Agathodaimon
Serpent's Embrace

Up until this point, Agathodaimon has been a group which has achieved much with their first three albums, yet been credited and recognized little. Agathodaimon has been in the realm of gothic black metal since inception, but has always carried a remarkable diversity in songwriting.

 This has apparently not been realized by many however, despite the frightening paucity of such diversity within both gothic and black metal styles. Never taking an easy road, Agathodaimon has been one of those groups forging their own rules whether it be a 16 minute track or gothic ballads followed by blast beats. Melodies have rarely been used cheaply, yet Agathodaimon has consistently delivered harmonies and melodic riffs with depth and passion for both the accessible and the ominous and lost. Never far away have been trademark black metal growls and enough varied pace and styles to keep most listeners guessing.

It is within that framework that I try to view Serpent’s Embrace. Outright I think it is rather straightforwardly the least interesting album of their career with even perhaps some questionable musical choices. Still, Agathodaimon throws enough variation throughout the course of an album that something brilliant is bound to appear when least expected. Serpent’s Embrace begins with “Cellos for the Insatiable,” probably the most mediocre track on the release. It’s not bad, but lacks novelty, mystery, or much attractiveness. The title track starts off as a major low point of the album with a basic drum beat, sappy keyboards, and a whiny bounce in the guitar, all uncharacteristic of Agathodaimon to this point. There are some brief subtleties that are attractive in the song, but you have to pick through a junkyard all too accessible and gimmicky to find them. “Rebirth” also starts off on a rocky road: slow, dull, and duller. Certainly Agathodaimon can’t be accused of accessible gimmicking here, but it is no less interesting. However, true to Agathodaimon form, while the rest of the song is putting babies to sleep, there is a significant section in the middle of the song where the pace picks up displaying good skill and great black metal vocals. “Light Reborn” again starts off shaky, with even a touch of nu metal and thrash, but it is followed later in the song with more interesting sounds. The chorus is highly melodic and accessible, but richly sung, and further along is a rare guitar solo brilliantly executed and some fierce death vocals. “Faded Years” is again up and down. It contains some dull, dry riffing and poorly used keyboards for much of the song, but at other junctures has some enjoyable lead guitar riffs. “Solitude” is yet another of Agathodaimon’s curveballs, a slow tune backed by keys and sung by female guest vocalist Ophelia. This may seem like nothing new for gothic-influenced bands, but what makes this one entirely unique is that the song is not gothy at all, but rather jazzy in atmosphere and singing style. Ophelia has a good voice, but it is even more impressive because she delivers a great singing performance. I would have liked to see Agathodaimon develop the tune a little more to make it a real highlight, but on uniqueness alone it stands out.

 Hopefully the metal world will be accepting of the tune, if not supportive. “Limbs of a Stare” picks up with more traditional black metal vocals as the highlight of a song which has rather unattractive riffs in my opinion. “The Darkness Inside” again leaves me ambivalent combining sections of dull riffs with sections of good melodies, vocals, and lead guitar. “Bitter End” is an effective song of straight ahead black metal vocals, riffing,and blast beats. The production and keyboards temper the music to give it an interesting, less harsh feeling making it one of the more likeable tracks overall. “Feelings” has a fairly weak clean vocal chorus and further clean vocals towards the end of the track are simply Agathodaimon’s worst vocal lines of any album. The nice acoustic guitar at the end can not save the track, and it is one I would have preferred not to hear.

Regardless of not being so high on this album, I credit Agathodaimon with continuing to push boundaries in some manner on Serpent’s Embrace. They have remained true to their uniqueness by subtly carving out a myriad of styles from song to song, trying new sounds and musical strategies. Even in relative failure, I applaud a group which tries new sounds rather than rehashing the same once successful formulas. Still, Serpent’s Embrace has incorporated many dull, ineffective riffs with a few too many gimmicks in stylistics and instrumentation for my liking.

Overall, the new album lacks the mystique and haunting beauty I found on the first three albums. With that said, I can still find areas of interest on Serpent’s Embrace and I continue to support Agathodaimon’s diversity of styles and sounds. In the end, I’m hopeful this album will be but a relatively weaker link in an overall body of interesting and creative music.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Tim Dodd
June 10th, 2004

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