New Year, new me? Well, maybe not but, 2014 was such a great year for music that 2015 will surely have to go some to beat it. I have perhaps been a bit lazy in the early days of January but now it is time to get the metaphorical pen of wizardry out and crack on with some reviews.
Towards the end of 2014 I felt myself turning away from the heavier metal and progressive metal releases and concentrating on the more traditional progressive rock bands. Maybe this was because there were so many fantastic progressive releases towards the end of the year, who knows? As a consequence, I have decided to start the year with one or two reviews that will take me back into the world of long hair, leather pants, mosh pits and huge riffs (not literally, I don’t want to scare the kids!).
Happy coincidence saw a request come to the whole writing crew at Lady Obscure, from Boss Lady Nem Nol, to listen to a track from Greek progressive metal band Agnosia and , as luck would have it, I was the first to get my ears on it, so to speak. Suffice to say I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and snaffled up the full E.P. ‘A Blot on the Landscape’ to review pronto!
Formed in 2003 in Piraeus, Greece by songwriters and guitarists Dionysus (Dion) Sourelis and Manos Xanthakis, Agnosia were hailed by those on the local music scene as a ‘new rising hope’ for the prog-metal scene and released their first, self-financed demo ‘The Inner Conflict’ in 2004. After few line-up changes Julio Koutsogeorgiou (bass) and Pantelis Kyramargios (keyboards) joined the band and helped take their sound up another notch on the first full length release 2009’s ‘Trace Decay’ , a concept album with a central story about the tangled web of an actor’s life.
2014’s ‘A Blot on the Landscape’, whilst still being conceptual, has a more existential theme of finding meaning and hope in the darkest corners of our lives. Celebrating ten years since the band’s first release, it introduces the new vocalist Takis Nikolakakis and Konstantinos Galimis (drums, songwriting) and features five new tracks as well as a re-working of the track Pain and Sickness from ‘The Inner Conflict’.
This is my first listen to the band but I know vocalist Takis from his involvement with fellow Greek progressive metallers Psycrence whose album I also reviewed for Lady Obscure.
A really nice piano introduction leads into the first track In Awareness to which Konstantinos adds some classy drums. This tasty little instrumental increases in intensity towards the end with some smooth keyboards and comes to a close with a spoken word overlay in their native language. The quality is tangible and, as the album moves onto Noetic Healing, the first track released from the EP, your ears will prick up and your attention will definitely be grabbed. A quality riff kicks the track off and Takis’ vocals have the requisite metal edge to them, serious in intention. There is a slight feel of ‘by the numbers’ progressive metal to the track, a touch of early Dream Theater or Fates Warning but the aptitude of the musicians gives it its own identity in general. An urgent middle section with frantic keys and a lower vocal is a nice touch and when it breaks out into the coruscating solo, I actually smiled with a nod to the polished delivery. My first foray into prog-metal for a while has started impressively.
The crunching riff and persuasive keyboards that signal the introduction to The Dyadic Encounter only enhanced the feeling that these guys are a tight act. The track hauls on the reins and takes on a more empathetic edge, full of earnest meaning and Takis shows why he is considered a pre-eminent vocalist in Greek metal with a vocal delivery that drips ennui and significance. The two guitars back this up with an impressive wall of sound that sometimes drifts off into classic eighties heavy rock territory, I like it, almost like Whitesnake’s ‘In the Still of the Night’ but with a more progressive touch to it. The instrumental break in the middle is as heavy as they come and hits you right where it hurts, like a ten ton heavy thing! It never loses its stature though and I am becoming increasingly bowled over by the technical ability of these musicians, especially as they never let the music lose its soul. Another powerful, metronomic riff kicks in A Blessing in Disguise as the metal outweighs the progressive once more. Takis gives his vocal chords a serious workout on this track, hitting the highs and lows perfectly. The mesmerising riff is always at the back of your mind but there are some clever, intricate sections to add a note of civility to proceedings, again harking back to the early days of Dream Theater, I don’t say that to damn them with faint praise, it is a sound that I prefer. The guitar run that starts around two thirds into the track is a case in point, adept and accomplished yet melodic and worked into the track perfectly.
Numb seems, initially, a fairly standard ballad style track with a huge ending. Gentle piano and a violin like keyboard introduce Takis whose vocal just drips empathy and pain. The track then steadily rises to a peak as the guitars join in with a laid back, softly, softly approach. The chorus is one that sticks in your mind and I found myself humming it for days after. Again, it does have a feel of by the numbers but, when it is done this well, it is entirely forgivable. Heartfelt vocals and a general aura of pathos leave you cocooned as this musical extravaganza plays with your heartstrings, and the ending? well, suffice to say if you like eighties soulful metal solos, you’re in for a huge treat. This one will just blow you away, monstrous and all encompassing yet full of fervor, elation and ecstasy, it fades out to leave you momentarily…….well………numb!
The final track on the EP is the re-working of Pain and Sickness which originally featured on 2004’s ‘The Inner Conflict’ and it does have a feeling of a more pared back, less polished product than the rest of the album. Staccato guitars and harsher vocals give a background of menace to the song and it is definitely harder, heavier and meaner than the rest of the tracks, like a bare knuckle fighter compared to a world champion boxer. The whole song does feel like it belongs from a different age yet seems to tie in with the rest of the album on certain levels. The bare bones solo is less polished but no less impressive for it and, as a closer to the EP, this track works really well.
So, first review I’ve written in 2015 and first metal or prog-metal one I’ve done for quite a while, what did I think? Well, first things first, it’s too darn short!! I really enjoyed this EP, the musicians are an impressive bunch and very talented but that a good album does not definitely make, as Yoda would say. Agnosia takes all that undoubted skill and moulds it into a superb evocation of progressive-metal, no new boundaries are broken but, why should they be? I like ‘A Blot on the Landscape’ exactly as it is and so will you!