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Agathodaimon's suitably named fifth album, 2009's Phoenix, acknowledges the band's by now far from certain rebirth after five years of silence, numerous personnel changes (four of these six musicians are in fact new to the fold), and, perhaps, continuing reinvention from a stylistic standpoint. After all, when they last crawled out of their cobwebbed catacombs hoisting 2004's Serpent's Embrace LP, Agathodaimon were in the midst of a sonic metamorphosis that saw portions of their harsher black metal qualities supplanted by more sedate goth and dark metal overtones, causing some understandably mixed reactions from their acolytes. And in a move that's sure to prove just as divisive, Agathodaimon's ongoing creative shape-shifting sees Phoenix generally confining the symphonic orchestration that was once so integral to the group's sonic aesthetic to a supporting or background role (the rare exception, "Oncoming Storm," is hidden toward the end), and restricting black metal to the raspy screeches of longtime frontman Sathonys -- himself now taking a back seat to new goth-flavored vocalist Ashtrael. As a result, unfamiliar but certainly more accessible new offerings like "Heliopolis" and "Ground Zero" boast harmonies reminiscent of Gothenburg death metal bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, while the likes of "Devil's Deal" and "Winterchild" howl to the same goth metal gods as Moonspell or Tiamat once did. Usually, these token examples of the band's new direction comport themselves with significantly less pomp and circumstance than may satisfy the doleful, blood-craving undead among the band's retinue, as well as the extreme metal-loving contingent, who may actually spontaneously combust over the cleanly sung chorus dominating "To Our Ashes.'" But, whether they'll admit it or not, even these two aggrieved parties would still be hard-pressed to find songs more intricate in composition and densely layered with clever, unexpected ideas, like the excellent change-of-pace guitar riff wheeled out halfway through "Ghost of a Soul" and the resurgent black metal violence woven into the novel experiments during "Throughout the Fields of Unshaded Grace," for example. Therefore, before condemning Agathodaimon outright for insisting on evolving, old fans would do well to give their latest baroque metal vision some time to reveal its darker secrets; they may actually quite like them, in the end. [This edition includes two bonus tracks.]

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