Album Review: Abscession – “Rot of Ages” (Death metal)

Written by Kep

Abscession – Rot of Ages

Death metal from Sweden

Releasing Nov. 19 via Transcending Obscurity Records

Another week, another exceptionally high-quality death metal release from the good folks at Transcending Obscurity Records, who continue to establish themselves as one of the most consistent labels in extreme music. This week’s brawny slab of awesomeness is courtesy of Swedish bruisers Abscession, and it’s their second full-length effort Rot of Ages. They play exactly what you’d expect—Swedish death metal—but there’s quite a bit more going on beneath the surface here, and it makes for a particularly memorable listening experience. 

Who’s Abscession? You can be forgive for not recognizing the name, even though the outfit has been around since 2009, because in that time they’ve released only a demo (in 2010) and one LP (Grave Offerings, in 2015). So, you know, it’s been a bit since we’ve heard from them. Rot of Ages has been a while in the making: five full years, since they released lead single “The Final Furnace” in 2016. It was worth the wait, though, as Thomas Clifford (vocals), Skaldir (guitars and bass), and Markus Porsklev (drums) have given us an exceptionally mature and impressively enjoyable record. 

If there’s one thing that you expect from Swedeath it’s larger than life riffs, and Rot of Ages won’t let you down on that front. These riffs are BURLY. They’ve got real crushing force to them, punchy as hell and with that sort of viscerally gripping bite that comes from using an HM-2 the way it’s meant to be used. Abscession’s guitarists also make plenty of use of melody, as the Swedes are wont to do, but they go far beyond the standard melodic riffwork, featuring eloquent and colorful lines that draw the listener immediately in, especially in juxtaposition with pulverizing displays of raw aggressive power. These melodies are a truly special element of the band’s sound, often displaying an unexpected amount of soul and pathos, with spots like the emotive chorus riff of “Rains of Death” and the expansive closing motif of “When the Guillotine Falls” popping as especially striking moments.

Rot of Ages is a 10-track, 40-minute effort, and its writing and pacing are exceptionally superb. Look, I like caveman riffs stacked back to back to back as much as the next person, but bands like Abscession can’t help but rise above the ranks with their way of making each and every song its own distinct moment within an album’s runtime. The progression from track to track is just so fun to follow and makes it impossible to zone out. Opener “Rat King Crawl” comes blasting out of the gates with a pummeling headlong attack and allows very little time to breathe for nearly three minutes before an evocative and spacious melody brings it to a more relaxed close. Standout “Theater of Pain” is next, racing at a swifter tempo that “Rat King” and conjuring Dismember and Grave vibes with a killer riff that’s one of the more memorable you’ll hear this year. “Dead Man’s Hate” and “Rains of Death” are both shining examples of Abscession’s pummel/evoke songwriting, with passages that will crush you into dust and melodies that pull urgently at your ears.

Remarkably enough, though, there are moments remaining on Rot of Ages that are even more of a pleasant surprise than the things I’ve already mentioned. The title track contains perhaps the most unexpected thing I’ve heard on a death metal record this year: after an intensely crusty opening assault, the music comes nearly to a stop and a simple motif, played on the piano, accompanies Clifford as he clean sings. It’s dark and emotional, and though it doesn’t last long, its impact is lasting; I got chills when the track ended on that same simple piano motif.  Clifford’s cleans make another unexpected appearance, too, in “When the Guillotine Falls”.

Tasteful, unforced use of these extra elements is the most fun part of listening to this album. It’s very likely that adding more clean vocals would have ruined their significance, so the restraint is admirable. Abscession also uses a bit of synthwave influence here, with keyboards performed by Skaldir: a short passage to end “When the Guillotine Falls” and then a true synthwave track to act as the album’s outro, “Età della putrefazione”. Their use of synths is similar to what Fulci did earlier this year except, unlike FulciAbscession actually wrote and performed theirs themselves, and didn’t overindulge.  

There’s a single, minor, extremely superficial moment that I didn’t think worked, and that’s it. The gunfire and battle sounds that are sampled in during the otherwise epic “Fire! Fire! Fire!” section of “War Machine” are more distracting and unnecessary than they are exciting. Outside of that, we’re looking at an exceptionally solid outing here with basically no weak points. The production is outstanding, the songwriting is superb, and the individual performances are all excellent. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

In a year that’s extremely saturated with quality death metal of all types, Abscession’s Rot of Ages is one that you don’t want to let pass you by. It’s bludgeoning and violent but it’s also vivid and poignant, and it stands out from the crowd for both its quality and its many unique attributes. The runtime flies by and I bet you’ll be ready to have another listen before you know it. Two thumbs up for these Swedes!

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