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Although I no way consider myself a die-hard fan of Cynic, I do know a thing or two about bands who lead the way with a quintessential bass section. For many years now I have been a fan of the iconic post-punk band Joy Division, an outfit who pioneered a sound with an integral bass. Although there are very few similarities between this band, Aghora, and Joy Division, the two use the bass in a way most bands would deploy the guitars. By this I mean that Aghora, similarly to Joy Division, use the bass to forefront much of the material present on the record, which is self-titled. Despite this being the case the majority of the time, the bass doesn’t always stick to the surface of the atmospheres. There are occasions when it allows itself to take a laid-back approach and afford the other areas of instrumentation a chance to showcase their own abilities and the imperative fact that they are just as important to the band as the jazzy bass lines which so often become the talking point amongst critics and fans. I realise my tendency to neglect technicalities and to focus on the exact opposite of what most people find attractive in bands like this. I for one am a huge fan of simplicity and will continue to rave about the finer points of a record like this, as opposed to stating how wonderful the bass is.
In some cases, I even tend to overlook technicalities altogether and embark on exploring the elements which truly are the make-up of an atmosphere, such as the vocals, provided by the soothing influence of Danishta and the hidden exotic feel to record which infrequently rears its beautiful head during songs such as ‘Transfiguration’. At times like this, although they’re sparse, the bass becomes a moot point due to the excruciating beauty of the eastern sound to parts of songs like the aforementioned which give the record an extra-added feel of expansive play and dynamism, not something one would imagine it required with a bass section such as the one that is employed here. This feeling doesn’t begin and end here as songs like ‘Kali Yuga’ exhibit tribal sounding drums (which are created by the tabla) and the same twanging of the electric sitar, an instrument which is meant to replicate the sound of a traditional Indian instrument. When I initially discovered this band, I have no prior expectations as I had not read much about their style, so it certainly was a surprise to hear jazz fusion and a sound akin to bands like Spiral Architect, who I must admit I find a bit too pretentious for my liking.
With that being the case, I suppose I should dislike Aghora, too, for placing such importance of being technical and bass driven. However, the presence of Danishta halts me from being too disappointed with the approach and actually makes this self-titled record more accessible than it would be without her. I understand that the band have moved on from this style, possibly adopting a heavier sound with a different female vocalist in the limelight. From what I have seen on these issues, the band aren’t looked upon as favourably as they are in this era and I imagine a lot of that is to do with the presence of Danishta herself, since her sultry voice offers a easier passage into the material. Personally, I find the bass a bit of a hindrance at times. I expect the bass, when audible, not only to double-up with the guitars, but if it is going to be adventurous and innovative, I would like it to splice a record up with emotive qualities and, in my opinion, the bass exudes more technical attributes than it does emotive one’s and this disappoints me. I suppose, in fairness to Aghora, the other areas of instrumentation, as well as the vocals, offers me this when the bass is busy being flashy or experimental to the point that it soon becomes rather tedious.
I have an appreciation for musicians who’re good at what they do as much as the next person, but when a band consists of more than one solitary member, the unit needs to perform together, not on an individual basis whereby they’re trying to outdo one another with overly technical structures. Occasionally, on songs such as ‘Mind’s Reality’, the solos , which are always soaring, are bared down upon by the iron fist of the bass. It doesn’t so much appear that two technical experts are playing side-by-side with one another, but that they’re playing against each other in a deadly battle to the end with the winner being the most innovative. Warm and bright solos on songs like 'Frames' where the influence of the bass dies down and the ante is upped by semi-acoustics, piano and a more subdued performance on vocals. Don't be fooled however, the bass is never too far away from the center of the instrumentation and swiftly kicks in once again on 'Mind's Reality'.
Whilst jazz fusion may be at the forefront of our minds when we listen to this record, I actually much prefer the less technical side to Aghora, one which showcases some subtle gothic influences, particularly in the vocals of Danishta. Danishta does a delightful job at the helm and draws out the bulk of those subtle gothic feelings with her darkly emotive voice, which contains a sultry vibe to it. Akin to female vocalists of bands like Brave, a fellow American progressive metal band with a hint of gothic treasure to them, Danishta isn't the most powerful vocalist I've come across, but she does have strength in her ability to subtly crush the avid listener with an airy performance which suits the stylistic approach from the piano and cleaner guitar passages which sparsely appear throughout the duration of this piece. She even, at times, resembles the former female vocalist of British doom metal band The River.
