We at Heavy Blog sure love our progressive metal — particularly the fringe parts of the subgenre, from brilliant vocal driven bands like Leprous to prog packaged into a thick slab of death metal à la Black Crown Initiate. It’s hard not to love something that’s essentially a breeding ground for innovation and experimentation within a familiar musical context, and oftentimes some true gems manage to make their way to the top by effectively balancing said familiarity with something positively mind-blowing.
Enter Agent Fresco, a young Icelandic band who likely suffer through more “there are Icelandic bands that aren’t Sigur Rós or Sólstafir?” jokes than they deserve. Some bands often name off influences from all walks of music in interviews and the like, but ultimately they tend to have a very singular sound — Fresco, by contrast, wear all their influences proudly on their sleeves, creating tapestries of wondrously eclectic music on sophomore record Destrier, which is available for streaming on their website. Put simply, they are an incredible breath of fresh air to listen to. (Also, can we talk about that gorgeous album art?)
Agent Fresco’s sound is primarily carried by the magnificent vocal stylings of Arnór Dan Arnarson, whose voice is borderline angelic in its quality. His range is clearly very wide, and yet his vocal lines remain tasteful and memorable rather than falling into the common progressive metal trap of soaring to 11 at all times. Arnarson’s singing may initially elicit comparisons to Einar Solberg of Leprous and Rishloo‘s Andrew Mailloux, but at the end of the day, his vocal style shines through as very distinctly being his own.
But that’s not the say the other three fourths of Agent Fresco are lacking in any shape or form. Guitarist-slash-pianist Þórarinn Guðnason‘s riffs sound like everything from Opeth to the aforementioned Leprous — hell, even Meshuggah sometimes, but I don’t want to spoil too much — and yet they rarely overtake the song, choosing instead to let the vocals take centre stage, unlike how many other progressive metal bands would do it. The drumming is suitably dextrous, and the basslines (as mostly recorded on an upright bass, no less) remain tasteful throughout. Everything is incredibly cohesive — the songs are rarely over 4 minutes long, and no riff overstays its welcome, but the sound remains fresh and loose, influenced in parts by everything from jazz (tell me “Pyre” doesn’t sound like a Jaga Jazzist song with vocals on top) to pop to alternative rock, but ultimately based around a clear love of music itself. Agent Fresco’s music is an absolute joy to listen to, and Destrier is a clear frontrunner for one of the best releases of 2015.
Destrier is out now, and you can purchase it through Long Branch Records.