unreal. The man has the charisma and stage presence that I haven't seen since Freddie Mercury. I don't say that with any shame or because I know these guys and consider them brothers. He has a gift and you have to see it to understand. I can only describe it as metaphorically and literally, he is spell-casting as he performs and he weaves an unbelievable magic(k)al concoction in the musical and visual sense.
This is a new era for the band and if they decide to continue as a four piece with Drekavac on drums and Proscriptor on vocals only, I honestly would not complain at all. This is ABSU at their second peak (the first being 1998-2001 Tara era) and the band has never sounded sharper, clearer and stronger. If this is what the future holds, I can only imagine what kind of beast Apsu will be when it eventually comes out. I dare anyone to say their best days are behind them. They are wrong.
PART ID - AN EVOLUITION OF HORNS
On January 27th, 2020, my musical heroes ended - only to rise again on June 17th, 2020. Sometimes evolution is inevitable. And now, we are evolving into the future with Proscriptor McGovern’s Apsû. A new outlet and a new outlook.
What the future holds now is anyone's guess. But the mythologial occult metal will continue well into the future...
PART II - A QUEST INTO THE 77TH NOVEL
From a lyrical perspective, ABSU are on another level. Years and years of research by Equitant and Proscriptor has led to the lyrical insanity we are all familiar with now. But what does it all mean? All the lyrics can have different interpretations by the listener based on their own research and experiences - after all, what one person hears may not be the same as another. Whether it is Ancient Sumeria, Medieval Ireland or R'lyeh, the context of lyrics can be confusing, overwhelming and at times, just plain fucking bizarre.
Referring to the website, it occurred to me that the band’s inclusion of a glossary on Tara might apply quite well for the website, covering all aspects of the band. I expanded upon one that had already existed on an old site (www.absu.net) but updated all of the wording and definitions on a basic level, with this being the outcome. So while these defined terms are available, context can also be difficult. However, a little bit of time and searching and perhaps one can find their own meaning to the "51st Hexagram". Not to mention there are hidden things in songs one can look for. One example is 13 Globes. Take the lyrics:
33, Legions bow before me now
22 x 33 = 726, a number Proscriptor associates himself with.
You will find often enough that numbers play an important role with the band as well [i.e. Four Crossed Wands (Spell 181) and Vorago (Spell 182), etc.]. Another favorite is Proscriptor's explanation of Skrying In The Spirit Vision:
Earth: Stand with the wind because Earth is subject to the winds. When I place my feet toward the South, I hear 33 thunder clamors and see 9639 servants of the thunder. 9639 reduces down to 9+6+3+9.
I hear 33 thunder clamors, feel 456 various wind directions and watch 9636 servants march in. With that being alleged, the number 9369 reduces to 9+6+3+9, which equals 27 and 2+7=9. 33 is equivalent to 456 because 3+3=6 and 4+5+6=15 and 1+5=6.
As I enter the Third Angle of the Spirit Vision, you will skry 69,636 ever-burning lamps. The Third Angle refers to any of the four elements, (earth, water, air and fire) but there is a fifth element as well: spirit.
Formula: 69,636 = 6+9+6+3+6 = 30 and 30 = 3+0 = 3 → The Third Angle
If they had taught this in Math, I probably would have paid more attention.
Another example is the song Ye Uttuku Spells. The word ABSU is spelled out several different ways throughout the lyrics.
During live shows, extremely unusual introductions to songs were performed by Proscriptor (also by Mezzadurus and sometimes Shaftiel), depending on the situation. The Coming of War was often precluded by this incantation by Proscriptor:
"Blessed by wand and the ancient flame, guide ye on the left pathway, face to the North, with salt and sacred sword, I shall concentrate and invoke to thee, under the sacred names of the winds / This symbol of Earth, this symbol of Water, as thy symbol of Winter / O spirits above. O spirits of Air, I light the candles red." followed by reciting some of the lyrics to the song before claiming "This is...the coming of waaarrrrrrrrrrr!". You can find other introductions similar to this including Swords and Leather, Apzu, Four Crossed Wands (Spell 181) and Cyntefyn's Fountain.
The band had an esoteric beginning with massive influence from Sumerian history and Lovecraftian themes but by The Third Storm of Cythrául, Scottish, Celtic and Irish History and Myths began to influence them a great deal, continuing to the apex of Tara. By the time Absu was released, the band resumed more Sumerian/Lovecraftian themes (something they had planned to do as early as 2002) but adding forth additional aspects of Alchemical Sciences, Occult and Akkadian Magic(k), Thelemic Arts, Mesopotamian Themes, and Numerology.
