Necroview: Agatus – The Eternalist
It’s not often that an old favorite completely surprises you. Whatever band it is, they’re an old favorite for a reason—they’ve been consistent, and maybe had some serious evolution along the way, but they’ve been good at what they do for a long time and probably haven’t done anything too out of left field since they were a much younger band.
Agatus has been around for almost as long as black metal has; formed in 1992 by Eskarth the Dark One (AKA Chris Dorian Kokiousis), the band has been infrequently releasing material for longer than the members of a lot of your favorite new bands have been alive. That kind of longevity is an alarm for a lot of people, and with good reason. Most musicians in metal just do not keep it up for decades without losing a lot of creativity, passion, and even interest in the very genre that they’re writing in. Fortunately, even with the long gaps between most of their full length releases (fourteen years between their second album and their third!), Agatus has remained a pillar of excellence, originality, and the unexpected.
The Eternalist, without mincing words, is a nearly perfect record. It’s also one that toes the line between heavy metal and black metal in a way that not many bands have done with this level of precision. Right from the start of “The Eternalist,” it’s obvious that Agatus has undergone an evolution between The Weaving Fates and now; heavy synthesizers, clean singing, and a heavy infusion of prog rock contrast with the black metal of earlier days, and while epic heavy metal was already a core of the Agatus sound, now the ratios have flipped, and the heavy metal dominates. Interestingly enough, some of the album’s songwriting dates back to even earlier than The Weaving Fates, with two of the songs being written in 1996. In spite of the long gaps between songs being put together, the album flows perfectly, and nothing stands out as being older or newer than any other piece.
Much of the riffing here is mostly made up of repeating staccato rhythms, many of which call back to the black metal of Agatus’ earlier days and to other seminal Greek bands. These are offset by sections of galloping, longer and more mystical sections of epic metal, and by dual leads that call back a bit to bands like Iron Maiden. At almost any moment that one guitar is playing a rhythm, the other is playing a melody over it, or both are playing the melody while the bass holds down the rhythm. As songs progress, moods generally shift and change rapidly, with the main link between the various sections of rhythm being leads that carry over with changes, vocal lines that tie them together, or a repeating drum beat. Strong acoustic guitar sections, progressive rock interludes, and synthesizers also help maintain album flow with a fluidness that isn’t often heard in such varied material.
Though I mention vocal lines linking riffs, a surprising amount of the record is instrumental, with Eskarth and Archon (Eskarth’s brother and long time musical co-conspirator) letting the songwriting say everything that needs telling. For weaker musicians, this would be the death of an album, but it’s almost not even noticeable on the first few listens of The Eternalist because of how well the album is written. Similarly, I mention moods and riffs changing rapidly, but that’s not necessarily true—songs like “The Invisible” rely heavily on repetition to build atmosphere in some parts, and it’s not the only one to do so. The song structures go where the music demands and no change, or lack thereof, feels strange due to the strength of the compositions.
I also talked about clean singing being a part of the record, and this is a massive reduction. Agatus used many approaches to the vocals on this record, ranging from a harsh snarl more akin to the early days of the band to raw, emotional singing to soaring voices and even chanting choral work. The multifaceted approach to the vocals is as fascinating as the rest of the songwriting and deserves praise for the extra depth it adds to the record. The drums and bass also need recognition here, as the inventive fills, tight rhythm section, and interlocking grooves have enough power to carry any amount of strange, wonderful lead guitar bits that would otherwise be playing over a somewhat empty soundscape.
The production on the record is very warm, and the mix very balanced, suiting the record perfectly. Similarly, the recording quality itself is very high without sounding excessively clean. Combined with the layered and interesting approach to the music itself, we get what is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic, well written, interesting, and just downright listenable records of the last few years—one well worth singing praises to. There is no conforming to genre standards, no attempts to blow up or look for scene points—Agatus are here to do what they feel in their hearts, and that originality is what we have been given here.
It’s been a few years now since The Eternalist came out, and still no new record or release has been announced. Hopefully we hear back with more material sooner rather than later. But until then, we have one of the best hybrids of heavy metal, black metal, and progressive rock that I’ve ever heard, and I’ll be worshiping it ‘til the end.
All images courtesy of Agatus.