Agrimonia’s third album, and first for Southern Lord, is a masterclass in metal craftsmanship. Rites Of Separation might well be yet another Southern Lord release that has its roots in crust/hardcore but Agrimonia’s sonic palette is considerably wider and more perfectly refined than a simple genre label might suggest.
With members of At The Gates and Martyrdöd in the ranks, it is perhaps no surprise to find that Agrimonia is a band that is capable of being not only unrelentingly heavy but also deft of touch and remarkably technical when needed. Whilst they trade in long and winding musical narratives, their approach to music is not too dissimilar to that of Kvelertak. Rather than adhere to genre boundaries, they simply cherry pick from a multitude of styles to create a hydra-headed onslaught.
Across the five songs of Rites Of Separation there are grabs from thrash, death, classical, black metal, Punk, and pretty much any metallic element drawn from the periodic table of rock. This approach ensures that Rites Of Separation never settles into a repetitive groove or outstays its welcome, despite most of the songs stretching beyond the 10 minute mark. Rather than pummel a single idea into the ground for the duration of the album, it seems positively vibrant and alive with possibilities and frequently twists into new avenues.
Opening track Talion pitches the band’s methodology perfectly. The initial riff might seem like a crafty bastardisation of Metallica’s Harvester Of Sorrow, but its smouldering opening soon turns into a behemoth of frantic riffing, old-school soloing, and gurgled vocals from Christina Blom. Clearly not a band for hanging onto any one direction for too long, they take Talion through myriad twists and turns. Grooves are established then cast them aside, melodies are introduced and twisted beyond recognition, and occasionally a black mist descends to add a slightly sinister atmosphere.
It’s atmospherics that are Agrimonia‘s trump card. The seething noises and haunted vocals that swirl around the closing introspective section of Talion are genuinely spooky, whilst the piano intro to Hunted sets a gothic introspective tone that fans of My Dying Bride will be only too familiar with. From its creeping intro, it bursts into life with a basic but effective riff and continues to evolve. An exercise in ebb and flow, the band lurch forward in sudden charges of aggression and then ease off, allowing a little respite before launching yet another pounding assault. The second half relaxes into a more post-metal direction; had Isis written Hunted, it wouldn’t be a complete shock.
Closing track Awaiting stretches out into the realms of the ridiculous and beyond the 15 minute mark. The danger with such long songs is that the attention can drift, but Agrimonia have a knack of knowing just when to shift through the gears to keep things interesting. With industrial flavours mixing with melodic twin guitar soloing and expansive riffs providing incredible force and retaining a keen melodious edge, Awaiting never moves into the arena of the dull. While Life Lies once again sees the band employ an atmospheric (keyboard led) introduction and then moving to crush it under tumbling girders of metal. There’s a more significant black metal influence at play too, as there is on The Battle Fought, but it’s no more than an influence; for this band continually shift and play with convention.