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Dropped by Relapse Records after two albums and an EP, San Francisco's Abscess disappeared for nearly five years in the late '90s. Bandmembers worked on various side projects before finally reappearing with a new bassist (Joe Allen), a new label, and a fairly new sound that sublimates the grindcore and hardcore punk elements of their earlier work in favor of a much less distinctive take on straightforward death metal. As a result, Tormented is a powerful, visceral -- often in the literal sense of the word, as on the opening "Rusted Blood" -- album that bludgeons the listener with its pile-driving riffs and Chris Reifert's death-growl vocals. Unfortunately, that description fits nearly all but the very worst albums in this genre. The quirky humor that saved albums like Urine Junkies and Seminal Vampires and Maggot Men from sounding ridiculously self-important and dopey is largely absent on this outing, and it's missed. At its best, Abscess was one of the rare death metal bands that stood a chance to appeal to open-minded listeners outside of the genre's cult. Tormented, on the other hand, is a very good record that will only be of interest to those who already like this sort of thing.

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