Agathodaimon

Serpent's Embrace

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The work of Germany's Agathodaimon is fraught with moody twists and turns, and their fourth album, Serpent's Embrace, certainly proves as much, moving from start to finish in a series of slow climbs and descents from sonic valleys to soaring crests, and back again. Opening with the curiously named "Cellos for the Insatiable," the album introduces a wide-open brand of black metal, so deeply layered with interweaving guitar riffs, keyboard lines, and differing vocal styles, that it often conjures thoughts of dark mini-symphonies. This penchant for packing each song with ultra-varied compositional entrails carries through into ensuing offerings like "Rebirth," "Light Reborn," and the quasi-industrial, almost trip-hop-like (take your pick) title track; all of them ebbing and flowing between those aforementioned peaks and troughs. On "Faded Years," the band's synths attain saccharine-sweet results, which, along with clean vocals by guitarist Sathony, may pose something of a challenge for more aggressive-minded black metal fans. Likewise, this extreme contingent may positively balk at the unorthodox treatment given the supple "Solitude" -- which combines a female lead vocal with Gothic piano melodies and an electronic drumbeat. Totally at odds with this, next number "Limbs of Stare" hurls itself into the abyss with full black/death metal strength, delivering one of the album's top performances in the process. Elsewhere, the melody infused "The Darkness Inside" duplicates the classic In Flames template to a "T"; the mid-paced, fretboard-and-harmonics-laced "Bitter End" is reminiscent of Greek black metal titans Rotting Christ, and syrupy-named closer "Feelings" pretty much flirts with just about all of the band's many tricks. In other words, Serpent's Embrace does not play by pre-established black metal rules; its diversity is bound to attract and repel in almost equal measures. But for that very reason, it's deserving of accolades, not only as a continually intriguing L.P, but as a genre-busting exercise, to boot.

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