Visualization with the band has been somewhat lesser to an extent for this band than others. Sometimes, the imagination works best with this as there are few approximations one can make with the band versus another band with much more exposure. The band has created three videos:
A fourth video, A Myriad of Portals was never completed and remains unreleased. There are plenty of live videos of the band, especially of the 1995-1997 era and the current era of the band.
The members of the band have changed often with the nexus (Proscriptor, Shaftiel, Equitant) remaining in tact until 2002. While touring, the band employed a fourth "unofficial" member of ABSU, Mezzadurus, during the 1995 - 1997 era. During these performances, he helped with live vocalizations for the band due to the complex patterns the band used. It's unusual that a band would make such recruitments to their nexus and then establish themselves so well as Mezzadurus is as much a part of the mysticism of the band as Shaftiel, Equitant and Proscriptor. When the band returned to live performances in 2009, they re-established the four piece format with two guitarists but later moved to just a three piece. In 2013, the band re-established this four piece format differently than before as for encore performances, Proscriptor would handle sole vocal duties while Drekavac handled drums.
PART III - SWORDS AND LEATHER
NOTE: Reviews are from metal-archives.com. The reason I didn't add my own reviews is because I'm not the best reviewer in the world and I figured others had written it better than I have. For spacing issues, only the full length releases are reviewed.
A. BARATHRUM V.I.T.R.I.OL.
Barathrum V.I.T.R.I.O.L. was ABSU's first full-length release after two demos and an EP and even though it’s not as polished or as intricate as later releases, it is still a very solid release that should not be overlooked.
Absu kind of tread the middle-line of Black Metal. Their production isn’t as raw as the Graveland or Judas Iscariot’s of the world, but they're not as polished or as crushingly produced as newer Immortal releases either. Barathrum, perhaps because of its moderate age, is the most raw of Absu's releases but from a musical standpoint it is still similar to their newer releases. What Absu does well on the majority of this release is successfully blend aggressive and fast Black Metal with a Death/Thrash mentality with more traditional Black Metal riffs that provide an appropriate amount of melody and atmosphere. There aren’t really any completely Death or Thrash riffs on display during the fast sections, but the way the fast sections are structured from a rhythm and drum style standpoint there mine as well be. Here in lies the problem with this release as well. Occasionally the riffs and atmosphere just get lost in the blast of noise that every instrument creates. What was once a mildly atmospheric song that you could still head bang to turns into a mish-mash of aggressiveness. This aspect of Absu’s music would be almost completely rectified on later releases, but as far this one goes it only shows up in a couple of songs. The majority of this release is filled with a clever mix of atmosphere and aggression that doesn’t sound out of place or misconceived, though.
Another highlight of Absu’s debut, as is the case with any Absu release, is the drumming. The drums have an excellent tone and mix to them and if it were any other way Proscriptor’s maniacal drum performance would be lost. There are a lot of talented drummers in Black Metal but because of the nature of the music their abilities are rarely shown to their full extent (Fenriz is a perfect example of this). This is not the case at all with Absu, however. Proscriptor is intensly fast and precise with incredible fills and head-spinning double bass. That Thrash and Death Metal mentality seeps its way into the drums more than anything and even though there are common-place Black Metal blasts, there is plenty of double bass and Thrash runs. Meanwhile the lyrics are very good as well. Dealing with the occult and various mythos (primarily Celtic) Proscriptor’s lyrics are both poetic and intelligent, but you’re going to have to read the booklet to get anything out of them since you’re certainly not going to hear anything from listening to the music. The vocals come in two varieties. There is the rapsy, shrill stylings of Shaftiel and the more mid-range stylings of Proscriptor. Shaftiel populates most of this release and he is the weaker of the two. It's almost as if his vocals are just spewed forth without much thought to their place within the rhyhtm structure during the faster tempos. Meanwhile Proscriptor proves he's not only an amazing drummer but an above average Black Metal vocalist as well. Unforunately, he only appears on a couple songs. The guitars are well played for the most part and have a nice chainsaw styled tone to them. Keyboards also dot a couple of songs with laid-back, low-key, mid-paced synth.
