Those of you who have been reading this Revered Site regularly know that the Huckster’s ranking on the Kronos Scale of Brvtality is a paltry 0.5. I mean, take a look at my bio: vocalists who sound like Lord of the Rings villains need not apply. And yet, there are times when I do enjoy my music a bit more extreme, and when I do, I go in deep. Example: I loved last year’s Dodecahedron release. I am also of the opinion that Primordial can do no wrong. Hell, sometimes it clicks even for these olde ears. So when a friend whose metal cred I respect more than a two-ton heavy thing said “You’re gonna love the new Agrimonia,” I dove in despite the fact that it was billed as crust, a genre I couldn’t be less familiar with unless it was Japanese screamo. Well, I’m glad I did jump in because Awaken is one hell of an excellent record.
For those not in the know, Agrimonia are a Swedish collective comprised of members of black/crust/D-beat bands that release a lot of okay-to-good music: Martyrdöd, Miasmal, At the Gates, Skitsystem, and Contratorture to be specific. And much like Spiritual Beggars and The Night Flight Orchestra (sorry AMG), this side project walks circles around the musicians’ day jobs. While the band started as a crust project, they’ve moved further into metal over the years, culminating in Awaken, which, while retaining hints of crust, is much more of a blackened progressive post-hardcore opus heavily influenced by Neurosis, a smattering of Deftones, tinges of Katatonia, and more than a few progressive angles — beautifully heavy yet nuanced music topped off with devastating vocals.
About those vocals (we may as well get it out of the way): Christina Blom is Agrimonia’s singer, which is interesting because in her own band, D-beat punkers Contratorture, she’s the bass player, not the singer. Here she is front and center and her voice will be the key to enjoyment (or not) for many. Blom’s vocals sound as if her throat has been torn out by vicious beasts, charred and blackened in the depths of the Nine Hells, then slammed back into her neck with brutal force. Her searing, tortured delivery makes me wince in pain. These are amongst the best female harsh vocals, but Awaken would be even better if some cleans were interspersed to break up the brutality of her delivery. This, my friends, is Awaken’s sole weakness.
The six songs on Awaken are outstanding, with nary a throwaway track. “Foreshadowed” is my favorite track of the year so far: it’s as close to perfect as I’ve heard, starting with a minute or two of atmospheric guitars and keys before the rhythm section rumbles in, slowly building to the Gojira-like riff. And when the song proper comes in with Blom’s feral howl, it drives all good from the world for the next six minutes. Aside from the instrumental interlude that is the title track, each song is 9-13 minutes long. The arrangements keep us fully engaged, though. “Withering,” which follows the instrumental midpoint, opens in menacing yet exhausted fashion, as if the first three songs have drained the band of vitality, but the respite is short-lived when we are greeted with a forearm shiver of a riff two minutes in, and the song builds from there. “The Sparrow” closes the album out in a progressive fashion, with tempo changes, heavy/subdued moments, and a bizarre crossfade in the middle all adding up to the culmination of 57 minutes of excellence.
Despite the somewhat low DR score— when everything is fighting for the same limited frequency range it can get a bit claustrophobic — the mix is outstanding, and when Blom isn’t singing the instruments jump out a bit more, giving us a full, crushing mix that rattles the speakers and shakes dust off the living room plants. The delicate acoustic guitar — percussion interplay in the title track resonates beautifully. In short, the outstanding musicianship is produced to deliver peak aural rewards.
Agrimonia have crafted an album that surpasses genre labels. The crust and sludge from earlier days is almost a distant memory. What the band has evolved into has crystallized into a fantastically played and written slab of metal littered with influences but beholden to none. The unwaveringly harsh vocals prompt me to search out a lozenge, and I’m not even singing. This is one of the best albums of the month, and likely the year. Don’t miss it.