by Phil Freeman
Swedish metal quintet Agrimonia‘s third album, Awaken (get it from Amazon), doesn’t waste time. There’s no pointless intro to slowly draw the listener in, just a gradually rising guitar, a quick rumble of drums, and then the music begins to flow.
Agrimonia have a moody, harsh sound that owes something to classic Swedish death metal, as well as to Bolt Thrower, but their approach to the old-school grind-and-throb ways is uniquely their own. Vocalist Christina Blom has a harsh, guttural roar like an enraged witch calling down imprecations. Her voice recalls Rob “The Baron” Miller of Amebix and, lately, Tau Cross; Bolt Thrower‘s Karl Willets; and Arch Enemy‘s Angela Gossow—a pagan howl of rage so pure it has its own kind of beauty, especially when guitarist Pontus Redig‘s multitracked, very clean voice is heard behind her, half-buried in the mix.
The songs on Awaken are long. There are only six of them, and half of those pass the 10-minute mark; “Withering” runs 12:53. But “Hunted” and “Awaiting,” from their previous album, 2013’s Rites of Separation, were even longer: 15:39 and 15:41, respectively. They never feel self-indulgent, though. The instrumental passages mostly shift between downtuned death-doom riffs, with bassist Martin Larsson (also of At the Gates) and drummer Björn Eriksson uncoiling loose but steady grooves, and moody interludes during which Blom steps behind a keyboard to add atmospheric effects that bring to mind the Cure‘s Disintegration-era work. On “Foreshadowed,” the band slowly explores a morose, Opeth-esque intro until, at the two-minute mark, a squealing guitar riff straight off a latter-day Danzig album takes over. Three minutes into the song, we’re galloping ahead, with Blom in full cry as the band charges along in high gear (which, for them, is roughly akin to midtempo, head-nodding postpunk thrash—think Prong minus the industrial elements and with a more swinging rhythm section).
The album’s title piece is a short instrumental that recalls recent Opeth even more strongly, with acoustic guitars, gentle keyboards, soft drumming, and an overall placidity that’s the perfect setup for the two long songs, “Withering” and the 12:26 “The Sparrow,” that close out the album. Eriksson is the MVP on “Withering”; his drumming gradually shifts from a tribal/Krautrock beat to something slightly jazzier and eventually to an avalanche-like death metal gallop. Just shy of eight minutes into the piece, all the instruments save a single, almost clean guitar drop away; two minutes or so of gentle, almost prog-rock interplay provides the perfect respite before the pounding resumes. On “The Sparrow,” Blom’s keyboards dominate early on, adding both mournful atmospheres and a melancholy piano melody that leads perfectly into the Goth-doom guitar riff.
This is Agrimonia‘s first album in five years, and they sound more vital than ever. Despite the length of the songs, there’s never a moment that demands patience or indulgence from the listener. They know exactly what they’re doing, and these tracks are proof that prog explorations can sit comfortably alongside explosions of aggression, that doom can be beautiful, and that sometimes going long isn’t just a necessary move, but a brilliant one.