From Your Grave
ure, this has all been done before. The shirts worn by members of Tampa band the Absence in their debut album From Your Grave’s insert photos show the footsteps in which the band walks: Carcass, Dimmu Borgir, Arch Enemy. The band’s emphasis falls on that last one; throw In Flames, Soilwork, and At the Gates on the list, and you’ve got the idea: melodic death metal. But if the Absence are not opening doors for critics to coin neologistic new subgenre categories—no reinventing the steel here, as Pantera rather ostentatiously claimed to do—they are making resolutely commendable contributions to their chosen field, and From Your Grave offers as much pleasure as any heartfelt genre piece, from a Hammer vampire movie to a Mickey Spillane novel. You know what to expect, and you get it in full.
Twin guitars riff in tandem on the appropriately titled “Intro,” staging some Grand Guignol atmospherics that pay off when the song seamlessly segues into “A Breath Beneath” and Peter Joseph rips out a great lead. Joseph’s powerful command of melody dominates From Your Grave and earns the album its stature. Song after song glimmers with surprisingly clean guitar tones; Joseph is no virtuoso, but neither does he hide behind the sonic airbrush of super-distortion pedals. Most importantly, he’s inventive with his axe, and only once, on the final solo of the rather perfunctory title track, does he resort to flailing the fretboard with a Malmsteenesque series of scales. For the most part, Joseph’s leads bring a warm, lush feel to the album, from the memorable riff that opens “Heaven Ablaze” to the stately lead on the late one-minute acoustic interlude “Shattered.” Credit for this textural smoothness also goes to respected metal producer Erik Rutan, who makes From Your Grave one of the least abrasive metal albums in recent memory.
Of course, without any abrasiveness this wouldn’t be metal (Opeth’s Damnation arguably excepted), and the rest of the band serve as the free electrons that form the Absence’s metallic bonds. Singer Jamie Stewart stays guttural without going full-on Cookie Monster; I’m not sure what he sounds like live, but in Rutan’s hands he remains consistently palatable. Though he’s not the same Jamie Stewart as he who luvs the valley OH! (the Absence is not Xiu Xiu’s Goblin Cock), his lyrics can occasionally tend toward emo and are as likely to involve regret as blood. Drummer Jeramie Kling displays speed and precision, if not much inventiveness; his brief breakdown on “I Deceiver” underwhelms in its rote downbeats, but he does hold the band to an effectively clipped pace. And though second guitarist Patrick Pintaville is generally overshadowed by Peter Joseph’s melody fair, he does score the album’s soaring closer, “Seven Demons,” which boasts metal’s catchiest chorus since the Dillinger Escape Plan’s “Unretrofied.”
Naysayers will surely dismiss the Absence’s approach on From Your Grave as indicative of an unseemly bid for mainstream acceptance, joining Cradle of Filth and Immortal as the Blink-182s and Sum 41s of once-extreme metal. And granted: the group is not as extreme as Cannibal Corpse. It hasn’t burned any churches, or even given any audience members concussions by pelting them with severed pig heads. But the commercial possibilities of melodic death metal—even stuff as listenable and downright pleasant as this—remain extremely limited, and the only real reason for a band to pursue it is sheer love of the genre. That love shows through on From Your Grave, and the Absence deserves credit for a solid, respectable debut.
Reviewed by: Whitney Strub
Reviewed on: 2006-01-09