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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