When your primary musical focus consists of playing in At The Gates, Skitsystem, or Martyrdöd, any and all accompanying projects are going to be subjected to some level of scrutiny. “Yeah, but it’s not Slaughter Of The Soul, is it?” you may hark, but Sweden’s Agrimonia have never been ones to rely on paying lip service to their associated Death Metal and Crust Punk outfits. Five years removed from their last record Rites Of Separation, Agrimonia have presented us with their most ambitious, thematic and musically realised record, Awaken (both Southern Lord).
On the surface, the album is an engrossing mix of beautifully nightmarish Doom, crusty Death Metal, soaring post-Metal, and horrible Sludge riffs, taking both the melody and the grit from some of the band’s previous outings. Just the sheer imagination taken to blend these sounds together into perhaps the best songs Agrimonia have written to date is impressive enough. Beyond that, tracks like the opening combo of ‘A World Unseen’ and ‘Astray’ reach almost Opeth or Primordial levels of opulence, proving that there is scope for the band to continually push their sound in new, diverse ways with so much elegance that you can practically feel a warm, heavenly light radiating out of your speakers.
That’s not to say this record isn’t dark because, boy, is it dark! Awaken harnesses this worryingly comforting kind of dark, like during the alluring, hypnotic opening of ‘Foreshadowing’ which is interrupted by this dense Dismember-esque riff that suddenly starts to shriek at you. It’s made all the more startling thanks to Henrik Udd’s production which is as clear and crisp as it is lethal. As soon as the sound slithers around you and wraps you in a tight embrace, you feel the venomous bite of Christina Blom’s vocals. Even the three-minute instrumental title track feels like a calm, collected, but looming menace just out of your reach. It might not seem that affecting at first, but when it’s followed by the undeniably melancholic ‘Withering’, on repeat listens it acts as a haunting precursor to something much more sinister before the sombre but abrasive finale of ‘The Sparrow’.
There is as much bile as there is beauty in Awaken, and it’s almost unfair how big the step-up in quality the songwriting has taken since Rites Of Separation. No doubt everyone is looking forward to the new At The Gates record (and we all should), but until then, I’m sticking with Agrimonia.