Album Title: Absentia
Date of Release: 10 August 2018
Aesthesys, Aeon, Aeon Of Horus, Aetherian. The list of bands that insist on having a name that starts with ‘Ae’ is almost never ending. And now you can add another to that significant list – Aethereus. Not only that, but in keeping with several others with a similar name, they too play a brand of technical progressive death metal.
‘Absentia’ is the title of the record before me from Tacoma, Washington’s Aethereus. It is the debut release from the quintet comprised of vocalist Vance Bratcher, guitarists Kyle Chapman and Ben Gassman, bassist Scott Hermans and drummer Matthew Behner.
I must admit that I wasn’t expecting an awful lot to be honest. I have heard some really fantastic tech death recently and I had no high expectations that Aethereus would necessarily continue the trend, being a debut album and all that. The musicians may be veterans of the US death metal scene, but it’s always a challenge starting something new. Well, I have been left a little red-faced, because this bunch have made me sit up and take notice of their endeavours. There’s nothing like hitting the ground running is there?
To a certain extent, Aethereus do demonstrate that they have their own identity without admittedly pushing the boundaries too far in any direction. I like the hints of Cynic within their sound and I like the way that ‘Absentia’ isn’t besieged by extreme technicality at the expense of memorability, allowing atmosphere and melody to pervade at times. And, being a debut release, there is plenty of room for further growth and greater exploration of their own distinct sound in future releases.
Crucially though, Aethereus prove that when done well, the tech death genre is one to be reckoned with. Not only that but, as ‘Absentia’ ably demonstrates, it can offer a very entertaining listening experience. Each of the five musicians shows an impressive command of their instrument and equally importantly, they come together nicely to produce an extremely powerful and rewarding end product. There is some showboating to be heard within the nine compositions, but it is kept to a relative minimum and always looks to enhance their songs.
Another positive from my perspective, is the willingness of Aethereus to allow melody into the songs. It interweaves the technicality and the overt brutality of blastbeats, sharp, unforgiving riffs and complex structures to create a sense of identity, a hook to keep me coming back for repeated listens. What’s more, it helps to create a sense of atmosphere that I really enjoy too. It’s heavy, powerful and uncompromising, but it is also delicate, sophisticated and subtly beautiful in places.
One such place is within the opening track, ‘Cascades Of Light’ and more specifically within the latter stages. It begins very quietly but gradually it opens up into a full-on exercise in dynamic, technical extreme metal, where blast beats duel with complex riffs and where the bass of Scott Hermans dances with real exuberance. I don’t normally like to single out individual members of a band, but the bass work on this album is incredible. Not only is it properly audible in the mix but unusually, I find myself following the bass lines as much as any of the other instruments as they dance with deftness and enthusiasm.
There are subtle melodies at play, almost hidden under a tumult that is vaguely discordant, or apparently so. The vocals of Vance Bratcher fit the music perfectly – they are a blend of suitably deep and gruff, as well as higher-pitched, more raspy delivery, the perfect foil for the music. The song then descends into quiet, atmospheric contemplation before climbing out the other side led by an enticing, grand melody, enriched by the wailing of lead guitars in exultation. It is short-lived, but the impact is made.
Then there are the solos within ‘Writhe’, which are utterly delicious – melodic, flamboyant and expressive, like the unruly but lovable child at the wedding. They appear at various times within the song and they make me smile, as does the way in which the heaviness departs at times to allow moments of quieter, more atmospheric introspection.
I also welcome the couple of brief, quiet interludes that act as palette cleansers, buffers between the all-out extreme metal attack that threaten to engulf them. ‘Mortal Abrogation’, performed by none other than Vikram Shankar (Lux Terminus, Redemption), is cinematic and grandiose, and I find it adds a certain gravitas to proceedings.
‘Flourescent Halls of Decay’ is a real beast of a song of many parts. From full-on tech death mode, it toys with overt prog rock textures before plunging into something akin to funeral doom territory where the vocals take on some other-worldy guise, plummeting to the depths of hell alongside the rumbling bass. There is ample light and shade too, demonstrating a real knack for engaging and interesting songwriting. And to top it off, there’s even a guest guitar solo from Rivers of Nihil’s Brody Uttley.
The title track is a slightly shorter, more honed example of Aethereus’ ample skills, featuring plenty of complexity, wrapped up in an edifying four-and-a-bit minutes of technical wizardry. The instrumental ‘The Black Circle’ has more of a black metal vibe to it, certainly at the outset, whilst I am drawn to some of the wonderfully intricate lead guitar work from Chapman and Gassman.
Lastly, after a brief, eerie interlude courtesy of ‘With You, I Walk’, we’re treated to ‘The Pale Beast’, arguably my favourite song on the album. I hear a lot of Jasun Tipton (Cynthesis, Zero Hour, Abnormal Thought Patterns) in the guitar work, something that should, I hope, be taken as a compliment. But it’s the richness of the composition, the layers, the frenetic intent, the killer blast beats and ultimately, near the death, the exultant melodies that mean that I am fully taken by this finale.
Overall, there’s not a lot about this album that I can fault. I sense that there is a lot more to come from this talented quintet and I can’t wait to hear what they deliver next. However, suffice to say that ‘Absentia’ is a debut that should get the band noticed and provide them with the recognition that they deserve. As I said before, there have been some excellent technical progressive death metal albums released lately – and you can certainly add Aethereus to the list. This is a terrific disc, one that I’m delighted to have spent time with.
The Score of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse