Absu! It’s not black metal, dammit! Most Americans can’t do black metal, anyway. It’s “mythological occult metal,” and I bow before the Texan masters! With packaging and album artwork that begs for the bygone days of the gatefold album, Tara stakes out ambitious claims on every level of its conception and execution. First of all, it’s the last chapter in the trilogy that is their complete discography so far; V.I.T.R.I.O.L. was the beginning, followed by Tiphareth, and ending with the pagan bang of Tara.
I have to talk about the artwork for a sec, it’s epic on a level that makes Manowar and Iron Maiden look like cassette demo hopefuls. Absu is a conceptual package that’s more complete than KISS. The Tara sleeve is filled with majestic drawings that wouldn’t look out of place in an early issue of Thor, photos of ancient weapons and other fetishes, along with pictures of the various members of Absu, looking all insane and unearthly. Okay, so obviously there are lyric sheets, but there is also original verse, painstaking explanation of each song, spells, AND a glossary of the more obscure terminology! Okay, so not only are you gonna get beaten to a pulp by godly occult metal, but you are also gonna learn something! Absu fucking rule even more now!
Oh, by the way, the album begins with a lengthy battlefield march played on bagpipes. Kill me now. And after that, “Pilars Of Mercy” gets down to what Absu do best — a wild-eyed, thrashdeath whirlwind, played with total conviction and arrogance. Think of a cross between Hellhammer, Dark Angel, Testament, Crowley and the Scottish armies in Braveheart. Proscriptor McGovern’s (this could be the greatest band ever) vocals are delivered in a high-pitched croak and scream that resembles the Stygian witches or early Glenn Benton. “Manannan” begins with lashing wind mixed with high-pitched feedback squalls, before breaking into a blackdeath assault about a shape-changing, storm-bringing warrior, with some almost ludicrously fast machine-gun double-bass drumming and Kerry King-ish soloing. “The Cognate House of Courtly Witches Lies West of County Meath” not only invokes several mystic rites in the lyrics, but also goes into full-on Napalm Death speed overload. Evil laugh ending!
After some Brian Eno-in-hell ambient soundscaping, the second phase of the record, “The Cythrial Clan’s Scrutiny,” kicks off with the trick “lo-fi” intro to “From Ancient Times” before the guitars roar into place. The vocals on this one are so sick and claustrophobic, echoing back and forth off flesh-covered walls. “Four Crossed Winds” gets all techno-thrash halfway through. “Bron (of the Waves)” switches things up radically with some shimmering, melancholy acoustic strumming — ahhhhh. “Stone Of Destiny” ends things beautifully, with a more mid-paced epic progressive thrash, complete with Proscriptor alternating his asexual shriek with Dave Mustaine wails. Epic drum rolls, clean guitar breaks, piano, gruff spoken sections, and a riff that surveys the charred battlegrounds slowly. And this journey through a dark realm ends where it began, with a reprise of the Tara‘s bagpipes. I’m winded.