Let me put my cards on the table: I am not a jazz aficionado. As only an occasional listener, off and on over the decades (and more off than on), I’m not well-educated. Yes, I’m familiar with big names such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dave Brubeck, and perhaps somewhat more familiar with jazz musicians who’ve participated in various fusion movements, but I’m no expert. And the prospect of listening to a fusion of jazz with elements of death and black metal? To keep my cards on the table, that put me on guard, and not feeling terribly optimistic about the results.
But a feeling of intrigue, coupled with a more general hunger for metal extremity that’s off the usual beaten paths, overcame my skepticism, and I began listening to the self-titled EP of Agabas — a Norwegian group who call their music Deathjazz.
I’ll let them tell their story in their own words, from the e-mail they sent us:
“What is Deathjazz? Well, it all started when we brought a clarinet player into the band. At first, we were just a regular metal band, but from that point on our sound started to develop in a direction that intrigued us all very much. We started bringing more and more jazz elements into our songs, and at one point we decided that we needed to go for something that specifically combined the best of both worlds – metal and jazz. After a great deal of work, we arrived at what we decided to call Deathjazz. It is the unholy bastard child of the two very different styles, and we believe it to be something pretty unique that we are now ready to proudly present with our debut EP.
“Our style is inspired by bands like Kvelertak, Gojira, Mastodon, Converge, Shining, Gorgoroth, Djevel, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple on the metal/rock side (to mention just a few), and players like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, and McCoy Tyner on the jazz side.”
I suppose it’s obvious by now that my intrigue transformed into enthusiasm for this EP. Having heard it, and having been left wide-eyed and smiling capaciously by the end, I did what I rarely do (because almost all of our premieres occur as a result of requests made to us) — I asked Agabas if I might host the premiere of one of the EP’s four tracks. To my great joy, they said yes.
The song they picked, “Tussmørke“, would have been a very fine and highly addictive death-rocking jam even without the addition of the clarinet, but even as a listener who’s not a big fan of jazz, I will tell you that it makes this song even more appealing. And the way the clarinet has been integrated into the experience is a stroke of song-writing brilliance.
The track begins slowly, with steady pounding drums and a gloomy droning bass, and then a flickering guitar with a grieving yet feverish melody sets a hook that turns out to stick damned fast in the head. The drummer begins to hammer out a hard-rocking rhythm, coupled with a raking riff and scorching vocal extremity. That flickering melody continues, and becomes increasingly bewitching as it goes. The band dial up the intensity with a rapidly jolting riff and head-pounding beats, and eventually with battering percussion, a pulsing bass thrust, and crazed, seething guitar.
And then there’s a pause.. everything suddenly dialed down… with just a few reverberating guitar and bass notes there to create a moody feeling. Slowly and subtly, clarinetist Jens Roberts makes his presence known, at first delivering a smoky and soulful melody that’s even moodier and more haunting than the guitar and bass accompaniment. The energy begins to build when the drummer reappears. The clarinet becomes more vibrant, and clanging chords amplify the music’s intensity. The clarinet becomes part of a duet that grows increasingly wild in its ebullience, and the music soars to a fiery crescendo.
When the band switch gears, rocking hard again, it’s the clarinet that this time carries that flickering opening melody, which returns like a welcome friend.
I do hope you’ll receive this song with the same enthusiasm that I did, and if you like it, I can assure you that the rest of the EP won’t let you down.
The Agabas EP will be released on August 28th. For now, you can pre-save the link at Spotify, and follow Agabas on Facebook for further info: