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After releasing the A Night of Dark Ages and Black Moon demos, Agatus released their first full-length album, Dawn of Martyrdom. Released on Hypervorea Records in the autumn of 1994, this L.P. is a good offering of Hellenic black metal, with a decent amount of northern influences. Somehow forgotten among the more popular bands, like Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia, the debut record from Agatus is just as worthy of exploration.
Musically, this includes a lot of the same techniques utilized by their Hellenic peers, yet the band also shows a healthy does of inspiration from the northern regions of Europe. It is built upon a solid foundation of epic metal riffs, pounding double-bass and cold tremolo melodies, many of which would not be out of place on one of the classic Norwegian albums. In fact, there appears to be a strong Burzum influence, even during the more mid-paced sections. Despite such clear inspiration for many of the guitar riffs, the percussion and synth are both very Greek in execution, with the former being quite prevalent. Some of the keyboard parts are so strangely upbeat that they severely distract from the vibe being created by the guitar riffs. This mixture may be a bit off-putting to some, who either want one style or another, but Agatus actually pulls this off very well. The vocals are another positive addition to the overall sound, possessing hints of a shredded throat that gives a rather tormented and impassioned feeling. This is most evident on "Spirits from the Depths of the Earth", which is one of the highlights of the album. Also present are the two tracks from the Black Moon promo, "Black Moon's Blood" and "Force of Desecration", in the exact same form and are the most straightforward songs on here. To contrast this, the two instrumental tracks are drenched in an odd Mediterranean atmosphere that seems at odds with the spirit of black metal. The songwriting is pretty strong, throughout the album, though it is not without its inconsistencies. However, taking into account the running time of 50 minutes, this is to be expected.
The production is not too bad, though it could have used some improvements. The percussion is too high in the mix, and sounds somewhat fake. Also, the guitars would have benefited from a more raw and sharp tone, which would have done well to emphasize the cold tremolo melodies. Then again, the type of production featured on Dawn of Martyrdom is one of the main things responsible for the Hellenic feeling. Either way, whether using another approach or just lowering the drums in order to allow more of a focus on the guitars, this small improvement could have made a lot of difference. The vocals are just right and, from the style to the placement in the overall mix, nothing should be changed about this element.
In the end, Dawn of Martyrdom is another solid release from the Hellenic Black Metal scene and placed Agatus among the second-tier bands like Legion of Doom and Thou Art Lord. Despite whatever flaws it may possess, this record is of a higher calibre than the likes of Crossing the Fiery Path or His Majesty at the Swamp. The music is rather dynamic, never boring, and one can tell that the band put every bit of energy that they had into this. It may take a couple listens to shake off the average impression and to really get what the band is doing here, but it is well worth the time.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Oddly enough, I know a small number of individuals who prize this debut album, and its successor The Weaving Fates (from 2002) as two of the finest hours in all European black metal. Not only Greece, mind you, but the whole damned continent. While I am inclined to disagree with any such notion, I just find the sentiment striking: surely everything the band performs on Dawn of Martyrdom is pretty much par for the course from this genre in the mid-90s, with riffing streams that rarely evoke surprise, strong but standard drum work, the typical Greek flare for dramatic but uninspiring keyboard presentations and a powerful but ultimately futile frontman.
Now, Agatus might sound better put together, at least for its time, than the other bands the members were involved with (primarily Zemial), but this is about the best thing I can say for them. Okay, maybe not: it's gotta be the outrageous tags the members used, like Eskarth the Dark One, Archon Vorskaath, and Prince Korthnage. All far more involved and barbaric than the usual handles being adopted by their northern kin. Dawn of Martyrdom is pretty much the definition of 'stock black metal', with not a single riff in about 51 minutes that goes anywhere you wouldn't expect it to. Think of the band as a merger of the core principles in the Greek scene (slower, glorious movements and melodies, plenty of synthesizer, and simple leads) and the Viking-like grandeur of bands like post-'88 Bathory, Enslaved and Immortal, and you've got a pretty clear picture of what they were attempting to accomplish.
There are plenty of rigorous, stomping open chord sequences as in "Force of Desecration" that scrawl at a mid pace, and then faster, more driving segments in "Emerge...Through My Diabolic Possession" or "Demons of the Great Kingdom", not to mention the clean guitar, ambient segues like "When the Macabre Dance Begins"; so Agatus is nothing if not mildly diverse in approach, and that trait lends itself well to the overall solidarity of the debut. The vocals are cast in the standard, malicious mold reminiscent of Quorthon (circa Blood Fire Death), but they never take the album to quite the next level. I'd credit Dawn of Martyrdom for having what must have been among the best production in Greece at the time, and the album trumps its neighbors Thy Mighty Contract, Non Serviam and His Majesty at the Swamp in at least that regard, but the writing in general is bland and forgettable, and nowhere near as 'diabolic' as the band seems to wish an impression upon its audience.
You may not have heard this album a thousand times before 1994, but you've certainly heard it since, and the chronological positioning of the Agatus debut in no way makes it remarkable enough to live up to its hype. Compare the album to In the Nightside Eclipse, Frost, Pure Holocaust or even For All Tid and it comes up short. However, it is hardly torment to listen through, it was massive sounding for the time, and if you are interested in something decidedly Greek with huge hints of the Scandinavian scene involved, it was perhaps the one place you could actually turn to. You'll also want to beware the No Colours 'bootleg'; unfortunately the one I'm reviewing, which has incorrect song titles even if they were nice enough to tack on the band's 1993 demo. Also, if it ever came down to a choice between both Agatus full-lengths, go with The Weaving Fates: the atmosphere there is somewhat less grandiose, but the writing is better and the guitar tone adds a lot of punch to the melodies.
