Anyone who thinks that the powers that run the universe don’t have a wry sense of humor is sorely mistaken, or just hasn’t lived long enough to experience it firsthand. Now, my reviews for Lady Obscure usually fall into two categories, albums that the Lady assigns to us, and albums that I come across on my own and get that unquenchable fire in my belly to review. Back in late December, when I was researching for the review of Speaking to Stones, I came across a band that intrigued me, Absolute Priority. Their pedigree had those magic words, Italian progressive metal, which to me have become a sort of calling card for seriously good music. I bought the album, and gave it a spin, and immediately got that urge to review it. This is where the powers that be stepped in, with a slew of incredible albums from the Lady to be reviewed, and some life situations that had me inactive for stretches at a time. So those powers, in their ever zany ways, decided that the one album to be put on hold would be Absolute Priority’s. But when I make a commitment to myself to do a review, I like to stand by it. So finally folks, after five months of delay, is the review of Absolute Priority’s debut album Hunter.
It’s really a shame too, for me and for all of you, because Hunter is a phenomenal piece of progressive metal beginning to end, and it deserves some serious attention. The band has its roots in Livorno, Italy, where a chance meeting between vocalist Valerio Voliani(formerly of Icycore) and guitarist Federico Morella(formerly of Celaphais) in a club planted the seeds for the concept that would become Absolute Priority. In the next two years, they recruited keyboardist Massimo Grasso(Celephais), guitarist Francesco Caprina(Icycore), drummer Simone Colombo, and bassist Andrea Bardi. From inception to release, Hunter is a project seven years in the making, and the time commitment shows clearly in the final product.
And oh what a product it is. Hunter is a concept album in the purest sense of the term. Spread over eleven tracks that span a hair under an hour in length, Hunter tells of a serial killer’s last moments on death row, and his final confessions to a priest. The band uses every trick in the vast progressive metal arsenal to tell it too, and do so in a brilliant fashion. From the dual guitars, the keyboard leads, the furious drumming, the shrill screams all the way to the eerie and at times downright scary ambient sound effects, each piece is placed wonderfully to create an atmosphere befitting to what is a disturbing story to begin with. The opening of The Confessor sets the tone of the album within seconds. An ominously low tone is backed by the clanking of leg irons, the shackled prisoner is led in with the static chatter of prison guards in the forefront. Grasso then enters with a quick, hesitant keyboard lead in, and within a minute, the stage is set, and all the band is off and running, hard. They immediately set what is their main sound, heavy rhythm set by the deep resounding bass and crashing drums, paired with strong rhythm chords of the guitars. The keys switch between an atmospheric element and a lead one, and the sharp lead guitars are stiffly laid over it all. The two guitars switch between discordance and unison deftly, and with Voliani’s sharp vocals, create a multi-dimensional sound that has endless possibilities, of which most the band explores thoroughly. In a flash, the song comes to a resounding end as the cell door slams shut.
The band does a stellar job at matching the tone of the song to the piece of the story it’s trying to portray. In the second track, My Ordinary State, the general tone of the song is more of a subdued fury, of a madman at rest so to say. Though the song never breaks out completely, you can feel it wanting to at every beat, the insanity is palpable. This flows into Things I’ve Never Done, and the tension is even more palpable. This is quite possible the strongest song vocally, with Voliani’s strong pipes directing it the whole way. Punctuated by the crushing chords, they do a perfect job of setting up the album for the killer’s shift into his mode as the confessor, which comes in the first instrumental track, 4:00am. Musically, they take us from his standard state of controlled insanity to one of a man ready to let loose with all the anguish and horror that brought him to the place he is presently at, that of a condemned man.
Over the next three songs, Tragic Reconciliation, L.O.S.T., and Bloody Tapes, we are taken through all of the killer’s shades of psychosis. The band is perfect here, I really can’t put it any other way. The strength of the songwriting shows so well, and the execution of each member shines so brightly. They all work wonderfully to transition into what is, for me, the strongest track on the album, Fear of the Night.
Opening with a swooping bass, the hard chords pounce upon us before all shutting off, leaving only the lone piano and Voliani’s fearful vocals. Then they build up the layers to a thoroughly stunning crescendo and chorus. From there, they run to and fro through the deepest recesses of the killer’s mind, returning to the stunning chorus before ripping off on a blistering instrumental segment that sets up the brutal finish, a repeating of the chorus with brilliantly layered vocals weaving in and out of harmony, displaying the multiple layers of fear that the killer is facing as his time is almost at hand. It’s moments like this that I just look up to the sky and mouth a thanks to the powers that be for allowing such awesome metal to exist. They aren’t done though, two more songs transition us to the finale of this harrowing tale. My Reflection is a short and distorted piece, with the music and vocals reflecting what to me seems to be the killer’s last look at himself. After the frantically rocking Again, we eventually end up at the last track, Dead Man Walkin’. Surprisingly, this opens up with a somber tone. He is finally accepting his fate, Acoustic guitars, piano, and Voliani’s deep voice tell a tale of a man that is ready to die. A drum roll starts, and the ambient tick-tock of the killers last seconds begins. The rest of the band jumps in with a pounding progression of chords and a shatteringly violent guitar solo. The buildup is near unbearable until the horrific and eventual end comes, the background sounds of the electricity pouring through the killer’s body. As he dies, all the noise shuts down to just some simple guitar notes and background piano as the killer moves onto whatever state of being is waiting for him on the other side.
I am in total and complete awe of how well Absolute Priority structured and executed(no pun intended) this album. Almost every aspect of it is driven towards the singular goal of bringing the listener deeper and deeper into the horrifying reality of the story itself. The way they completely absorb the audience into the story is beyond admirable, a testament to the power of music itself.