For most people the version that is available these days comes with three bonus tracks. The introduction Proscriptor gives for The Coming of War is probably the most psychotic introduction I've ever heard and has to be heard to be believed. The sound on these live tracks comes with the style of no frills, raw live mix. Hardcore fans of the band will like the bonus tracks a lot. The live sound is even rawer than the studio sound and the riffs become even more undistinguishable, but for the majority of Absu’s fan base they are nice additions.
If you’re new to Absu this is a great place to start and keep in mind that the band gets better with age. Strangely enough, most Black Metal specialist (or elitist, depending on your point of view) hold this release in very high regard. For the casual or general Metal fan though, there are noticeable flaws, but they are overcome with a strong mix of very catchy traditional Black Metal parts and violent aggressive parts. The drum performance and lyrics are added bonuses that just sweeten the package.
B. THE SUN OF TIPHARETH
Absu’s second album is superior to its first one in every aspect. Here the band has evolved and created a sound of its own. This album is a landmark record in the Black/Thrash genre. While the genre they started with was already ambitious enough if you consider the fact that they are from the United States, and not Norway, it just wasn’t that new for the overall global metal scene. Also, the production wasn’t right.
Now I’m not saying that the first album was terrible, but the fact is that it doesn’t hold candlelight in front of this mighty release.
A lot of credit for this impregnable offering should go to the drummer. He is not human. He can add breath taking fills and rolls within a flash. You won’t see them coming, you won’t know when they came, and your ears won’t believe what they just heard. He’s doing things so effortlessly it almost looks like he’s bored and therefore does a little thing of his own whenever he “gets the time”. Speed merely being the focus of black metal, it does not allow the drummer to experiment much. Who knows how many great drummers are hidden behind the curtain? Well, I can tell you this guy definitely isn’t.
Probably in a need to keep up with the drummer, almost all the riffs are tremolo picked. The good thing is that they neither sound bland, nor repetitive. The rhythm guitars perform consistently without pauses or show-offs. The vocals couldn’t be better. Raspy chill shrieks as their very best.
The overall sound and mixing is perfectly balanced. While the musicians are simply going insane the producer is making sure that all instruments count. The medieval atmosphere has been captured perfectly as well. The thrash part of “Black/Thrash” is very much present as can be noticed by the 80s intensity displayed by the musicians.
This record has surpassed most black metal feats achieved by the famous Norwegian bands you started the genre with, and it is as enjoyable and aggressive as their best releases. A thrilling experience is something I can guarantee.
C. THE THIRD STORM OF CYTHRÁUL
Right from the way this album starts I knew it was going to be another genre essential. The first song, Prelusion to Cythrául / ...And Shineth Unto the Cold Cometh..., starts with acoustic leads and an atmosphere created by winds and thunderstorms, commonly only seen in folk metal bands. After two minutes we hear a signature Proscriptor drum roll and the annihilation begins! From there there’s no looking back. They have recreated the aggression they showed on The Sun of Tiphareth and added more variety and tempo alterations with it.
Amongst the three classics they’ve already come out with, this one is usually overlooked despite the fact that it’s just as good as them if not better. The 80s thrash assault, to precise the kind Exodus are known for, has been amplified and presented here. Now imagine what that would be like, and I can assure you I’m not exaggerating. The amount of thrash is considerably more here as compared to the previous offering but then so is the medieval atmosphere, resulting in a mixture so unique and distinct that you’re completely blown away before you know it.
The riffs are newer, fresher, and more complex. Yet they manage to keep up with the monstrous speed of the drums. It disappoints me that they haven’t released any DVD so far and I can’t see them live. I’m writing this review at 1 in the afternoon whereas I heard the album the night before. What I’m saying is that my neck is seriously hurting with that entire head banging I did. Heck, I don’t feel so exhausted when I come back from actual gigs. Now that’s how powerful this release is. And I repeat; I am not exaggerating.
There are very few black metal bands I listen to frequently. This is one of them alongside giants like Bathory and Satyricon. The work is just so original that you never get enough of it, which isn’t the case with other artists in the genre. I haven’t shown as much interest in Mayhem, Darkthrone, Gorgoroth or Burzum as much as I have shown in this band. These guys just deserve the attention more, in my humble opinion. They’re so good that they make the hype surrounding the aforementioned artists look ridiculous and unwanted. Sure, you might say I haven’t given them a proper listen but then I didn’t give this band much of a chance either. But they were able to grab my attention so easily that I never felt the need to finish the basics first. Black metal has never been my favourite sub-genre of metal I’ll tell you, but this band will probably make sure that it does.
