(NCS contributor Austin Weber reviews the new album by Agrimonia., which is being released today by Southern Lord.)
It can be very exciting to stumble onto a band who are new to you part-way through their career. When that happens you have no preconceived notions, no expectations, and are not comparing what you’re hearing to what you’ve heard before. Which is not to say expectations are bad, but they can lead to a bias that may affect how you perceive new music by groups you enjoy. Such was the case for me with the Swedish bastards of Agrimonia, who had two full-lengths under their belt by the time I first heard “Talion” courtesy of a Pitchfork premier. They are clearly in the class of bands who are identified as, and make music labelled, “post-metal”, but they deliver their take on it in a way uncomparable to all but maybe Downfall of Gaia (who compose their music from a similar palette of influences).
Rites of Separation is a gnarled mass of thick sludge riffs that torture at a glacial pace, hoarse ear-splitting vocals, atmospheric black holes, and subdued keyboards. As a group, Agrimonia have shied away from the biggest trope found in post-metal: A near exclusively slow-tempo framework that lends itself to meandering because there is nothing contrasting against the sloth-like pace. Their music is as uncomfortable as it is riveting, most of which stems from their unparalleled sense of dynamics. Agrimonia arrange their music in peaks and valleys, a la post-rock, which allows for fast, hard-hitting parts as a wise contrast to the softer, slower melancholy, a dichotomy of grace that allows them to cover a wider range of sonic expressions than most.
In general, the label of post-metal describes a cocktail of sludge, doom, and hardcore ideas shaken and stirred into a longer song structure, a label not affixed to a style but more a soundscape of those ideas, abstractly filtered. What this usually sacrifices is speed and aggression, since those qualities are not the primary focus. However, Agrimonia do not follow that path. Their take is gritty and vitriolic, adept at punishing you in waves, with a strong affinity for crushing heaviness. If I had to take a stab at what to call it, I would say it’s a crusty sea of deconstructed swamp-thick sludge with ugly traces of death metal and blackened spite strung out and oddly re-contorted within the confines of grim atmospheric tendencies and doom vibes.
A great example of how Agrimonia make all their influences align in interesting ways is the towering presence of “Hunted”. Beginning with distant, swelling piano playing, it’s slowly joined by drums and minimalist sludge riffing until a beast that had been waiting for prey finally makes itself known and rips you apart. From there the song continues its new-found assault until it slyly slinks back toward a hypnotic lull, graced by sublime key work that precedes a voracious return to the track’s earlier viciousness. The song then sprawls to a stop on the back of a thick groove and caustic screams layered with bestial enunciations.
Agrimonia are a very angry band, but the shades of light and beauty that seep from the cracks of their filth are where they truly shine. This nether region between light and dark is a compositional tool Agrimonia wield powerfully and with purpose. Rites of Separation exists in a lingering agony of life, knee-deep in the existential pain of living. This is a suffocating soundtrack to misanthropy that will infect your brain.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rites of Separation is out now on Southern Lord and is available on CD and digitally. An LP version is expected in May. The band’s previous releases are available on Bandcamp vis this link. “Talion” is below.
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