Oh, life. It’s bigger than you, and you are not me, but there are some truths which we all hold to be self-evident no matter who we are. Examples of such universal certainties include that you will breathe oxygen under a blue sky, fire will be hot eleven times out of ten, and that, one day, you will die. Most do their damnedest to disarm that last trvth bomb, but it’s the only thing Germany’s Arkuum are thinking about on their sophomore effort, Die Letzte Agonie. With a fittingly foreboding production and a staunch refusal to smile, one man fatalist army Arkas cradles that aforementioned bombshell like a kvlt and cvddly baby, singing life itself to sleep with a 50-minute blackened lullaby. The question is, are you ready to die?
The real question is probably something along the lines of “is it good” with something pseudo-witty about snoozing thrown in, but this is atmo-black and I am Muppet so you were never gonna get a fair answer to begin with. Agonie explores the five stages of dying, as hypothesized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, with each track attempting to sonically encapsulate its respective stage: denial, anger, grief, bargaining, and finally acceptance. Arkas employs a Satanic Warmaster snarl set to Anagnorisis-ish pacing to paint a picture of life through the eyes of the dying. Though my German is about as good as my Mandarin, there is an almost palpable conviction in every shriek, and you can practically wring the tears from his clean performance on “Handel.” Further aiding the vocal performance is its kvlt ov Goldilocks production: not too lo-fi as to sound like shit, and not so polished as to sound mechanical and sterile, but rather the vocals writhe and shine in that frost-bitten sweet spot that’s just right for such grim fare.
Grim (and possibly Grymm) fare this is, and Agonie is adorned in properly blackened tones and a dark atmospheric aesthetic. A live crew handles the task of unleashing these deathly hallows, but Arkas’ dark vision is realized alone in the studio. As such, much of this sounds like the million other one-man black metal acts that surface daily. This isn’t to say that the Violet Cold/A Swarm of the Sun atmospherics of “Zorn” aren’t depressingly wonderful — they, like, are — but it does make me wonder why seemingly all ov atmo-black wants to be None. Seriously, with enough patience and imagination, one could dissect any given track on this conceptually ambitious album and immediately recognize shards of None, Unreqvited, Chiral, and so many others embedded deep in this corpse. Given these comparisons, Arkuum‘s focus naturally centers around atmosphere. Very seldom does the instrumentation exhibit much in the way of technical tactics or otherwise riffy business. However, the music matches the mood of these musings on mortality to a fatal T, and, to some degree, that’s really all that matters.
Paradoxically — one might even say juxtaposing in nature — this wealth of somewhat similar sources of inspiration lends Agonie enough shades ov black to give each track its own identity. This is crucial, as each song hovers around the ten-minute mark where the threat of stagnant waffling is all too real. Arkas has no problem borrowing from everyone, but the tonal wealth he shares with Agonie is spread out evenly enough to keep every bit of this study on death very much alive. “Verzweiflung,” for example, is a lonely walk through Violet Cold RÛR-al territory featuring a morose passage punctuated by sobs, while the penultimate “Akzeptanz” begins as pvre Agalloch worship then soars into an ethereal ROSK post-metal cloud, coalescing into a reverberating blackened doom storm before breathing its last Unreqvited breath. The more aggressive “Verleugnug” and “Handel” drink deep from a Mavradoxan well ov Wiegedood waters. While there’s nothing particularly refreshing drawn from those depths, this depressive black draft should nonetheless slake the thirst of anyone looking for a little more fury with their feels.
Agonie won’t likely floor anyone with its compositional creativity, but the arrangements are nonetheless well constructed and engaging; if you’re looking for something soft and delicate as well as loud and out of key and you don’t care what it is, Arkuum are outside of your window with their radio. Go to them, enjoy of deep sadness, and sing this anthem of our dying day until your tears don’t just fall but crash around you.