Toronto metal trio BLACK ABSINTHE ring in their fifth year together with their first LP after dropping three EPs at Bandcamp. Funny thing with "Early Signs of Denial" is, it still only clocks a total playing time of 26:18. Then again, BLACK ABSINTHE does quite a bit within each of their songs, wrangling together bits of metal theories from yesteryear and today. Classic metal, power metal, death metal, thrash, it's all dosed out like party pills for headbangers. "Early Signs of Denial" shows pocks of brilliance and with SUM 41 producer Dave Baksh, BLACK ABSINTHE is slowly gelling their sometimes great, sometimes muddled craft.
Opening number "The Wild" rings of stoner rawk and eighties-grounded North American power metal in fluid exchanges and sharp production. The raspy chattering from Jack Cerre overtop the shifting moods of the song keeps the song edgy, while a series of progressions ushering the song to close gives "The Wild" appreciable dimension. Afterwards, the sledgehammers dropped by drummer Austin Henderson all over the tricky "Is This Life" turns out an initially meaty, near death metal-esque thrash attack. Jack Cerre grumbles on the speedy verses as bassist Kyle Scarlett helps veer a swaying musicality into the cut, serving up cheerful-sounding (if maudlin-themed) choruses. Cerre's cleaner swills (longingly aspirant at times of James Hetfield) could use some polish, but "Is This Life"'s dynamics are what keeps it interesting instead of turning flat.
It takes navigating through some rumbly meandering through "Berj Khalifa" (ditto for the 6:23 tundra of yuck on "Winter") and the choruses are a bit off-key, yet a terrific bridge and solo section (glaringly superior to the rest of the track) are worth holding out for. As with the other tracks, "Pigs" has a lot going on from doom measures to death metal plows, but the choruses this time really gel with Jack Cerre turning in his best vocal performance—unnecessary ralphs notwithstanding. The riffs are terrific, the bass line exceptional and keep your ears glued for a subliminal VOIVOD hat tip prior to a rambunctious solo section.
"NOW" is the album's agro-fried shit-kicker, but kudos to BLACK ABSINTHE for swaying from its seeming predictability by changing methods with gorgeous, bass-humming Goth choruses and double-hammered transitions. A well-timed thrash burst presents one of the most exhilarating spots on "Early Signs of Denial".
BLACK ABSINTHE has creativity on their side, along with a tremendous rhythm section and occasionally awesome guitars. Some of their crafty device changes and genre mashes work beautifully. Some ring of half-cooked parts mashed into place but never given time to simmer. Jack Cerre can certainly play and at times, he sings well. Other times, his voice grates and undermines the overall strong songwriting. Thus, "Early Signs of Denial" is frustrating in the fact it could've been outstanding and worthy of all the hype following this well-intended threesome.