From two minute fillers to 8 minute epics, everything is just perfect here. I’m running out of words to describe how great this band really is. The longest track on the album, ...Of Celtic Fire, We Are Born - Terminus (...In the Eyes of Ioldánach), is easily the best and is able to bring back fine memories of when I first heard songs like Walk The Path Of Sorrow, Dark Medieval Times or A Fine Day To Die. Such vibrant and brilliant use of effects and side instruments to create atmosphere can be seen rarely. Acoustic guitar, keyboards, flutes, everything can be identified. The song epitomizes technical song construction and beautiful instrumental arrangements in a black metal record. It’s like musicians more talented than Rush or Dream Theater came together and created a black metal band.
A review of one of my favourite albums of all time seemed a good idea with ABSU’s long-awaited successor to Tara finally out this year and as a first European tour in many, many moons is currently in mid-progress (London in a few days for me!), the stock of these American black/thrashers may never have been higher after a tortuous period of inactivity. Long-time band members may have left and record labels may have changed, however above all else, creating an album to follow on from Tara is a challenge that would probably take anyone eight whole years in it’s own right, as you will now see why...
Undoubtedly one of the most technically accomplished of all extreme metal classics, Tara is like nothing you will have ever heard; forget what you think you know about extreme metal drumming and guitar-playing dexterity, you have not heard anything until you've heard this. Being the very definition of OTT in its execution, Tara does nothing by halves. Enigmatic mainman/drummer/vocalist Sir Proscriptor McGovern must have a severe case of ADD; he hyperactively destroys his drums through a combination of truly mind-blowing speed, complex fills and time-signature changes that are so explosive one's attention could easily be detracted from some of the sharpest, most devastating riffs you will ever hear being laid down by a mere human. The dominant riffs of Pillars Of Mercy and Manannán are astonishingly merciless, worthy of comparison to the likes of Slayer at their very Reign In Blood best. However that is not to forget A Shield With An Iron Face, a song resplendent in it's collaboration between riff and drum, working together in perfect harmony to showcase an attention to detail much greater than one would expect from 'mere' magnificent song-writing skills. Nor should From Ancient Times (Starless Skies Burn To Ash) be discarded which arrives with the power and destruction of a herd of wildebeest charging through your living room. How about the whiplash inducing madness of The Cognate House of Courtly Witches Lies West of County Meath? You get my point I think.
Despite the unrelenting blackened-thrash speed of Pillars Of Mercy and Manannán ABSU somehow maintain total control, crafting monuments of creative genius played at breakneck speed. This control under the most demanding of self-imposed conditions is akin to that of a machine-gunner spraying a field of men yet only picking out the enemies and never his own men. I can guarantee it will take you a number of listens to begin getting your head around this display.
Perhaps unsurprising given the emphasis on drums and guitar the bass end of Tara is a little understated in a wall of sound production job, although it could be argued Absu dig themselves out of this hole with riffs so lavishly played they serve aplenty for a number of albums, not just one. Themes of Celtic mythology dominate McGovern's lyrical output so intensively that a lexicon of terms is provided in the booklet to assist the unaware in the story of Tara played out across this 'concept' album, confirming the aforementioned extraordinary level of detail found right across the album. Key to Tara's 'classic' status and worth as a hallowed 10/10 is the avoidance of repetition in the midst of the unrelenting speed - Vorago (Spell 182), for instance, is filled with so many spiraling, proficient riffs that most bands go through an entire career without producing just one to match; Bron (Of The Waves) introduces some cathartic acoustic tranquility, leading wonderfully into the classic metal tinged Stone Of Destiny (...For Magh Slécht And Ard Righ) where more spectacular musicianship is served with the addition of McGovern's most admirable attempts at King Diamond ball-clenching vocals. Only like all truly great records can a story be told about every song.
Bookended by an atmosphere-drenched bagpipe introduction and outro, Tara's 52 minutes fly by. With closer Tara (Recapitulation) and the ceasing of the album's whirlwind of riffs, the lone bagpipe symbolically escorts your battered body and mind from the battlefield, until you press 'play' again to begin asking again: "how the fuck did they do that?".
So here we are 8 years after Tara. Is it even possible for this band to top what they accomplished with Tara? Really, why would they want to? Many people wondered if they could even continue with the loss of Shaftiel (despite some lyrical/musical credit) and Equitant. And yes, some of the riff schizhoid thrashing insanity and insane speed is missing (think of this album as going 90mph instead of 120mph like Tara did - its still fast, but it seems slow compared to going 120 mph), but overall, this is a great fucking album.
