Sometimes I think folks have exaggerated Metal Blade's supposed transition to a more "modern" metal label (read: metalcore), simply because of bands like AS I LAY DYING, UNEARTH (really a Swede-influenced melodic death/thrash band), and THE RED CHORD (a band for which the genre tag is far too limiting). I know, I started it, so let the debate begin. My point is that quality melodic death metal acts like AMON AMARTH, GOD DETHRONED and now Tampa's very own THE ABSENCE also grace the label's roster. After a self-titled EP released in 2004, THE ABSENCE made the leap to Metal Blade, hooked up with rising production/engineering star Erik Rutan, and crafted a classic Swedish-style melodic death metal album in "From Your Grave" that's as good or better than some of the northern country's native bands. In a sign of the times, the one-time hotbed of classic American death metal has now spawned an album that pays tribute to the fertile Scandinavian scene.
The songwriting, including the notable title track and "Necropolis", is strong across the board. Perhaps not at a level to rival the classics, but at the very least on par with some of the better European bands of the genre. Jamie Stewart's vocal style will sound familiar to many fans, his delivery a mid-range, intelligible growl that is similar to Tomas Lindberg's, just not quite as jarring. That said, "Seven Demons" threw me for a loop when a clean, almost power metal, singing part appeared. As it turned out, the surprise was a rather pleasant one. Guttural back-up growls also show up along the way for accent purposes. What makes "From Your Grave" such a grand effort though are the melodic lead guitars of Peter Joseph and Patrick Pintavalle. The soaring twin harmonies mesmerize, and the solos are sublime. The lyrics contain notation indicating whether it is Joseph or Pintavalle playing the various lead and melody parts, something I don't often see these days.
Finally, Rutan proves that his work is customizable, depending on the band. There's a high degree of clarity in the warm mix that is ideal for the dueling guitars and rich bass lines. I do believe it is time to begin recognizing Rutan as one of metal's top producers. [NOTE: Tom Morris recorded, mixed, and engineered the album's last three tracks at Morrisound Studios].
"From Your Grave" is an album that any fan of Swedish melodic death metal should enjoy. The phenomenal guitar work alone is worth the price of admission.