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Old bands returning is a trend in México. Dies Irae returned recently and now Agony Lords does it. Coincidentally, both bands are from Guanajuato, a state with an old heavy metal tradition. This return has been possible because fans have demanded their presence and because bands have too much to offer in terms of music production.
Agony Lords return seems an achievement in itself, showing that the band has evolved in its music as well as in its artistic creativity. Musically, "A Tomb for the Haunted" includes slower rhythms when compared with its second album, "The Sun of the Cursed". Now the topics vary in their emotional proposals and don't appeal only courage, but to create feelings of fear, isolation, and coldness through melodies and evocative sound effects. The beginning of the album, "Enter the Mausoleum", is an example that suggests a sepulchral atmosphere which is accompanied by notes and guitar chords that gradually introduce us into the general album concept, which is, in my point of view, phantasmagoric. After this very suggestive bass introduction, drums and voice harmonize this song when both take a slow pace and then they change to a faster one. The lead guitar's sound is well made and continues to make melodies while the vocalist, Lord Brave, sings filled with rage. From my point of view, after having heard this beginning, you can see that this is not a poor album because it has a rich diversity of harmonic proposals.
Special mention is second track entitled "Raising the Occult" because it has a faster pace. The guitarist plays an initial riff that stays in memory easily, but does not stop there as it continues with riffs of varying quality that enrich the song. I think “Raising the Occult” has two climatic moments: when Jorge Inukai (lead guitarist, if I'm right) plays twice the melodic solos, which have high quality and speed of execution. Something similar happens with "Spirit in the Tower”, a song with a great opening and also has abundance of accompanying riffs that will not stop despite the change of pace. I'm convinced that this song is one of the best on the album and perhaps for this reason the band chose it to film their first music video.
Songs such as "Dead Eyes", "Writer of the Dead", and what names the album, "A Tomb for the Haunted", seem less emotional and almost monotonous. This may be because the music tries to stick more to the story told by the lyrics than power of the music itself. Instead, this is not the case of songs “Emily” and “The Phantom Book”, which I consider my favorites. Both contain the best creative riffs typical of heavy metal. If I had to choose the best song, I would stay with “The Phantom Book” because it starts with a great riff. Besides, it has a period of slowing for arpeggios and electric guitar solos. This song is a laconic masterpiece.
After reading the lyrics, I understood there is a common thread, a scary story like King Diamond offered us in his famous "Abigail". In fact, I believe King Diamond was a source of inspiration for Agony Lords in its new art project. While it's difficult to make comparisons between these bands, what's interesting is to see how Agony Lords tries to follow a conceptual tradition that King Diamond performed with great success.
"A Haunted Tomb" maybe is controversial for fans that waited for the band with the same old musical and lyrical concepts. Agony Lords has definitely changed for the better without sacrificing its own style. In a word, I can conclude it is a good example of "renewal". Agony Lords is the same band, but different.
Finally, I hope Agony Lords is in force for a long time because it has sufficient ground and musical talent to continue contributing ideas and proposals. For the time being, the public has the last word about this new project, which has me sufficiently pleased.
Though the Agony Lords were first formed nearly 20 years ago, and put out a pair of albums in the 90s, this is actually only my first exposure to the Mexicans' rather unique brand of melodic death metal. A Tomb for the Haunted is coming after a few years of reformation beyond the hiatus they took last decade, but it's such a seasoned effort that it must sound as if no time has lapsed. Contrary to the extreme end sounds I'm used to from this country, like crushing cavern death mavens Denial, veterans Cenotaph, or the wildly chaotic black/death of Hacavitz, this is more of a traditional heavy metal fueled sound using harsher vocals; and what I enjoyed most about the disc is the sort of parallel evolution it represents from other bands who pursued a similar path in the 90s...
Don't expect the spastic positivity of Scandinavian dual-melodies circa the Swedish heroes, these guys play a bevy of rock solid riffs rooted in straight old doom/heavy metal, but with more of an uplifting sense of melody carved into the chords and rock & roll leads that erupt throughout. I could make comparisons like a 'happier' Paradise Lost, or a Central American alternative to the Amok-era of Sentenced (the vox redolent of Taneli Jarva's performance there) but these wouldn't fully do the album justice, because it really is its own thing. Thick, thundering guitar progressions amply balance a kinetic momentum with granite tone, over which the emotional leads wail off into the atmosphere. Bright chords are used in pieces like "Emily" to create an almost 80s DeGarmo/Queensryche feel only slathered in the hoarser inflection of the vocalist, and haunting feedback and riffs are often imposed by the guitars to carry the darker subject material. The drums and bass have a very livid, rock feel about them, and this accessible foundation helps create a clarity for the listener that you don't often experience with more brutal bands. There's also a pretty wide variety of riffs, each song written to provide a distinct experience from the rest without losing aesthetic cohesion.
I'd say the album isn't quite so oblique or spectral as the cover might imply, but there's no rule that horror based bands need implement the most crushing or dissonant of sounds. Some will also have a hard time dubbing this 'death metal' as they do with a band like Deceased or mid-period Sentenced. But semantic quibbles aside, they stand out instantly due to just how refreshing they feel against the backdrop of trends that grow tiring with over-saturation. Agony Lords focus very heavily on the songwriting, and they're pretty strong at it. Not that A Tomb of the Haunted is stuffed to the gates with the most memorable compositions out there, but I found myself revisiting pieces like "Raising the Occult", "The Tree of the Hanged" and the titular finale and repeatedly enjoying them. Call it what you must in terms of its genre classification, but this is a good comeback for a band that probably should escape the obscurity they've so far existed in, and if you seek a melodic/death record with a clear difference from the heaps of At the Gates/Dark Tranquillity clones that usually clog this creative drainpipe, you've just found it.