Agatus were one of the earlier Greek Black Metal bands and still belonged to the first wave of Hellenic BM. Formed in 1992, Agatus released their first demo "Night of the Dark Ages" in 1993, which already showed great potential and was a good showcase of what they were up to; Around a time where both Rotting Christ and Varathron released their highly-respected debuts, Agatus turned into a different direction.
Agatus' focus lies not in utilizing fast, often harmonized tremolopicked leads and riffs, instead they form their ideas around power chords, which are used in many different speeds and forms. They are supported by more typical, but well understandable Black Metal vocals, as well as by traditional Hellenic keyboards. Even synth flutes appear (think of Necromantia) here and there.
Agatus' riffs are amazingly well written. Even though they are not overly technical, they amaze with great chord progressions, intense memorability and a vast amount of catchiness. Two tracks here ("When the Macabre Dance Begins", “Nostalgia”) are completely acoustic and feature some of the best string work I've ever heard. Again, no amazing technical skills used here, but I've never felt so much like being back in the medieval times. Think of "Dark Medieval Times", but just a hundred times more effective (and yes, I even like that album!)
Another point must be given to the drumming. It's skilled, furious, heavy and varied. The best drumming I've heard on any oldschool Greek BM album yet, by far. Sure, the competition is not that great (since lots of the early bands used drum-computers) but trust me, this guy knows his kit very well. Thundering doublebass, high-speed blastbeats and folky beats, everything here.
"Dawn of Martyrdom" is a Greek Black Metal masterpiece and will send your mind right back to the middle ages. Great songwriting, great musicians and strong songs will guide you on your way.
Recommended to all fans of the more extreme side of metal.
Under the Spell of the Dragon
Demons of the Great Kingdom
When the Macabre Dance Begins
Spirits from the Depths of the Earth
Greek mythology can be enriching to read. Take Zeus with his control over Mount Olympus. Along with his brothers Poseidon and Hades, who also shared their own important roles. Together they were gods of the vast sea, the grim underworld and the glorious sky. Even they were spawned from something greater. Their father was Cronus and upon birth he actually ate almost all of them until later spit up. Likewise, these three would create such amazing creations themselves, which would unfold many more interesting stories. Most of us have heard these characters and their tales before. They are nothing new to our tongues and ears, but, then again, it brings back an old feeling repeating them. Let's take advantage and add a twist to where this country came from and what we've learned up till now. Nothing too far out of the ordinary, but a meld of old and new vibes. A kind of tale where the past comes alive with a modern feeling.
Unfolding this account, the band Agatus originally has blood ties to Greece and started turning historic pages in the early nineties. This is when other notable Hellenic metal acts were at the same time releasing monumental albums. Agatus and the band Zemial share members. Both groups play different tunes than some other infamous country mates. Some elements from Rotting Christ, Thou Art Lord and Necromantia come about, and also part of the sound they have comes from recording in Storm Studio. There are also areas where Agatus bring out nostalgic influence and give us their taste of Bathory's "The Return" and "Under the Sign of the Black Mark." Except they play tighter, faster and with less emphasis on palm mutes than Bathory.
Upon first listen, "Dawn of Martyrdom" is one of those surprisingly great finds that unfortunately didn't get mass printed copies. Underlined, it contains subtle hints of keyboards to add built-up climaxes. Then there are folk-like interludes, containing acoustic guitars as well as simulated flute, horns and tambourine to clench this particular type of ancient atmosphere. Overtop, they maintain a black metal side that can range from savage to melodic.
The main music has tendency to be carried by the guitars. They can be played simplistically, but at the same time dish out plenty of different modes of memorable, thought-through rhythms. These electric strings play a decent amount of faster tremolo sections, which can be mesmerizing when sustained, and then often when in this repetitious mode have another instrument take some of the reins in its place. On certain songs, there are two guitar tracks with some separate rhythms going at once. They seldom use palm mutes but carry out a fair share of single notes and faster strummed chords. What's great about the song writing is how they can blend together savageness with melody. More of his riffs are thicker and in the way of aggressive, but at times they can use higher accented strings and it doesn't sound out of place. The vocals are something of a raspy scream with an emphasis on coming from the throat instead of the gut. The projection has tendency to be a tad more pronounced than some other bands, with his words occasionally coming through with some audible translation. The keyboards, on the other hand, are a subtlety to the music. For instance, the song might work up to them with a certain effect to peak a particular moment in a song, such as choir or more unguessable effects with a stand-out higher or lower tone. The drumming maximizes the music with a certain amount of heaviness. Double bass is included quite frequently and with pounding force. Vorskaath peaks at a blast beat, but he also includes other various tempo changes to guide the music in different directions.
This album is surprisingly well written and has each instrument getting a chance to play their own part to the overall dark scheme. Whether it's the interlaced interludes, climatic and subtle keyboards, impacting vocals, memorable guitar lines, level drum sound, the band is able to put it all together with very little that gets in their way. There are just a few minor areas that could have used some more of the various change-ups the band consistently delivers, since some of these said portions might be a little basic with a primitive guitar line and the drums going for a repeated structure, then all but the vocalist rasping overtop.
"Dawn of Martyrdom" isn't going for the most technical or out-there experimental vibes. It has some dramatic license and an epic feel to it. Agatus on occasion back track to an earlier metal scene and give some praise to fore-fronting bands like Bathory. Though this has its own separated personality and the ability to put all of the elements together effectively. Unfortunately, "Dawn of Martyrdom" didn't get its own deserved praise due to limited distribution. Still, keep a look out for this one.