Although I do like her as a singer, this is probably more to do with the fact that she isn’t as intrusive, or in-your-face as the other elements, like the bass and multiple guitar solos and less to do with the fact that she is actually and genuinely a very talented vocalist. She performs with a calm that isn't exemplified in the crunchy bass, or more vigorous guitar riffs which occasionally spring to life during songs like 'Existence'. This song is a perfect example of how she performs quietly amidst the jazzy bass sections, eclectic piano passages and expansive solos which easily consume the heart and soul of the listener. This self-titled record is definitely a grower. It takes time to fully appreciate the almost overwhelming sense of experimentation, with a backbone on some songs resembling numerous bands, from Cynic, to Spiral Architect and even Tool during spirally songs like ‘Jivatma’. Thankfully, with time, this record does become more and more superior with each listen, but I cannot help find bands with this overly experimental side, with the jazz fusion and whatnot, somewhat obnoxious sounding despite the calmer influence of the traditional world music and vocals of Danishta.
You can always rely on the excesses of progressive metal bands to add some much-needed complexity to an otherwise humdrum evening, and Florida’s Aghora are among the more interesting. Formed from the ashes of Cynic, one of the few legendary jazz fusion death metal bands of the early nineties who only ever released one album, Aghora is overall a less eccentric and violent affair, absorbing the lighter instrumental touch of Gordian Knot alumni and the contemplative Hinduism of its lyrical subject matter.
Unlike the majority of so-called progressive bands, who essentially aim to reproduce the style that their peers were playing approximately two years earlier (or in the case of Shadow Gallery, two decades), the musicians collected here all belong to the higher calibre of avant-garde musical experimentation that concerns itself with producing a decent, memorable and new sound, as opposed to just trying to sound like Dream Theater, or contenting themselves with a wall of sound to show how fast they can perform. The predominant writer-director of this piece is Santiago Dobles, who commendably limits his excellent guitars to the times when they’re really needed, unleashing a distinctly Cynic-sounding crunching riff in the instrumental sections and experimenting with several types of guitar solo, from the laid-back style of blues to a more traditional heavy metal sound and even, on occasion, the look-at-that-boy-go approach. Of equal merit is bassist Sean Malone (of both Cynic and Gordian Knot), who handles most of the lead rhythms that would traditionally be played by a guitar drowning the bass player out; this certainly isn’t the case here, and the primary lasting effect of this album is that it’s going to be hard to go back to the majority of effectively bass-less bands hereafter. Malone isn’t restricted to filling in the riffs or jamming along to his own piano however, as he also gets some nice, understated solos, in particular a nice interlude between Dobles’ contributions in ‘Frames.’
A slightly controversial casting decision is Dobles’ sister Danishta Rivero as the lead vocalist, though she’s completely competent and pleasant sounding, only really becoming questionable in some of the more energetic sections when her delivery sounds a little too jarring. Perhaps most notable, and certainly most popular of all is the drumming of Sean Reinert (of Cynic, Gordian Knot and Death’s classic album ‘Human,’ among other credits), who manages to be incredibly prominent and compelling without ever intruding on the rest of the instruments, or showing off for the sake of it, and he receives his due reward of a little time in the solo spotlight at the end of ‘Existence.’ To their immense credit, these musicians keep the entire album grounded in memorable and catchy rhythms, even when jumping between time signatures or unleashing a blast of frenetic guitars to disturb the peace, and this higher degree of accessibility makes it a less trying and less pompous affair than would probably be expected. At the same time, this could serve to disappoint fans of the aforementioned bands as well as other such as Spiral Architect or death-fusion pioneers Atheist, but there’s enough virtuosity between the more reflective and traditional passages to satiate the majority. And come on, we’re dealing with jazz fusion influenced progressive metal here; it’s not exactly going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
1. Immortal Bliss
5. Mind’s Reality
6. Kali Yuga
Despite its experimental leanings, most songs follow the similar (broad) format of a melodic introduction, usually carried out by bass and piano before the drums kick in, a generally peaceful, lofty tone in the verses, and a slightly more energetic, guitar-led chorus before the band goes off on one with some solos in the second half. There’s never a sense of conceding to tradition though, with Rivero’s vocals usually coming in a lot earlier than is typical, usually right from the onset, and Dobles’ very loose and spontaneous attitude towards his guitar, which sometimes blasts out a brief riff between verses and other times decides to stay for the long haul.
There are attempts at an Eastern tinge right from the first song, usually in the form of a slightly clichéd-sounding lead melody (also heard in ‘Mind’s Reality’), but this influence becomes more dominant as the album continues (again, loosely speaking), from the contemplative mood of the otherwise fairly dull ‘Transfiguration’ and lengthy instrumental ‘Jivatma’ to the final song, which largely abandons its metal roots and assigns the performers the task of creating an authentic Eastern sound, something they pull of expertly, as expected. These three songs in particular work well to break up what would otherwise be a fairly repetitive album, but would perhaps lack the strength to stand effectively alone as well: despite the praise levelled towards ‘Jivatma’ as a piece of instrumental grandeur, I was actually a little disappointed that it remained so restrained, though avoiding plunging into more obtuse realms that bring the progressive genre so much criticism was probably a wise move, and certainly one that helps the rest of the album.
