One of the issue surrounding progressive music is that of identity. When you begin to subscribe to an ideology or style which has experimentation and genre bending at its base, how do you maintain a shared group of qualities which makes your music coherent? Bands have resolved this issue using many different tools; from artwork to thematic albums, this problem has more or less been solved. Agrimonia took the thematic approach on their latest album, Awaken, their first in five years. While the album juggles sounds ranging drawing from crust, punk, sludge, and post metal, there appears to be something inherently progressive about the band’s approach to these influences. In an effort to make Awaken work, to form a cognizant and recognizable album, Agriomina have turned to themes of darkness, melancholy for their musical adhesive.
As such, the album revolves around a sensation of denial, of a refusal to submit to an admittedly dark reality. This is what ties the different sounds on the album together. The album’s closing track, “The Sparrow”, is a great example of this. This twelve minute behemoth ducks and weaves between different sounds and ideas. It opens with an acoustic passage, quite a long one, which sets a decidedly melancholic mood for the track. However, the guitars soon explode in a furious and crusty escapade, backed by the same type of abrasive vocals found on the rest of the album, heavily influenced by black metal. This heavier style is itself transformed throughout the track, at times dipping deeper into sludge (like in the slower middle of the track) and times doubling down on the black metal sounds with blast-beats and faintly fast guitar riffs.
By the time the more somber parts of the track return and then merge with the heavier parts, backed by excellent synths which remind us of post-metal titans Minsk, their presence alongside the more abrasive parts is only natural. The trick is in the theme; whether the track was going for a more subtle approach or a straight on, anger filled assault, it kept that melancholic edge which tied everything together. This is accomplished via a good emphasis on consistent tone, suitably expressive composition and an overall execution which tie the disparate parts of the track together. This dedication to cohesion does much to augment the obviously progressive approaches taken to composition, approaches which can otherwise adversely affect an album’s flow.
However, this kind of approach, when utilized across an entire album, also has its downsides. When everything works so well to the extent that all parts sound like the rest, it becomes difficult to have stand out tracks. This is very much the case with Awaken, whose middle parts seem to blur together. Everything still sounds great (some of the synth tones on this album are downright amazing) but identity is lost in the furious dedication the band exhibit to their style and sound. Is that a bad thing? Perhaps, especially on repeated listens, as the ear struggles to find continued purchase in the album. But it’s also perhaps a small enough price to pay for a sludge/post-metal album that knows what its about and gets its job done quite well.
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Awaken sees release on Friday, February 26th via Southern Lord. Head on over to the band’s Bandcamp page above to pre-order it