Written by: NB on 27/04/2009 02:25:01

It's five years since their last album and the title of Agathodaimon's new release "Phoenix" is probably of some significance due to the recent recruitment of two replacemtent band members, leaving Martin "Sathonys" Wickler as the only remaining member of the band's original line-up. Soundwise however, the German outfit has constantly been evolving from a fairly straighforward black-metal act towards a more progressive and melodic sound. This album is simply the next, belated phase of this transition.

I suppose I should describe the diverse sounds to be found on this record. In comparison to the previous album the black-metal themes have been toned down slightly. The strongest black metal element is now the vocal performance of newcomer Ashtrael, sounding similar to Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir) or Juha Harju (Shade Empire). This is not much different from the main vocals on the previous album but this time more has been made of the prog-sounding backing voices which remind me a lot of bands like Arcturus. The electronic layer that has been a strong part of the band's music for some time now is still present and arguably stronger on this release but this only serves to highlight the most noticable change on this record, which is the melody.

The first track "Heliopolis" has a very catchy melodic section, which slightly worried me on the first listen. I was concerned that this melody would be the only substance in the song and indeed that catchy melodies would be the sole substance of the album. This phenomenon often arises in melodic death-metal music, and isn't in itself a bad thing, but what tends to happen is that you get bored of the uplifting melodies after a few plays of the record and then realise that that was all that was really there and never listen to it again. Luckily I quickly discovered that this new injection of melody is of little significance to Agathodaimon's music. Electronic melodies do make their way into most of the songs at some point but are often limited to a pulse lead performing sweeping arpeggios in the background. Having had the wrong first impression of the album I found these layered sounds to be disarmingly subtle but they reveal that the music is actually quite impressively arranged. Nonetheless, despite never attempting to climb into dizzying heights of pure technicality (that some bands resort to to cover up a lack of originality) there is also some satisfying solo work for example on "Ground Zero". I should say though that it's a miracle that I was able to hear all this with Massacre Records feeling the need to remind me that this promo belonged to them several times even within the same song, whilst leaving other songs mysteriously unspoilt (maybe they don't care if those ones are pirated).

"Winterchild" is an example of one of the more unique songs from the album. It attempts to intertwine the black-metal vocals with a melancholic, gothic metal piano sound and some of those Arcturus-style clean vocals (which aren't that successful in all of their many incarnations showcased here) but then the song breaks into an epic and theatrical middle-section before drifting into a mournful guitar part and so on (not to mention two more helpful contributions from the voice from Massacre Records). In fact almost all of the tracks have so many different sections that it becomes difficult for me to remember what the beginning of the song I am writing about sounded like... or even what genre it was trying to be. Whilst it causes problems for the reviewer, the fact that the songs are mostly brought back to a cohesive conclusion means that I'm sure the listener won't have any complaints about all this delicious variety.

I guess the only major problem with this release, and perhaps this band, is a lack of real standout moments - the ones that you remember and always skip to the middle of a track just to find - but the same can be said of so many bands that are considered great that I can't really justify giving the album a lower score because of it. Therefore I'm still left somewhat undsure why Agathodaimon haven't achieved more mainstream success with this and their previous release. I guess the prog-metal, black-metal fusion just isn't that cool these days.


Download: Heliopolis, Ground Zero, Winterchild, To Our Ashes
For The Fans Of: Arcturus, Shade Empire, Naglfar, Dimmu Borgir
Listen: MySpace

Release Date: 20.03.09
Massacre Records

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