‘Immortal Bliss’ is a nice introduction, beginning as a fairly standard metal song before subtly tripping the listener up with increasing time signature shifts, but compared to the songs that follow in much the same manner, it’s probably most memorable for Rivero’s vocal performance, which reaches some reeeeeally high notes in a questionable attempt to match the skill of the surrounding musicians. Her style doesn’t suit the next song or ‘Mind’s Reality’ quite so well, as she’s pitted against her brother’s thrashing guitar in both, but it all works beautifully in the bass- and piano-driven verses. The songs are all trimmed to pretty much the perfect length, with some such as the more reflective and complex ‘Frames’ being given a longer cooling-off period and the majority ceasing abruptly before they lapse into repetition. The only song that really suffers for this is ‘Mind’s Reality,’ which is a little too short and lacking in content to be of much value compared to the others, and along with the more ambient songs mentioned earlier, is probably the least essential offering on here.
Oddly, it’s the even-numbered tracks that I found the most rewarding (the same works for Star Trek films), as ‘Satya,’ ‘Frames,’ ‘Kali Yuga’ and ‘Existence’ all nail the sound and style to perfection. The latter two in particular manage to be more diverse than their predecessors, combining heavy and melodic sections with greater skill and frequency, and opportunities for the performers to play whatever the hell they want, regardless of how easy it will be approach. They needn’t worry, as ‘Aghora’ is a wholly successful prog metal offering from some of the genre’s most recognised performers, living up to the true definition of ‘progressive metal’ while also making music to be enjoyed by a wider audience than just pipe smokers who nod along occasionally, scratching their bearded, middle-aged faces.
Several acts have risen from the broken remains of technical jazz-metal legends Cynic, and not the least among them is this shining gem of a band. Aghora takes the deft rhythmic foundation of their progenitors and combines it seamlessly with a presentation that's not so much metal as it is a melting pot of Middle Eastern-influenced exoticism drenched in a metal aesthetic. I suppose it would be accurate enough to say that there's about as much metal on this disc as there was on Cynic's Focus.
Without a doubt, guitarist and primary songwriter Santiago Dobles employs an arsenal of absolutely crushing riffs, as well as searing solos that evoke images of John McLaughlin at his finest... but these things rarely dominate the music. Indeed, inbetween occasional assaults of metallic fury Santiago displays very subtle guitar work that includes classic Indian melodies which stand as a consistent theme throughout the course of the album, exotic solo pieces and soothing chord progressions as heard throughout "Frames", atmospheric flailing as he dances with bassist Sean Malone on the instrumental "Jivatma", and even extensive use of the sitar as heard primarily on the closer "Anugraha". Santiago displays a wide range of influences that stretch well past McLaughlin, and he effectively manages to not sound quite like any of them - the result is extremely inspired, energetic, creative, and full of fervor no matter what he happens to be playing.
The rhythm section... what is there to say, really? Sean Reinert on drums and Sean Malone on bass, the infallible dream team of metallic fusion. Malone once again delivers a performance that puts into question the role of the bass as a purely rhythmic instrument - he acts as an enormous melodic force throughout this disc while still maintaining a solid rhythmic pulse and filling out the bottom end admirably. His elegant soloing on "Frames", spastic jamming on "Jivatma", and absolutely show-stopping breaks on "Satya" and "Kali Yuga" all go to show that the man has definitely not lost his touch. In the rear, Reinert holds down the rhythmic foundation with his brand of free-flowing, limber fusion drumming with little left to be desired. His cymbal work is staggering, his rhythmic shifts are unpredictable and intelligent, and his synergy with Malone is nigh unmatched. However, the contributions of Malone and Reinert are far greater, as the way in which they develop the rhythmic backbone of the songs offers a deep sense of mysticism - as if there's something more going on in the music than just the music. I get this feeling with much of the work that Malone and Reinert do together, though... they definitely have something special between them.
The vocals have received some criticism, and while I'm not particularly crazy about singer Danishta Rivero, I also don't have any major complaints about her style. Her voice has an Indian vibe, and is pretty and quite soothing to listen to. She can come off a bit repetitive throughout the first half of the album, but she also has absolutely stellar performances on "Kali Yuga" and "Existence", where she reaches for the stars and mostly succeeds.
There really is no reason to pass up on this album if you're a fan of progressive metal that actually attempts to innovate and progress instead of simply rehashing the same old sound. Additionally, if you're a fan of either Sean Malone or Sean Reinert, or both, then this is an absolute no brainer - they are at the top of their game and listening to them play is an absolute pleasure.
