Agatus - EternalistIn today’s fast-paced world where instant gratification is king, once a winning formula has been established, it’s tempting for many bands to play it safe, shy away from experimentation, and resort to simply churning out variations on the same record every few years (*cough* Amon Amarth *cough*). I always have a lot of respect therefore for musicians who are willing to take a risk, mix things up a bit and diversify their style – creating their own record as opposed to simply writing what is expected of them. Agatus are one such band. Starting life as an underground black metal act in Athens in the early nineties, over the years the Greek duo have gradually adopted a more traditional heavy metal sound, with their most unabashed demonstration of this evolution being The Eternalist. Owing to the relatively small size of their discography in relation to the length of time they’ve been active – The Eternalist is only their third full-length studio album in over 20 years. At this stage, one poor outing has the potential to tarnish their legacy quite significantly, so the stakes are high. Whether or not their change in direction ultimately pays off, it’s difficult not to admire their moxie.

And what a change in direction it is too. The Agatus heard on The Eternalist is virtually unrecognizable as the same band who wrote Dawn of Martyrdom and The Weaving Fates, having shed their black metal skin almost entirely. Upon firing up the record, what the listener is presented with instead is a healthy dollop of ‘80s nostalgia, straight out of the annals of NWoBHM lore, paying homage to titans such as Diamond Head and Grim Reaper. Rather than blast beats and tremolo picking, the record is characterized by its downtrodden, doomy vibe and groove-laden solos. Eponymous opener “The Eternalist” and “Dreamer” showcase riffs that would sound right at home in the context of an Angel Witch record, and stylistically, the soaring wah-wah tone of “Perils of the Sea (Part II)” has more in common with Y&T than a band who have previously collaborated with the likes of Absu and Varathron. It’s clear that Agatus set out here to emulate the traditional stylings of the early heavy metal scene and in this regard, they absolutely nailed it.

Make no mistake, however, while the sound that they have created here is damned impressive, The Eternalist does have its flaws. Most of the record strolls along at a mid-tempo pace, and even brisker offerings, such as “The Invisible (Fifth Portal to Atlantis),” still come across as a bit languid. At times it feels as though they’re actively reining themselves in, and on more than one occasion I found myself urging the band to just crack on and let rip. It doesn’t completely spoil the album by any means, but it does lend it a bit of a half-baked vibe at times, which is rather a shame.

Agatus 2016Making up for The Eternalist’s somewhat geriatric pace, however is its production value, which is downright glorious. Brothers Eskarth the Dark One and Archon Vorskaath (or Chris and Dimitros as they’re known to their mom) carry out all of the instrumental duties themselves, and the production is nicely balanced, with a warm, analog-like quality throughout. It really does sound very pretty indeed and provides the entire record with an authentic feel that takes skill to execute convincingly.

Its faults notwithstanding, The Eternalist is a formidable album, and particularly when considering the band’s roots lie on an entirely different plane of the metal spectrum altogether, although I’ll admit to being a little unsure as to how it will be received by fans of their earlier work. Black metal devotees are hardly renowned for their open-mindedness and, unless your name is Fenriz or Nocturno Culto, branching away from the style almost altogether without being hung, drawn and quartered by the corpsepaint brigade is no small undertaking. For Agatus’ sake, therefore, I hope The Eternalist is given the time of day it deserves. It’s by no means perfect, however, it’s a solid, well-executed record that demonstrates ambition, not to mention a stubborn unwillingness to rest on their laurels and get too comfortable. If nothing else, they deserve plaudits for this alone.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hell’s Headbangers
Websites: agatus-greece.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/AgatusOfficial
Releases Worldwide: October 9th, 2016


Written By: Pándaros

agatus_2016-2Were a ghost to appear in the night and tell me that a respectable black-metal band would release an album, and that that album would stretch the genre by reverting back to the classics, to NWOBHM and to 80s thrash, I would have lept from my bed and begun googling leaks of the record foretold. Black metal has branched in so many directions, but its legion subgenres fit for the most part into two pockets of a Venn diagram. One holds the kvlty loyalists, the other the millennial trailblazers, looking to toss some extra reverb and poppy chord progressions for mood and ambience. With The Eternalist, Greek mainstay Agatus (of Dawn of Martyrdom and The Weaving Fates fame) make the nifty move of citing sources less common in the black-metal paradigm, but so canonical, so unassailable to those who rock, that even the ones denying Darkthrone’s existence after Sardonic Wrath would admit to having heard (and loved) this material too.

It’s all there in the first five seconds: the title track opens with a hard, tight hook that would’ve felt at home on Blizzard of Oz, Screaming for Vengeance, or Piece of Mind, before the keyboard sprawls synthesizer tones on top, expressing a kind of self-delight with the riff. Such relics are littered throughout the record, thanks mostly to the robust twin-guitar work from lead man, “The Dark” (formerly, “Eskarth the Dark One”). “The Oath (Of Magic and Fire),” begins with thrashy trills that sound eerily similar to those opening “Seek & Destroy,” and “Dreamer” has a palm-muted section that could have been taken from the bridge to an early Van Halen song. If The Eternalist does hold up as black metal, which some might debate, it wields a heavier nostalgia than any I can remember hearing in the genre. With each throwback the album almost seems to ask, “who couldn’t like this?”

agatus_2016Well, if “this” refers to each old-school riff, very few. But it’s with good reason people don’t clamor to see their local Iron Maiden cover band the way they do for Iron Maiden. Context matters, and it’s a band’s job to perfect whatever lick they can mine, while also laying it down convincingly on a stage or in a studio. It need not be masterful: in that cinematic masterpiece, School of Rock, there’s something right about the kids’ ad-hoc jam to “Smoke on the Water”—their smiles show how much they love it. Unfortunately, Agatus never seem so inspired, and therefore never so inspiring.

