Centennial By Agonyst
Death and Extreme Metal musicians account for a large proportion of the most accomplished, technically skilled musicians in the world. Although the music is typically dense, fast and heavily distorted, it is also precise and carefully arranged. The accusations (made in ignorance) that it is a musically meritless cacophany would be more accurately levelled at some of the indulgent excesses of hardcore punk, garage rock or a myriad of luridly asinine types of dance music. The real problem with death metal (and there is a problem with a lot of these bands, I think) is contrary to conventional wisdom: It is often too formalist; too restrained; too conservative.
Agonyst are an unusual proposition because you get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they satisfy the aficionado's desire for complex arrangements and challenging time signatures. They also showcase lead parts and drum patterns which - by themselves - are bound to earn them respect and admiration among the proportionately high number of Death Metal fans who are musicians in their own right.
On the other hand - and this is where they differ from all but a very few - there's genuine fun to be had. The songwriting is not merely rigorous but impishly inventive. The lyrics aren't po-faced but filled with sardonic wit. Death Metal production is often too polished and even but theirs is dynamic, live-sounding and raw. Even the artwork is playfully unusual.
The qualitative difference is clearest in the live context. In person, the average aspiring death metal act is all too often petulant and nerdy, unable to communicate with the crowd and unwilling to extrapolate the recorded versions of their output. The live set of an inferior act is predictable and workmanlike to the point of being pandering; an approach that - paradoxically - leaves you feeling short-changed.
Then there's Agonyst: I've seen them arrive on stage to the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm, perform covered from head to toe in shaving foam, engage in nonconsensual frottaging with a male promoter, inject silences with perculiar jingles, defame 'Frederick Mercury from Queen', hum in unison, have their hair cut mid-song (no really), proclaim themselves "the gayest death metal band in the universe", screw the odd bit up with enough charisma to see them through, and enjoy themselves.
If you want to hear a good (and original) Death Metal album, buy Agonyst's Centennial. If you want to see a good rock and roll band, then go and watch them play. I should declare at this point that I have known these guys for a long time, making me a less than disinterested party. However, our friendships have always been fostered by a mutual interest in good music and in playing it. If they had ever, in the ten years or more that I've known them, created anything vaguely half-baked, I would have disowned them by now. The awkwardness would have been too much to bear.
You can hear example tracks from the album for yourself on their facebook fan page. Centennial is on iTunes and the CD version - as well as Callum Weaver's hilarious T-shirt design - is also available for purchase.