REVIEW: ESSENCE – “Prime”
While this band has been around for roughly a decade, there is a limited awareness of them. The group comprises of lead vocalist/guitarist Lasse Skov, Nikolaj Kjærgaard on drums, Rasmus Kalke on Bass and Mark Drastrup on lead guitar. This band was the winner of the ‘Rock the Nation Award’ back in 2012 which I find peculiar considering they are not a rock band. Danish thrashers Essence released a debut full length album Lost in Violence (2011) which was not only a good thrash metal record, but was also received well. However their second album Last Night of Solace was received with mixed reviews as the album itself did not have a lot to offer and was not exactly a step-up to the debut. This they give us their third installment – ‘Prime’
Starting off with the artwork, it’s not bad presenting itself with its monochromatic spatter work of a side profile face and a simple yet decent album logo and album title. I also prefer the new one as opposed to the old with its more modern yet simple representation.
In terms of their music there has been a lot of change. First up the album is fast paced with almost all songs hovering around the 4 minute mark. The longest song would be the title song. I am not sure if the copy I received was flawed but the quality of the record suffers with too much bass, under-powered guitar rhythms and an overall muffled sound. This however did not stop me from listening as it is still perfectly audible. The album offers some nice tunes like “No Sleep Till ‘Def” with a classy thrash effect. In this case the muffed quality works to advantage giving it a very 80’s sound and the classic bass solo bits which I loved in their prior work, as well as some nice power riffing as heard in “Refuse to Exist” & “Heart of Gold”. The biggest change in this album is Lasse’s vocals. He seems to have departed from his gritty-snarly throat and moved to a more mellowed voice which while amply suites music is completely unnecessary simply because the gritty vocals were absolutely good! So now it’s gone from a decently good gritty voice to a mediocre melo-vocal and that does not work for me. For some of you hearing them for the first time this may not be an issue but if you have heard their older work like Unlimited Chaos & Blood Culture it becomes clear as to how and why this is not a good thing. Mid-way through the album there is a change in style, songs like “Untouchable” sound too punk-rock to be in a thrash album, but it is digestible thanks to some good guitar work and a salvaging chorus.
It’s after this point everything starts to go downhill. The album strafes around too many times with too much variation in styles. The band has experimented a little too much with songs like “Flawless” & title song “Prime”. There now is an overdose of punk, rock, and thrash going in and out of segments of the tunes and a lot of borrowed bits of styles on the vocals? I’m sorry to say, but I am not sure if the vocals are paying respect to or mocking Hetfield & Draiman. Things do not come to an interesting ending with repetitive chorus work in “Watch it Burn” because it sounds like an extended version of Heart of Gold and while closing track “Triumph” offered up some of the classic Essence style bass work, it falls apart.
Despite my crude statements this isn’t a bad album, it has some nice bits of clean passage, some meaningful lyrical content. Some well-structured build up and break downs but post the second half the album crumbles on itself. I wish Lasse would go back to his earlier style of vocals, I missed the guitar solo content I was treated to in the older work. I miss the bass solos but most of all the album is disorganized. The songs have too much going on in a very short span of time and this is something that could have been avoided by either lengthening them up simple doing away with it. It lacks what thrash metal is supposed to be, simple effective, hard and in your face. Instead it’s trying to be something it is not. Again, I do not know if this is a faulty copy I received but if this is the final product of the label then this is simply sub-par quality. Nikolaj’s double bass is inaudible, the cymbals clatter too much and the guitars sound like they were recorded in a garage.
I still encourage everyone to pick up this album owing to the sheer potential this band possesses. As a first timer one would actually like what they hear but to get a wider perspective do listen to their older work and thus understand why this review is the way it is. Essence have tried much harder on this album as opposed to the previous which is good, but perhaps they have tried a little too much, too fast, and too hard, and in this particular case, ‘Prime’ serves as a case of why sometimes – change isn’t always a good thing.