Agonal began as a project in the winter of 2010 by Kentucky native Jon Francis with a goal of completing three albums, each with a different style. In 2013, Sanctus Gladius released the trilogy consisting of Nikao (means, to conquer), Threneo (means, to lament), and A Suffering Complete. For Death Defeated, Finnish singer/songwriter Ville Hämäläinen contributed as well, bringing in some death, doom, goth, black, and groove metal. The album itself focuses on praise and honor to God and Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross to defeat death.
Based on my first impressions, Death Defeated is the latest album from a Scandinavian black/death metal band as the some of the music in the beginning of “Scars of Memory” reminds me quite a bit of Immortal Souls. Once the song gets going though, there is a clean chorus that shifts things a bit from that mold and into something different. After learning a bit about the band, I realized I was about half wrong as one member is from Finland, while the other and founder is from Kentucky. Throughout the album there is that somber tone and a mostly subtle keyboard aspect that really adds to overall impact of the songs without being intrusive. Production and mixing are clear and all the performances are strong. Blast beats, fast intricate guitar riffs, growled death and clean vocals characterize the songs on the album.
“Death Defeated” opens up with a symphonic black metal feel to it with the droning guitar and blast beats but then quickly shifts into a groove metal riff for the verse sections that are bridged by another cool riff before shifting back into the black metal-like opening section. There are a lot of twists and turns in just the one song which could easily have it labeled “hybrid extreme” metal.
“Parting Heavens” shows a different direction, even a change in vocalist, but stays closer to the previous songs than “Prayer”, which starts out in black metal territory before the somber verse section comes with clean vocals and primarily a slow guitar riff and drum backing things in the first section before it breaks down further in the second verse which starts with just bass and drum supporting the vocals. The goth/doom influence is especially present in this song and does underlie much of the album.
“Freedom” takes a bit of different turn (notice a trend?) with some atmospheric keyboards accenting a pounding drum and guitar riff that eventually settles into a bit of a groove before returning to staccato-like riffing for the verses. Overall tone on the album finally triggered a memory with me in that the guitars sound a bit like Living Sacrifice from the Reborn era. The two guitars trading solos in “Freedom” certainly adds a bit of appeal to the overall song. “Sanctified” further takes things to a different level with just spoken word accompanied by clean guitar relating the words of Jesus to his Heavenly Father following completion of his sacrifice for the sins of the world.
The contrasts in sound on this album are plentiful and perhaps the most exemplary of this would be the songs “Send in the Fire” and “Send in the Rain”. “Send in the Fire” has a slow intro section of mostly noise before a machine-gun like guitar riff kicks in accompanied by atmospheric keyboards that turns into a driving groove metal riff that nearly drowns out the growled death metal vocals. Plenty of blast beats, keyboard accents, and some good guitar fills add to the complexity of the song. Immediately following is “Bring the Rain” that opens up very much like a dirge with a slow, plodding riff. Fade into a clean but dark vocal harmony accompanied by clean guitars that eventually and abruptly shifts back into the full-on doom metal riff. Within just these two tracks Agonal incorporate several different styles and keep the listener wondering what might be next.
The two-piece Agonal covers more territory musically than many other much fuller bands and manages to do so within a song in a way that is seamless. From track to track the album shifts around between styles as well and while the variety is appreciated, some may find some songs hit genres and styles that just don’t resonate with their tastes, but through it all one cannot deny the musicianship involved.
Written by John Jackson
01. Scars of Memory
02. Death Defeated
03. Parting Heavens
06. The Path
08. Send the Fire
09. Send the Rain
10. The Long Forlorn
Jon Francis – Guitars, vocals, bass, drums, keyboards
Ville Hämäläinen – Vocals, guitar
Record Label: Independent, Jan. 2016
Video below: ‘Death Defeated’