Every January, in the immediate aftermath of the bountiful harvest and stocktaking of the previous year’s metal offerings, I inexplicably get worried that the new year will be when the awesome wave finally breaks and the quality of metal nosedives. In 2017, a certain January release dispelled my fears by claiming the number one spot of my end-of-year list. In 2018, Agrimonia’s Awaken provides a similar cannon blast of optimism wrapped in multiple layers of darkness and beauty.
While Awaken continues from where Agrimonia’s previous album Rites of Separation left off, it initially feels like a surprisingly somber, occasionally dreamier affair than its predecessor, although not to the detriment of its metallic essence and heaviness. Although it lacks a rousing opener on par with “Talion,” the resounding call to arms of its predecessor, Awaken accelerates towards the end of its first track “A World Unseen,” before truly taking off when “Astray” kicks off with a heroically elevating intro, joined in by vocalist Christina’s coarse howls and scorched growls and towering drum barrages that devastate the landscape together with the strafing tremolos and sharp slices of guitars, with lead melodies soaring ever higher, before reaching a moment of respite that exudes warmth and comfort which dissipates when the stirring leads reappear. As the song is already fading out, Agrimonia makes a sudden return to deliver the final blow with its mighty warhammer. “Astray” and the following “Foreshadowed” both exemplify how metal can be dramatic and riveting, without overblown theatrics.
And as if Agrimonia’s concoction of blackened crust, atmospheric sludge, doom, melodeath, post-metal and ambient was not enough proof of their mastery of mixing multiple sub-genres, at the midpoint of “Withering” the band lunges forward with pit-inducing fervor, before suddenly spin-kicking the playbook of metallic hardcore, ripping its spine off and igniting its pages with salvos of powerful chugs and the kinetic energy and pummeling of the mosh pit. With such a wide-ranging palette at its perusal, Agrimonia’s paintings are saturated with vivid dark hues, tints, tones and shades.
Although in possession of a unique winning formula, yet never sounding formulaic, Agrimonia often conjures allusions to other bands. At times, Awaken summons peculiar reminiscence of the epic vibe and musical storytelling of Edge of Sanity, the gorgeous multi-genre grandiosity and thundering impact of Nux Vomica, as well as Martyrdöd-like mastery in evoking enthralling lead melodies. At the same time, its stern integrity approaches the levels of Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death. Like all these giants, Agrimonia sounds massive in its own idiosyncratic way, which is bound to influence and inspire legions of bands and challenge their preconceived notions of the limits of extreme music. Also commendable is that the gargantuan profile and nature of Agrimonia’s music does not stop the band from revealing honest, aching vulnerability (witness the outright serene beauty when the piano appears through the hazy atmospherics in “The Sparrow”).
Most importantly, and herein lies the secret to their unrivaled strength and artistic accomplishment, Agrimonia does not compose excellent songs that are merely rife with inventive songwriting, and superb performance. Rather, the band crafts vivid tapestries of emotions that ebb and flow like life itself, crawling through dark valleys of defeat and periods of weeping sorrow, before surging triumphantly to the highest peaks of glory and achievement, overcoming odds that seemed insurmountable before. Remarkably, it recalls the collective and personal past which inescapably accompanies each of us on our journey and affects what is next to come in a myriad of strange yet beautiful ways. 2018 is off to an excellent start and Awaken is a spectacular harbinger of the great things to come.