With their guitars tuned to agony, the metal supergroup Absent in Body has created an album filled with rage and longing with their debut, Plague God.
Consisting of former Sepultura drummer Iggor Cavalera, Scott Kelly of Neurosis, and Amenra’s Mathieu J. Vandekerckhove and Colin H. Van Eeckhout, Absent in Body makes music for sinking. The slow rhythms pull the listener in like an unexpected pool of quicksand in a jungle movie. What makes Plague God a worthwhile listen, though, are the times where the aural assault stops, allowing columns of dark light to shine through.
Opening track “Rise From Ruins” seems to rise from the primordial ooze before Cavalera’s drums kick the door down for the bass and guitar. Van Eeckhout transitions easily from guttural vocals to plaintive screaming, placing both damnation and salvation in the balance. Some professional wrestling fans may already be familiar with “Rise From Ruins.” All Elite Wrestling’s darkest faction, the House of Black, uses the song as its entrance theme.
The cavernous “In Spirit In Spite” interrupts itself with a surprisingly touching spoken word section, a mourning tribute to a lost loved one. “Will I see you again?” Van Eeckhout intones. “Will I hear the slow beating of your wings?” The inherent sadness and uncertainty is touching.
“Sarin” is centrally supported by a repeating droning riff, a railing for the staircase that leads ever down into madness. Van Eeckhout’s vocals slither through the music like a snake, screaming and growling, winding their way through the music until the song abruptly ends. There is no closure for the listener here, only the sensation of slamming doors and concrete walls.
Buried beneath the unyielding layers and the incessant sound of buzzing insect feedback of “The Acres/The Ache” lies the desire for a rational society. “I long for a place where the children don’t cry,” Van Eeckhout croons, “everyone is still and time passes by.” It is a song of the disenfranchised and displaced, heart-wrenching despite its harshness.
An aural ritual on the bonfire-lit shores of an endless sea, album closer “The Half Rising Man” is terrifying and triumphant, the music swirling into a maelstrom of madness and leering joy. As unsettling as it is uplifting, “The Half Rising Man” brings the album to a shuddering chaotic end.
It isn’t enough to make oppressive music anymore. Anyone with the right equipment and the patience to sit through a few YouTube tutorials can do that. Absent in Body has the courage to present the listener with a true gift: their scars. There is a hope beyond wistfulness on Plague God. While the music churns away in a vortex of nasty guitar tones, industrial percussive textures and moments of incomprehensible vocal work, Plague God is a brave, human work. One hopes Absent in Body doesn’t drift apart after one album.
Plague God is available from March 25 from Relapse Records and on various music streaming platforms.