The production is partly to blame. It’s hard not to sound empty when the instruments, crammed in their corners, almost never get to share space on the recording. This sterility not only comes as a surprise given its deviation from the fuzzier sonics of traditional black metal—and Agatus’s earlier, well-liked releases — but also draws attention to the album’s weakest component, the vocals. Whether you prefer clean or harsh, you know they are bad when a singer, so unsuccessful at both, renders them nearly indistinguishable. The songwriting hardly redeems this flaw, because even a talent would have a hard time making lines like “Children became kings. / Kings became gods. / Gods were worshipped / and immortalized by men” not seem thoughtlessly cobbled together.

And really it’s the cobbled together-ness of this release that turns a great idea into a failure so hard to listen to. However wonderful it would have been for Agatus to find middle ground in that Venn diagram, welcoming all fans of black metal with their paradoxically reverent method of breaking convention, The Eternalist does not offer much more than a self-satisfaction at its own citation. Agatus focus all their attention on the quote, yet somehow neglect what is necessary to accommodate it. Thus, they actually waste what they source. Listening to the album I wanted so badly to throw on some old Judas Priest just to make sure my love for them was not just golden-age bias (it wasn’t). Even if the duality in black-metal becomes a stagnant fixture, I would rather wait for a more careful band to dig up the greats than feel such doubt again.

Rating: 1.5/5.0

 

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  • El_Cuervo

    Wow! A double review which is only utilised for the best or most notable albums!

    … or for when there was an admin cock-up and the same promo was assigned to two people.

    I wonder which one this was…?

  • Pándaros

    That order better be alphabetical guys :|

    • Seniority. We’re a union shop.

    • And BTW, welcome to the horror show!

    • Lord Lucan

      Don’t worry old sport, there’s no shame in being wrong from time to time.

    • Lord Lucan

      While I disagree utterly with your verdict however, congrats on the well-written review!

  • Lord Lucan

    Try and ignore how the penultimate two sentences of the first paragraph of my review make absolutely no sense. They used to but the editor is a hack…

    • You blathered and rambled and got the slice hammer.

      • Lord Lucan

        If correct use of grammar constitutes blathering and rambling then consider me guilty as charged. Can’t get the bloody staff around here these days.

        • Report to HR, then to the trash compactor.

          • Lord Lucan

            Sod it, I’ll just get a monkey to write my next one.

          • It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times???

          • Hulksteraus

            Or an ape, a horned ape…

      • Ferrous Beuller

        I hate the slice hammer.

    • Only metalcore for you!

      • Except when we get nu-metal in the bin.

        • I like the way you think Mr Druhm.

  • Diego Molero

    So basically they pulled an Opeth, speaking of wich…

  • AMG: While you’re waiting for the Album of the Month and the Opeth review, here are two newbies arguing about an album you’ll never listen to. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

    • This is way more fun.

      • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

        I love that you guys allowed juxtaposed reviews on one album. Maybe something to think about doing more in the future. While it’s always nice to hear how good an album is, I really like hearing some harsh criticisms when they’re warranted and well thought out. AMG staff does a great job of not gushing over albums and the 4-5 range scores still get their little gripes, too. Something I’ve always loved about this site. But done by two separate reviewers is a really cool idea. Great job reviewers and to Madam X for posting both.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        You guys should do this split review thing more often. At least once a month. Maybe even have AMG himself add his own bit in the end, telling us why and how each previous reviewer is wrong.

    • The Nerd.DMF GO JAYS

      I really think they’re just trolling us.

  • basenjibrian

    I have only one comment, and I am becoming adamant on this.
    You all want Opeth?
    I want BIEBER! BIEBER! BIEBER!
    BWHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Love the double reviews! Hi fives to poor scheduling which lets face it , must be difficult in a Viking gorrilla suit.
    Probably pass on this this time but good reading!

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Doesn’t Madam X do all the work? I’ve seen her name more over the past three months than perhaps ever before…

      • She does the bulk of the promo management and some editing too but the bulk of the edits and day to day management is indeed done by me.

        • André Snyde Lopes

          I hope both of you get duly compensated for your great efforts.

          • Lord Lucan

            Their compensation is us moaning at length about their barbaric editing practices. They enjoy the abuse really.

  • Wilhelm

    To me, the embedded song sounds like Rotting Christ on NWOBHM, big surprise…but better than their new stuff, the proceeding song sounds a bit like Sentenced – I’m checking this out ASAP

  • Monsterth Goatom

    The All-Man Brothers.

  • autonamed

    To quench a little bit of competitive applicability out of the double review thing (based on strict subjectivity): While Pándaros’ has the correct rating, Lord Lucans is slightly better written. So…
    …good luck, Lord Luca Pàndaros!

  • Jason

    The cover art does not match the music, methinks.

  • Wilhelm

    After listening to the full album, I’m perhaps just giddy but I think this is one of my favorite albums released this year. The production/mastering is downright glorious and sounds like some long lost classic from ’96…riffs are of classic metal but you still get that dose of black metal once in a while. Its dark and passionate and sounds absolutely fantastic.