When THE ABSENCE released their debut album "From Your Grave" in 2005, it was a breath of fresh air for Melodic Death Metal fans who had grown bored with all the cookie cutter IN FLAMES ripoff bands. It wasnít a groundbreaking album, but it was definitely a throwback to the classic Swedish Metal sound that made the genre so popular in the mid to late 90's.
With their follow up album "Riders Of The Plague," the band has made great strides in developing their own style, which results in a much more mature and original sounding album. One of the first things youíll notice when you listen to this CD is that the songs are much heavier and much darker sounding as a whole. Songs like "The Murder" really show off how the band has progressed since "From Your Grave," itís easily the heaviest song theyíve written thus far. There are still tons of harmonies, lead melodies and guitar solos on this album, but thereís also more flat out heavy riffs and more complex song structures. Itís also easy to notice some of the band's Thrash influence on this album as well, which is apparent right from the opening track and of course the cover of the classic TESTAMENT song "Into The Pit."
One thing that has remained the same on this album is the abundance of killer guitar solos and melodies all over the place. Guitarists Peter Joseph and Patrick Pintaville just have a great ear for melody and no solo ever sounds forced or out of place. The balance of shred and melody is one thing Iíve always loved about the way these guys play lead. The solo/harmony section in "World Divides" features some of the most melodic lead playing Iíve ever heard. Songs like "Echos" and "Prosperity" have melody lines that youíll be rewinding to hear again and again, while tracks like "Dead And Gone," "Merciless," and "Outro" feature faster and more aggressive shred style playing.
Another thing that has drastically improved on this album is the production. Jonas Kjellgren (SCAR SYMMETRY) did a fantastic job mixing the album. The guitars sound very thick and full, the bass sits in the mix really nicely, the drums sound crisp and heavy, and the vocals sound nice and upfront, but not overpowering. The drumming has also improved from the last album as well and really helps to flesh out the bands faster and heavier style. The drumming really helps give the songs that driving rhythm that just makes you bang your head. Vocalist Jamie Stewart also does an awesome job on this album. He reminds me a bit of Tomas Lindberg (AT THE GATES) in that he sounds really demonic and just has a raspy kind of quality in his voice. He definitely fits the band perfectly, I couldnít imagine them with any other style of vocalist.
My one gripe about the album is that it doesnít have as many slower groove type riffs as I would have liked. I love the fact that they went for a faster, heavier sound overall, but I would have loved to have heard some more riffs like the middle section of "Dead And Gone" and the bridge in "The Victorious Dead." Just those slower hypnotic riffs that have a ton of groove. Thatís really just a matter of personal preference though. Other than that, this is without a doubt a candidate for best album of 2007. The amount of maturity and progression that the band shows in this album just makes me beyond excited to hear what they come up with next.
(Online November 15, 2007)