Throwback Thursday: Absu’s “Barathrum: V.I.T.R.I.O.L.” turns 25!


I think this is the first time since I’ve started doing these Throwbacks again that I’m actually nailing an album look-back post down on its actual birthday. Progress, folks! Anyway, today we’re here to celebrate Absu. Over close to three decades, the world’s come to know these Texans as a pretty much unimpeachable institution of black / thrash metal. But on their debut full-length, Barathrum: V.I.T.R.I.O.L. — which turns 25 today — the then-quintet actually leaned more toward death metal than anything they’ve done since. Unsurprisingly, there was still a healthy amount of theatricality to it. Even less surprisingly, it’s still worth your time.

So, let’s start with some real talk: Barathrum: V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (henceforth, just “Barathrum” because I really don’t want to type out all those periods every time) probably isn’t anyone’s favorite Absu album. And I’m not about to tell you it should be. Stacked up against the likes of The Third Storm of Cythraul or Tara, it can’t help but feel less thrilling, less dynamic. I don’t think “pedestrian” is the right description for Barathrum; rather, it’s just that black/death Absu didn’t quite hit the same heights that black/thrash Absu later would, relative to the wider landscape of both genres.

Absu ca. 1993

But that said, there’s still a lot to like here. The opening minute-or-so of “An Equinox of Fathomless Disheartenment” brings an all-out attack that surrounds the listener with ruthless, blast-beat-driven mayhem, before then cooling off and easing back down to mere mortal speeds. The final act of…er-hem… “Fantasizing to the Third of the Pagan Vision (Quoth the Sky Nevermore)” — preceded by, admittedly, a pretty intense bludgeoning of its own — devolves into the kind of full-speed-ahead chaos for which Absu would later corner the market. And “Infinite and Profane Thrones” serves up a little bit of…well, everything, really — with a mood-setting keyboard intro, a heavyweight mid-section, and chaotic riffage to close things out.

Probably the biggest highlight, though, is Barathrum‘s first real track: “Descent to Acheron (Evolving to the Progression of Woe).” It’s perhaps the most complete statement-of-purpose on the record — which…interesting sequencing approach there, I guess, guys… — and easily the most open showcase of drummer / vocalist Proscriptor McGovern’s (then known as “Emperor Proscriptor Magikus”) immense talent. As a skinsman, Proscriptor fires off fill after fill with virtuosity, making sure you’ll never really know what kind of neat rhythmic trick to expect next. And vocally…okay, that gurgly roar we get throughout this album may constitute the least capricious performance he’d ever give…but it’s also exactly the kind of delivery that suits this style. Credit to him.

All told, Barathrum may not be Absu’s best, but it is still a great debut from an even greater band. Happy quarter-century to it, and…gee, I dunno…here’s hoping we get that long-awaited next album soon?

Keep it heavy,

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