When I think about a standard “recipe” for sludge metal, it’s really just 3 easy steps: 1. Buy or steal the shittiest, most blown-out amp you can find. 2. Play a riff using the first 4 frets of the B string on your guitar for 7 minutes to an hour. 3. Think about every bad thing that’s ever happened in your life and add some lyrics (optional). Simple as simple.
The problem with that is, it starts to get really repetitive. Don’t get me wrong – I could listen to NOOTHGRUSH and METH DRINKER and 100 other bands that sound exactly like that for the rest of my life. But then again, I’m not most people.
Luckily for most people, there are warriors of the underground that actually make an effort to keep this genre interesting and musical, for lack of better words. From those efforts, we are brought forth tasty little gems like ABSENT IN BODY’s “Plague God”.
With only one prior release under their belt (their 2017 E.P. “The Abyss Stares Back Vol. V), ABSENT IN BODY guitarist Mathieu J. Vandekerckhove and vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout (both of AMENRA), vocalist Scott Kelly (of NEUROSIS fame), and drummer Igor Cavalera (a man who needs no introduction but let’s just pretend he was in SEPULTURA) come together to unleash their Relapse Records debut. 5 songs, totaling just over 36 minutes, round out this beast quite cohesively, which is a bit hard to pull off when there is as much going on musically as there happens to be on “Plague God”. Fortunately for these guys, the credibility they have earned from cutting their teeth in legendary bands does make a difference here, a credibility that brings forth an immediate sense of trust in the authenticity of the listening experience.
A slow tom build-up carefully sets the mood as “Rise From Ruins” kicks off this frightening and intense journey of dark, world-ending doom that non-ironically takes more cues from INDIAN and RUSSIAN CIRCLES than it does GRIEF or CORRUPTED. This is what I meant when I said “musical”. You get a sense right from the start that these guys aren’t gonna be limiting themselves to 3 blown-out power chords, and I can’t imagine they want anyone spilling beer on their amplifiers, either. As the album melts into its 2nd track “In Spirit In Spite”, we start to hear an electronic, almost GODFLESH type of feel, bringing to mind modern industrial-influenced acts like HARMS WAY or REALIZE. Then “Sarin”, right smack dab in the middle, immediately brings things into “hateful and pissed” territory, with vocals coming across much harsher over a cool, repetitive riff. We’re also able to hear the bass stand out heavily for the first time – perfectly excessive fuzz without sounding like a blowfish shitting himself.
There is so much depth and musicality to ABSENT IN BODY’s tones that you really get a sense of how heavy this band is without relying on the filth of their aforementioned peers on the other side of the sludge spectrum. While raw, stripped-down brutality and grime is essential at times, bands that challenge the possibilities within a subgenre are what keep the wheels turning for generations of maniacs to come. ABSENT IN BODY accomplishes this with a disturbing element of grace.
As we dive right into the 2nd half of this masterful slab, “The Acres The Ache” gives us a sampling of Igor C’s signature tribal beats that only the drummer on “Refuse/Resist” could pull off without sounding like some sort of awkward gimmick. The simple 2-note riff in this song is bleak and terrifying, reminding me of the score music in the first scene of “A Nightmare On Elm Street 3” when Kristen is running through the halls of Freddy’s basement. Ghostly background noises add a mysterious twist, along with an equally chilling melodic interlude with singing that brings to mind TYPE O NEGATIVE mixed with a slower DEPECHE MODE. Perhaps what stands out most on this track is when the tribal beat comes back for 20 seconds with guitars that sound heavier and more abrasive than any other moment on the record. You’ll also notice the riff fades out in the middle and comes back sounding 5 times more unhinged. ABSENT IN BODY’s unique approach here is what allows them to take the listener to such a dark and dramatic place – It’s unexpected at times because of the diversity in what you’re hearing. To close it all out, 5th and final track “The Half Rising Man” starts out sounding like a doom version of Brad Fiedel’s “The Terminator” score until it progresses into a crushing storm of hatred. As musical as this recording is, it does not shy away from demonic onslaught.
In this life, unless you’re truly miserable (no judgment, friend), you’ll enjoy a disruption in your stagnant routine here and there. ABSENT IN MIND’s creativity and ability to push the limits of an otherwise blissfully stale subgenre is enough to make anyone happy to hear music outside of their comfort zone. These guys take the simple structure of doom and add challenging elements to create an antisocial warzone of possibility – There is a lot going on here, but it surely works. “Plague God” is as scathing as it is crafty, something that can’t always be said about a metal recording. This thing truly delivers an experience.