Abaddon magazine

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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Review: Absolon – Randolph Bathery: A Portrait of Madness

Label: Dead Alien Entertainment

Date: October 31st, 2022

I’ve grown accustomed to these pompous promo sheets filled with ecstatic exaltation about the record at hand. I understand how marketing works, no worries about that. After all, what would it look like if it would state that there’s this fully mediocre band out there, playing music that few will find exciting or worth further attention? However true, this is not what advertisement is all about.

Over the course of my years as a reviewer I learned not to heed to these info sheets too much. Most often I neglect them completely and much rather lean on my own knowledge and experience with music. However, there are occasions where I glance and those are the ones that leave me baffled, time and time again. It’s like most of them, eight out of ten, are fairly accurate, but eleven out of ten are completely exaggerating. Which, incidentally, was the case with the US entity dubbed Absolon.

Like the statement that their debut album was “regularly compared to “Operation: Mindcrime”. While I do not doubt it was compared, and perhaps it really does compare successfully to one of the best records in heavy metal history, I beg to question why? The band’s leader is openly stating he is influenced by Queensrÿche, plus the record in question had a concept tying the songs together, so my best guess would be that majority of those reviewers simply took the easy road. While doing so, they’ve gotten away easily, satisfying the band who read it, but offering simplistic ties to the band’s heroes.

Then again, I haven’t heard the debut, so I’m basing my judgement only on this here, their sophomore recording. Which, like I said above, only loosely ties to progressive legends and their stellar concept. No, the vocal performance of Mr. Ken Pike is nowhere near that of Geoff Tate. Neither in color of his voice nor that inimitable expression. Also no, the music by Absolon, while meandering the similar musical spectrum, does not clearly compare to Queensrÿche. Especially not when it comes to capabilities for creating timeless mega hits. The flow of “Operation: Mindcrime” is nowhere near achieved, with its dramatic effects on the listener. This tale of Randolph Bathery (seriously, you’ve gone with that name!?) is way too flat in its impact. While this way Absolon avoids the plummeting falls, it doesn’t allow for the mountainous peaks either, leaving this musical without the much needed feeling of grandeur. Though, honestly speaking, in this regard one can tell a few words about the production which had the tools at hand to help out, but opted not to or had no skill to do so. Instead, it seems as if the producer had found the sound the band could agree upon and simply let them record, without tweaking a single knob.

A couple of songs that don’t fall too short from the said objective are “1916”, “Let Me Be” or the opener (right after the introduction) “This Is My Dream”. All of them head out for Mount Everest but somehow “give up” halfway through.

Speaking about the influences, I would avoid comparisons with Queensrÿche, but much rather go for Savatage. If nothing else, the inputs taken from classical music, which color this record to a certain degree, associate with the Florida greats. Another US power(ish) metal commando that could be a reference for Absolon is Iced Earth. Basically, it’s this fine line between traditional heavy metal and power metal, with hints to progressive. Still, this type of music necessitates a hit. Catchiness is mandatory, on top of musical prowess and compositional mastery. This act is clearly skilled when it comes to knowledge of individual instruments, but in all other regards it remains incomplete.

Except one! Lyrics and the back story. Aside of the dreadfully uninspired name of the main character, the story is rather good. An apparently shell-shocked soldier returned from the frontlines of World War I, getting closed in a padded cell also suffers from what can be construed twofold. Whether you think of Randolph Bathery’s ailment as a psychological distress or an actual demonic possession, the story is compelling. Myself, personally, I’m a history freak and the story of soldiers’ “combat fatigue” falls really nicely into my sphere of interest. As does the horror-alike twist to the tale. Sadly, it is not properly followed by the music which is, I repeat, too mundane for such an intriguing plot.

Also, criticism needs to address the visual side of Absolon. First of all, I return to the promo sheet which states three members of the band. Two of which seem to be brothers, or cousins at least since they share the last name. The two are not listed as session musicians, but band members in full. However, the band’s photo comprises of one person, Mr. Ken Pike I presume. How come? But that’s a lesser remark.

The cover art for this album is layered much more than the music it should depict. A combo of different artistic styles, poorly stitched together on a computer gives out a terrifyingly fake feeling. Again, the idea is there, but execution is simply ridiculous, especially in this day and age when even kids have skills to better blend the layers into a single picture.

Thinking about it now, the cover is layered as much as the music should’ve been. The musical side of the album somehow lays on a single plane while the cover is scattered all over the place. Perhaps if it was the other way around, this would be a much more exciting listening experience. Alas, it is not. Absolon might have had a critically acclaimed debut, though judging from this recording, as I explained above, I highly doubt the critics were on point, but this second album shows the band as one that has little to offer. Aside the possibility of accomplishing literary accolades if Mr. Pike decides to go along that road.