The Absence
Riders of the Plague

When a band comes right out the gate with a spectacular and critically acclaimed debut album, there tends to be a great pressure in bringing forth a worthy follow up. Most bands crumple under that pressure and release a lackluster album, then either split up or spend a great deal of time trying to recreate that magic, to “capture lightning in a bottle” the debut had, but fail miserably, and continue their downward descent. . Then you have that small percentage of bands that can deliver that dreaded follow up album with a ferocity that is seldom seen – chalk up Tampa Bay Florida’s The Absence as one such band – they seem totally unfazed by any sort of pressure, or maybe they just didn’t get that memo about how much ass their debut, From Your Grave, kicked.

Before getting to Riders of the Plague, I want to talk about that debut for those that may have missed it. The first time I heard “My Ruin” from that album, I promptly picked my jaw up off the floor, got in my car and went directly to my local music shop and bought From Your Grave – it didn’t leave my CD player for a month. Extremely memorable thrash riffing with the most astounding melodic Gothenburg styled leads over top, solos that should make any guitarist wet their pants, a tight and aggressive rhythm section, and a harsh vocalist that is still greatly understandable, delivering a very convincing performance all the way through, without including any kind of “poppy” clean styled vocals for accessibility. The melody in those leads are the real hooks – like a drug they keep you coming back time and time again. Now we have the release of Riders of the Plague upon us, and a great offering it is.

The direction the band has taken on Riders of the Plague is a bit less melodic, and more straight forward thrashing with some brutal death elements, mainly in the drum an vocal department. Gone are any traces of clean vocals (they were only used once on From Your Grave), and instead have been replaced with an even deeper variation. The self titled track opens the album and comes barreling out of the speakers as a full on death/thrash assault, immediately showing the direction they’ve taken, focused more on ripping the throat out with vicious traditional thrash riffing ala Testament or Exodus, though there are melodic breaks for excellent lead work and solos. “The Murderer” and “Merciless” feature some downright ruthless double bass parts that also remind one more of brutal death metal, while that latter track has a break around the 5:20 mark for some excellent clean guitar work. Their cover of Testament’s “Into the Pit” is an excellent choice, and they do it well, beefing it up as a full on death/thrash beast. “World Divides is arguably the catchiest song here, as it’s loaded with hooks, though keeps the speed intact, and has a slight bit of an Arch Enemy type vibe, while Echo’s is the albums most melodic track, partially reminding of “Heaven Ablaze” from the debut.

The one thing I enjoy the most about this band is the axe work. They don’t seem like they know how to write just a so-so riff, let alone a bad one, and the leads and solos are among the best you’ll find anywhere. It’s rather remarkable The Absence can be as heavy and fast as they are and still retain the level of catchiness that they do through the guitar work.

Riders of the Plague is an album that I’d recommend to all metal fans – not just those of the band or genre. Pissing pure excellence is a good way to put it. At this point, there’s nothing much left to say other than top 3 at the end of the year.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Larry "Staylow" Owens
August 4th, 2007

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