This CD by Miami unsigned band Aghora starts out with a heavy progressive-metal number, “Immortal Bliss”. It demonstrates the band’s Dream Theater-like ability to shift time signatures on the fly and do it seamlessly. This band is immensely talented, and they also show the ability to write some unbelievably good songs.
One thing that is immediately known is the talent of the players. The bassist shows off some amazing acrobatics that are not common in the heavy metal scene. Each and every song demonstrates the bassist’s ability to put on a wonderful show of talent. The female vocalist is incredible, and fits surprisingly well for this sort of progressive rock. The guitarists are quite amazing as well. For proof of this, look at the fact that one of their guitarists, Santiago Dobles, is touring with the reunited Cynic.
Getting away from the talent of the musicians for a while, the music bears an interesting resemblance to both Symphony X and Dream Theater. This band shows off some of the time signature switches that bands like Dream Theater and Into Eternity have, as well as some of the grit and songwriting ability that Symphony X have. There is also a certain jazzy uniqueness to this band. All in all, this makes for a very impressive combination and some unbelievable songs.
Each and every one of the songs on this album are very headbanger-friendly and really unbelievably catchy, especially for the progressive metal genre, where catchiness can be easily lost among the virtuosity.
To sum it all up, this album is so good that it annoys me. The band is unbelievably good, and yet the band only has a distribution deal in Europe with Season of Mist. Further, this band hasn’t really put anything out since this, their only album. They need to put out more, and they need to be signed. This band is WAY too good to be lost in the fray of bands that don’t make it.
Being the latest of an almost infinite number of projects including the Seans Malone and Reinert (from, among other things, Cynic and Gordian Knot), you might think Aghora would be some form of totally warped hybrid between Death and fusion with a sampler gone haywire, especially considering the logo… But - this is a completely different animal! Reinerts characteristic jazz-fusion-metal-drumming is there, as well as Malones funky, fusion-groovy, fluent bass playing.
But see, that's where the projects go there separate ways without ever looking back; Female vocalist Danishta Rivero's (who is. by the way, the sister of below mentioned Santiago) voice brings The Gathering's Anneke van Giersbergen to mind and the dedicated, guitarplaying composer Santiago Dobles imaginative arrangements and mood changes skip between Meshuggah-brutal, technically chumping rhythm-based portions and moving melodic parts with clean guitar directly to floating, airy bass lines, to suddenly give room for a blinding break on piano and bass, and in the wink of an eye back to the heavy, hard crunch - and finish with a languishing arrangement of synth strings, guitar and bass…
Also in the band is the swedish born guitarist Charlie Ekendahl from the death metal band Mendacity. Sean Malone is unfortunately only on this debut album as a session player , I'm really looking forward to yet another Aghora masterpiece with this Thick Stringed Fusion Paganini as a permanent part of the line-up… He and Steve DiGiorgio are my two biggest heroes in this category of bass players. Malone is melted and along with the four others the perfectly refined alloy, of which the chemical name is [Aghora]. This is the best thing released so far this year and I'll be damned if it's not the best thing this side of 1990…
It's the perfect blend of epic, beautiful, brutal, technical, progressive och groovy. To all you music lovers, and all the rest of you, out there; ”Buy it! Right there, without hesitation! You won't be disappointed!”
After the break-up of the legendary floridian band Cynic, there members went on to different projects. This band is one of those post-cynic projects. You simply fusion female vocals, the godly drumming of Sean Reinhart...which is enough to make anyone buy this; Combine it with the superb and extremely groovy bass of Sean Malone, and you have yourself an out of this world progressive/jazz experience. Gone are the influences of the metal realm, but i dont think they will fit to this kind of musical approach anyway. The best description i can give you of this is Cynic pushed into the extreme of jazz, and as far away from headbanging material as possible. And this leads us to the other point, this is not for anyone. Chances are that if you liked Cynic this will own you. If you are a bit more of a traditional metalhead, maybe you should avoid this. Otherwise if you like jazz, or progressive rock this album is a voyage through spiritual realms of comfort and joy, and the angelical voice of Danishta Rivero will hypnotize you. Only for the open minded.
This is really good. I don't really know what to call it, but I guess this is jazzy/progressive metal. They kind of sound like Dream Theater, but still are way different. They have are heavier and have more focus on the bass. The vocalist is also a woman. When I first heard this, the first thing I noticed was the awesome bass playing. I am a sucker for bass and their bass player has talent. Now the vocals are done by Danishta Rivero. She has a great voice, but when she goes for the high notes, it sounds like shit. That is really the only bad thing about this album. It's rare when you hear something this original. The riffs are pretty good with some sweet solos. The best part of this album for me is the bass. My favorite songs on here are "Immortal Bliss", "Transfiguration", and the jazzy "Jivatma".
If you like progressive metal, try this out. If your like me and love bass, get this now. Stay away if you hate woman vocalist.