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When done properly, death metal can be the some of the most compelling,
technical rock to be found anywhere. It's more often done wrong than not; but
that's not the case with Oppressor's Agony.
In fact, the best word to describe this album is "technical": the guitar parts
are wickedly complex and demonically fast, and it takes a great deal of study
sometimes to get your ears firmly around the direction they are taking; for
example, the song "Passage" contains not only a crafty opening that shakes you
and makes you say "what was that?!", but there's a very unusual little melody
near the end of the song, a melody that is literally stunning. Add to this mix
some of the best drumming in the business, and you have an unbelievably tight
package that requires headphones for full appreciation.
Guitarists Adam Zadel and Jim Stopper reveal their gift for finding unique,
never-before-heard riffs and melody lines in the higher-pitched half of the
fretboard, as on "Sea of Tears", in which lower-toned verse lines are
counterpointed with wicked, dancing high notes the likes of which we haven't
seen since Nuno Bettencourt changed the definition of "guitar solo". This is
crazy complicated stuff, and compelling as hell to listen to.
As with all death metal albums, the vocals are the main sticking point with many
people, and the one thing that will prevent Oppressor from getting widespread
acceptance (although I'm pretty sure that's not something they're after). Even
within the metal community, death and black vocal styles are often seen as
something less than the best, something that a band employs when they cannot
find a "real singer."
While there can be no denying that the addition of a Ray Alder-style vocalist
would make Agony one of the best metal albums ever, it also must be said
that Tim King's vocals seem to fit the need here. There's a plodding, doomy
feeling, even in the fastest moments, that seems to require a bottom-end vocal
style. And even if you find that you are one of those people who cannot enjoy
the growling school, the music is compelling enough to push past all that.
Agony is one of the best death metal discs in recent memory, and it
certainly should be required listening for all aspiring metal guitarists.
Added: January 1st 2004
Reviewer: SoT Archives
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