Friday, October 14, 2011

Agartha - V (2011)

Straight from the country capital of the world, Nashville, Tennessee, comes Agartha, a one man band of metal grooves and opinions. Falling somewhere in the middle of black, gothic, thrash, and death metal, Adam Phillips' creation has taken on a life of its own. And on his new album, simply titled "V," Phillips looks to take things to the next level, with a flurry of chugging chords, rolling kicks and airy keyboards. But every man has an Achilles heel. And for Agartha, that fatal flaw could be the dreaded "core."

Light piano opens the album, with "The Council of God (Genesis 1-26)" building from nothing. The sudden crash of electric guitars bursts forth, covering the piano keys in a murky distortion. It descends into madness, double bass pedals ripping ahead, atmospheric keyboards stirring the pot. The first screams enter, falling somewhere between blackened death and thrash style coarseness. The keyboard and synthesizer sounds keep the track fresh at times, in what may otherwise fall into the rotten repetition of the "core" curse. The music becomes almost too mechanical, with the drumming sounding like programmed beats rather than a human touch. As a guitar solo takes the spotlight, the backing music fails to support it. Only when the music slows do all the parts come back together, fueled by deep, abrasive growls.

The music often feels disjointed, as is the case on "Destruction Of The Gateway." It begins like a black metal massacre, complete with hoarse, screeching vocals. But the instrumentation doesn't sync up in a way that really makes sense. It sounds, at times, like each band member is playing to a different time signature. It isn't until nearly the three minute mark that things fall into place. A guitar solo unites the pieces, and the song takes a turn for the better. Intermittent chugging mixed with ravishing drums creates a momentum that carries into the next track, "Eleven Shadows Of Ahasuerus." The downtempo track fits the band perfectly, allowing the guitars to simply inflict damage on top of a loud, powerful drum beat. The brief spoken word segment is forgettable, only hurting the flow of the track. But it is soon buried among the carnage of the punishing distortion. All the while, dancing keys flutter in and out, haunting the song like a ghost long dead.

The keyboards are never more important than on the atmospheric "The Cry Of Aggni." The keys take the lead, providing the melody. The contrast of the haunting tones and the aggressive vocals is a new direction for the band to take. This is a song that fully embodies what Agartha is capable of. No tricks, no gimmicks, just straight forward, synth fueled symphonic metal. Unfortunately, then follow up their strongest track with what is probably their weakest. "The Elder" is everything that metalcore has done wrong, from the mechanical chugging to the repetitive vocal patterns. A little guitar chord work is thrown in for flavor, but it does little to salvage the wreckage. The only saving grace is the outro portion, with keys standing alone in a ghostly sound. There is something to be said about "MCCCVII," a track that is equally short and brutal. At just two and a half minutes, it is a foray into the thrash/death realm, complete with rapid drumming and some impressive fret work.

There is some inspiration to be found on "The Dawn Of The 1st Great War," a track which seems to follow the metalcore formula, but sees a twist in the form of some well orchestrated horns and strings. This is a step outside of the box, a way to reinvigorate a (hopefully) dying style. Short, but strong, it leads directly into the closing track, "The Creation Of Parsifal." The keys steal the show again, remaining atmospheric behind a wall of pounding drums and muddled distortion. The vocals, by this time, are predictable. This isn't to say they are any less enjoyable, but there simply is no variation. Even as the instruments change their tone, with a blaring guitar solo erupting from below, the vocals maintain a constant delivery. But the instruments are truly the star, winding down to a sampled chunk of trumpets and drums.

Agartha isn't a metalcore band, but any means. But they do borrow from the genre too often to suit their talents. They take what would otherwise by a pretty rousing album of keyboard fueled brutality, and water it down with unnecessary use of industrial strength chugging. But, in this case, the good outweighs the bad. Each dark, mechanical cloud has a silver lining. And on "V," they weather the oncoming storm, and brace themselves for the next.


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