Agrimonia - _Rites of Separation_
(Southern Lord, 2013)
by: Dan Lake (8.5 out of 10)
The key to truly compelling instrumental music is to give brave voice to the instruments at hand and let them color the bright spots at the front of the mix. Where left-field darlings like Pelican and Dysrhythmia often lose friction is by building complex or droning structures that shred happily along without ever flaring outward to tell an essentially human story. (Indignant gearheads, gather your progged-out pitchforks and tech-enhanced torches; just know that my rusty hacksaw and I lie in greedy, grinning wait.)

Agrimonia's _Rites of Separation_ is not instrumental music, but it totally could be. Sulfur-gargler Christina's solid contributions notwithstanding, nothing on _Rites_ really demands vocal accompaniment, because the instruments are put to work so effectively to cover every bit of available emotional terrain. The lead guitar tone that catapults _Rites_ toward Best-of-Year status recalls the ringing leads that Rotting Christ frequently employ in their similarly fist-to-sky appeals. The brazen, triumphal lead into opener "Talion" announces its intent to tear your head off, and the remainder of the song makes good on that promise. "Hunted" saunters into its quarter-hour time slot with a distant, lonely piano melody, soon overtaken by Björn's insistent drums and the burly guitar that fills the rest of the track. Toward the end of the song, Christina rallies for the album's most memorable vocal performance: a series of staccato barks that out-crust anything else on the record.

"While Life Lies" bathes in shimmering synths before rending that glassy curtain with a growling bass line. Graceful guitar sighs speak their peace at the beginning, growing bolder and wilder by the middle of the song. Later, a clever, acoustic-picked melody makes a valuable appearance before giving way to a much harder finish. As the only song under ten minutes, "The Battle Fought" is certainly the most unflinchingly aggressive of the bunch, but no less worthy, especially as a lead-up to the album's finale. The electro-industrial spine of "Awaiting" would have made a fine companion piece for the recent _Cosmosophy_ by Blut Aus Nord, though the crypt-shattering blasts coursing through its veins sound more like Vindsval's frosty past. The reprise of patient acoustic beauty leads the album out on a surprisingly classy note.

If I suggested _Rites_ was for fans of Neurosis, you'd probably get the wrong idea. Agrimonia's Swedes sound very little like that beloved American tribe. But anyone with the inborn patience for soul-shaking epics who found Neurosis to be revelatory will be just the right audience for _Rites of Separation_.


(article published 28/7/2013)

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