One thing I was a bit concerned about was Proscriptor turning this album into essentially a 60 minute drum solo, overpowering everything and drowing out all other instruments. Surprisingly he seems in more control here with nothing that really blasts you in the face like "Tara" did (not that thats was a bad thing, of course). He definitely utilizes all his talents here, but never once does it seem over-the-top, although I do miss the fact that there is not one falsetto scream here. Oh well. Also Zawicizuz and Aethyris are fine replacements for Shaftiel and Equitant (Vastator is also credited for some of the work but left before completing the album and for the record Ezezu didn't actually play on this album).
There are more keyboards spiced along the album here and there than Tara, along the lines of Third Storm of Cythrául. In fact, the old-school thrashing madness of Third Storm of Cythrául is all over the place here (but with cleaner production), and I'd compare this album more to Third Storm of Cythrául than to Tara. You can really hear the influences here intensely but it is also 100% uniquely Absu. Lots and lots of twists and turns in the songs and no spots where I thought "this sounds kinda familiar" as I think that was the only thing Tara suffered from slightly (for example, compare listening to The Cognate House Of Courtly Witches Lies West Of County Meath and She Cries The Quiet Lake as well as Four Crossed Wands (Spell 181) and Vorago (Spell 182) back to back). I don't get that at all with Absu as every song has something different and unique about it.
Between The Absu Of Eridu & Erech is a great fucking start with a quick intro then blasting into the chaos that is completely Absu. Even includes a marching breakdown that kicks ass. ...Of The Dead Who Never Rest In Their Tombs Are The Attendance Of Familiar Spirits..., the more epic track on this album chugs on more at a midpace, but with some speed here and there and includes a really tripped out synthesizer outro that brings you back to the 1970s (theres that psychadelic influence Proscriptor mentioned would make an appearance here). Amy completely conjures up total fucking 80s thrash. Those Of The Void Will Re-Enter is an odd piece that seems to go everywhere from blasting black metal, to ambience synth with acoustic guitars. Sceptre Command starts and doesn't stop for five minutes of blasting speed. We end the album with Ye Uttuku Spells and Twix Yesterday, The Day & The Morrow, songs that brings forth some more odd time signatures and start/stop insanity and a rather unique outro track (respectively), fitting for the end of this album. And the guest list on this album is incredible: Ashmedi (Melechesh), Blasphemer (Ex-Mayhem/Ava Inferi), David Harbour (Ex-King Diamond), Michael Harris (Darkology), Mindwalker (The Firstborn), Nornagest (Enthroned), Vorskaath (Zemial) and even Ex-Guitarist/Bassist Equitant makes an appearance. Awesome!
Overall, you can't go wrong with any track here really. As long as you go into this album not expecting a sequel to Tara, you will not be dissapointed. It's a whole new era for this band, and I hope they do carry on well past this album and create many more. Welcome Back ABSU!
Two years ago saw the return of the stalwart Texan black thrashers ABSU, when they released their first album in eight years. With a completely new horde in the frontlines, and a vast ocean of material written between the years 2001-2008, it was no mean feat for mainman Proscriptor McGovern to create something worthy of the bands legacy and although the prospect gathered great anticipation amongst its followers, there was also a treacherous undercurrent of doubt that flowed beneath the sense of jubilation. Out of this abyss emerged “Absu”, an aptly titled album and even more impressively, the first piece of three titled “Abyssic Trinity”. Although the album differs greatly to their earlier works, being built on a more progressive death metal foundation, it did gather up some mixed reviews, but the majority of them very positive. Despite their new approach in both sound and music presented on the album, it is still undeniably ABSU, and for me, absolutely spectacular!
When the grapevine reported that the follow-up to Absu was to emerge in the latter part of 2011, along with the fact that the band had changed it’s frontline completely since the recording of the album took place, with bass guitarist / backing vocalist Ezezu joining the fold shortly after the completion of the album in 2008 and guitarist joining in 2009, my thoughts went almost immediately to what concoction we’d be presented with this time around. The era of “Abzu” is now upon us and never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted the sense of awe and amazement it has conjured upon me.
Right from the opening notes of the album and the ever so familiar, hallmark shriek of Proscriptor, I was taken aback by the unrelenting aggression of the sound and songwriting as Earth Ripper, one of the greatest beginnings of any album I’ve heard in aeons, which takes the listener on a violent roller-coaster ride of very nostalgic and classic, almost the trademark Absu kind of metal in the vein of The Third Storm of Cythrául and Tara only this time around with a much more black metal oriented approach. Long time fans and followers of the band need not ponder over whether it presents us with some mindless blast feast, but for those who are dabblers in the aural magick of ABSU, you need not worry for a second about that, because it’s as complex and progressive as it is fast.
Off the bat, the first thing that confiscated my attention was the phenomenal guitar work as he plows through some of the most vicious black metal chords and devastatingly cool staccato riffing I’ve heard. The sound of the guitars is so crisp and clear that every single nuance is easily audible, even in the most blistering torrents put forth by the rhythm section. And while on the subject of guitars, it was a pleasant revelation that Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen handles all solos on the album, a further collaboration from the last album where he lent his talents to a couple of songs. On Abzu, he delivers solos that make Kerry King sound like an amateur as he delves into purely thrash metal oriented, short and cacophonous creations ever so fitting to the violence at hand.
As I have gathered, the band areresponsible for songwriting on the album, which perhaps explains the vast difference between it and it’s predecessor, but it would be unfair to state that this is the “Return of Absu” as I’ve read in a couple of reviews already. These two new members are contributing fresh and invigorating musical direction for the band and though I don’t blame anyone for picking this up as a nod to the legacy of Absu, there are so many factors in it that are purely additions to an ever growing catalog of unique releases. Speaking of which, and one of the more impressive new aspects are the dual vocal assaults of Proscriptor and Ezezu. Combined, they manage to elevate perfectly the aggression of the music. The dry, rasping, black metal vocals of both are perfectly arranged and mixed, in a clear, natural sounding way so that they flow incredibly well with the music. Too bad that the promo didn’t include the lyrics, but that makes my anticipation for the release date even greater.
As all extreme metal enthusiasts should damn well know by now, there’s one factor of Absu that excels above everything else and that is the, for a lack of a better word, machine, that is Proscriptor McGovern. In the extreme metal genre, the drummers are taking over as the bands superstars instead of the guitarists of the heavy metal era, and many of them deservedly so, as the music has gotten to such extremes in both speed and technicality. For Absu however, this has always been a constant in their career, something that is absolutely guaranteed. There are no drummers in the world that could match the downright outrageous passages that Proscriptor manages to conjure up, whether it’s in terms of technicality or speed. On Abzu, there are no words to describe his performance in songs like Circles Of The Oath, in my opinion one of the bands most violent songs ever, and furthermore strengthened in the lightning fast Skrying In The Spirit Vision and Ontologically, it Became Time & Space. But his talents extend to all things metal, driving the teutonic-like thrash metal vibe of “Earth Ripper”, the thunderous, mid-tempo bashing in Abraxas Connexus and ultimately the vast complexity of ABSU’s longest track to-date, A Song For Ea, a 14 minute, six chapter conjuration that incorporates a plethora of styles and tempo into one epic finale.
Even though at first glance, the 36 minute playing time seemed a bit short in my opinion, the album made up for that for being undeniably among their finest releases, but also considering the almost exhausting maelstrom of violence presented in it’s six tracks, I don’t think that a couple of songs more would have brought it to further hights. Set to conclude the “Abyssic Trinity” in 2013, with the final piece, tentatively titled Apsu, one can only ponder where the magick of ABSU takes us from here. Album of the year 2011. Period.
PART IV - NEVER BLOW OUT THE EASTERN CANDLE
Regardless of what musical trends or non-trends exist, there is no other band in the world like ABSU. And if I had to pick one song as my favorite of ABSU's, it would be Never Blow Out The Eastern Candle. It’s fairly obvious from the lyrics (and the band’s live descriptions of the song) what it is about. However, to me, this song has a special meaning of “Semper Fidelis” or “Always Faithful”. This song is usually performed as the finale of ABSU live performances and, to me, is a testament to the fans of “always being faithful to ABSU”. After all, one does not become a fan of ABSU, you become a fanatic. So when they play it live, it has a special meaning to me as a “thank you” for support. On a personal note, I feel the song also conveys other ideals such as “Remember Those Fallen”, “Always Remain True To Your Goals and Yourself” and “Strength And Endurance” – attributes in life I think we can all relate to in one way or another. Of course, the actual meaning of the lyrics also apply when one is with a “significant other” (or “others” if the case may be). And finally, the song also carries the significance that the eternal flame of ABSU will never be extinguished!
And so the path continues, Across the North Sea to Visnech...