We’ve got accustomed to surprise returns in the music world over the last decade, but, even though it’s been a good five years since we first saw them share a stage again, there’s still something slightly unbelievable about the fact that we now have Slash and Duff McKagan back alongside Axl Rose in Guns N’ Roses.
The assumption from most was that the as-close-to-the-original-line-up-as-we’re-likely-to-ever-see reunion would see Gn’R put out to pasture as a creative force and instead afford these three hard rock icons an opportunity to ride out their twilight years in the warm glow of nostalgia. Granted, over the last few years there have been various statements from the trio that suggested new material would be coming from the band, but, come on, this is Guns N’ Roses: history has taught us to be a touch cynical about such pronouncements, and in fairness no-one would be shocked to their core if these so-called ‘songs’ never saw the light of day.
But then, sweet holy Jesus and his virgin mum, this morning we woke up to a brand-new Guns N’ Roses single! Who saw that coming? A first piece of music by these three men under the Gn’R banner since 1993! That’s twenty-fuckin’-eight years!
If you’re a fan of the band then you may well be familiar with Absurd, or ABSUЯD, as we won’t be referring to it from here on in. The song was initially named Silkworms and was originally recorded during the mammoth Chinese Democracy album sessions. There are in fact several different demo versions of the track that have been floating about for decades. Back in the day, the song’s co-writer (alongside Dizzy Reed) Chris Pitman, who exited the group in 2016, said it sounded like a Guns N’ Roses song from the future. Well, we’re in the future now, so the time feels right. Many of the original versions of the song lean heavily on the industrial influences that Axl was so keen on incorporating during that period, but this new and re-named iteration of the song feels like a fairly different beast, even though the fingerprints of the Chinese Democracy-era are still clearly present.
The first thing you hear is a massive, chunky guitar riff, not a typical sleazy Guns N’ Roses riff, but more of an alt-metal stomper that you might associate with Helmet or the Rollins Band, if those bands were trying to pay tribute to The Cult. Cool. There are a few subtle little licks in the background from Slash that reminds you just who it is you’re listening to, but the overall feel is a real rough and raw energy that one might not have anticipated from a legendary, mainstream stadium rock band.
Then we get that patented high pitched wail from Axl to usher himself in: it sounds great, but the Axl-isms don’t last long. Instead, Guns’ mercurial frontman sounds like he’s going for a bit of an old school punk rock vibe - there’s a lot of effects on the vocal, but he barks out the verses like an amalgam of John Lydon and TSOL’s Jack Grisham. It’s great to hear him do something a little different and to also hear him sounding so fired up. Lyrically he’s on great form too, spitting bile as he barks about “Parasitic demons sucking acid through your heart”. Blimey!
When the chorus comes in, Slash gets a chance to show off his chops and solos away as Axl sneers the title’s refrain over the top. It’s simple but incredibly effective. And let’s give a little shout out to Duff for the bass run that brings everyone back in as they head into the next section of the song.
Perhaps the most surprising part of Absurd occurs at 2:08 when the entire thing vanishes and we get a very brief ambient interlude that suggests that Guns N’ Roses may well have been listening to a little bit of Sigur Ros since they last got together. Lovely.
Then it’s back into that riff, and the band career through to the end of the song after that little breather, with Slash taking every available opportunity to remind you of his presence by abusing his screaming and squalling guitar with admirable gusto. Then it all just drops out and they’re gone. The first piece of new Guns N’ Roses material in... well... a long time is over.
So, maybe it wasn’t all a pipe dream after all. Maybe we actually are going to get that new album. And maybe, just maybe, on the strength of Absurd it might actually be pretty good.
Some might complain that this doesn’t sound like “classic” GnR, but there really is no way that they - or indeed anyone else - is ever going to be able to top that legacy material. So, it would appear that the reunited and rejuvenated band aren’t going to even try. Instead Absurd does something totally different, making Guns N’ Roses sound genuinely pumped up, aggressive and full of boisterous energy.
Let’s have some more of that please lads.