Agrypnie have never been a band to do things by halves. Each of their previous albums have been weighty affairs, both musically and emotionally. Theirs is a black metal wedded to a progressive musical mindset, taking the genre beyond a simple formula of tremolo-picked leads and blasting drums. Past results have been inconsistent, with some albums being soul-searing, cathartic listens, whilst others were dragged down by their own weight. Last album, 2018’s Grenzgænger fell into the former category. It might have been overly long, clocking in at just over 70 minutes, but when it hit, it hit hard. The hope then is that Metamorphosis maintains this standard, and delivers another album of explosive introspection.
It begins in inconsistent form. The introductory track, ‘Wir Ertunkenen – Prolog’ is almost three minutes of symphonic build-up that feels like something from a turn of the millennium Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir album – overblown and that touch too long. Thankfully things pick up with the first proper track, ‘Wir Ertunkenen’, which is a real shot in the arm. Weighty, progressive black metal riffs and raw, emotional vocals combine delightfully, and there’s a great use of dynamics and musical flow that really brings the song to life and gives it a cathartic character. The early introduction of an At The Gates style melo-death riff is a surprise, and makes the song stand out not just from Agrypnie’s own body of work but also from their contemporaries such as Schammasch (it’s also worth noting that Agrypnie drummer Flo is a live member of Schammasch; and C.S.R of Schammasch provides guest vocals, as do members of The Cold Room, Thormesis, and Negator).
This opening one-two sets the stage for an album that could build upon what Agrypnie have done before whilst offering some new twists. This kind of progressive black metal tends toward heft and weight, where even at its fastest it still feels like it is being dragged down. This can produce a powerful emotional effect, with the juxtaposition of speed and weight creating an aura of anxiety that needs to be battled through – but once it is, the emotional rewards are vast. However, the promise of that early break into unexpected structures isn’t really explored again throughout Metamorphosis, with the album instead taking a route more typical of the sub-genre and their past work. The result is another lengthy album that threatens to be undermined by the sheer weight of what’s on offer, and a production that does no instrument any favours, often burying the guitars beneath the drums. There’s some interesting things going on in the background of these songs – they just can’t be heard most of the time.
Taken individually, it is hard to say that any song or element on Metamorphosis is bad. The riffs are strong; the drumming is powerful; the keyboards add a subtle atmosphere; and the vocals are never less than emotional and commanding. Yet for all of that, when taken as a whole it feels like there is something missing. Aside from ‘Wir Ertunkenen’, no song stays long in the memory or has a stand-out moment. This can be OK if the overall emotional or atmospheric impact is there, but here as well, something is lacking from Metamorphosis. To contrast them again with Schammasch – who also release ridiculously long, dense albums of progressive black metal – or even with previous Agrypnie albums like Grenzgænger and 16, the impression left once Metamorphosis is done is quite different. Whereas those albums left the listener feeling slightly exhausted in an almost spiritual way, as if the music had offered a chance for facing down your fears and emerging stronger for doing so, Metamorphosis simply ends up feeling like a slog.
It’s frustrating to have to write this, as Metamorphosis feels so close to being another stand-out album, but the end result isn’t there. It feels like if the production were more sympathetic to the songs, or if the album were shorter, then Metamorphosis would be another strong entry into Agrypnie’s discography. Yet as it is, it’s not there, and the lasting impression is one of mild disappointment.
Metamorphosis is out via Art of Propaganda on 30th July and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain