Having developed into what some would consider the 'poor man's' Rotting Christ or Varathron, Nergal had themselves a minor cult effort in their full-length debut The Wizard of Nerath. Sure, it left much to be desired in the long run, but clearly it was a statement of competence and potential. Alas, its qualities were not capitalized upon, and the band fell into torpor for more than a decade before the decision to summon once again their dark and ancient concerns into a fresh vortex of ritual pantomime. Absinthos still sounds a bit like a band standing in the considerable shadow of Rotting Christ, who had written its like several times with superior results, but I'd not say that this was an album to write off entirely: it knows its business, and provides a passable haunting.
With studio possibilities having come a long way in the ensuing decade, it would be no shock that Absinthos sounds far more polished than its predecessor. As clean as a golden apple, consistently sound in its variation and songwriting choices. The title track itself opens the proceedings with a wall of synthesizer, martial horns swelling up alongside manly narrative passages, often quite laughable but nonetheless entertaining. But then comes the strident, tremolo riff driven black metal content ("The Tearful Eyes of the Countess") kissed with sweetness of subtle synthesizers, solid and resonant rasping which helps rend aside the temporal boundaries into which these Greeks are reaching. They are clean in their transitions, and half-cracked at pulling off a riff or two, but I found that as the album grew faster and more ferocious ("Scream in the Forest" or "Live the Death"), it seemed to perk up, if only because there is more energy being discharged than the middling, medium paced compositions.
A lot of melodic mute-streams, which is one of the primary reasons I'm so reminded of the whole Rotting Christ approach (Thy Mighty Contract through their modern material). The only difference is that Nergal just don't build such entrancing patterns with their guitars, and thus the material feels less passionate and emotional. A song like "Deliverance by the Tyranny of Life" has all the components of what makes the Greek from appealing, but once I'm finished listening to it I simply can't evoke the desire to replay it. The dark chugging, heavily synthesized "Dark Prevalence" constructs a cheesy but compelling pomp, with some kinder piano passages strewn about, but even here, at the album's grandest deviation, the notes just aren't fixed into patterns that fondle the imagination. Nergal succeeds here in ridding themselves of a decade of empty, open air, but ultimately Absinthos is not so entertaining as their debut, and really not valuable unless one is seeking further examples of the style which reached its peak upon Thy Mighty Contract, The Wizard of Nerath, His Majesty at the Swamp and Eosforos. An honest try, but not enough to echo through the athenaeums of antiquity.
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]