Review Summary: After a 7 year period between albums, Aghora come back with a worthy second album. With a new lineup and a new batch of songs, they are truly a treat to hear.
Good metal music is hard to come by in the States, generally. The more popular metal scene consists of bands that couldn’t write an original tune to save their lives, and each one sounding more and more like a worse version of their predecessors. It’s a crying shame that this is what people associate “metal” with: highly unoriginal blather.
There is hope, though. It comes in the form of a state called Florida. As many know, in the early 90s, Florida was THE place to be if you were in a death metal band. Florida gave start to many of the significant bands in the heavy metal music scene, including Death, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Kamelot, and a very unique band called Cynic. Cynic is regarded by everyone who knows anything about metal music as one of the best bands in what is known as the “jazz metal” music scene, along with Atheist (ironically, Atheist hails from Florida as well). They made fusion music unlike any that anyone had heard before.
Now, the members of Cynic weren’t just content to play in Cynic. Bassist Sean Malone and drummer Sean Reinert got together with guitarist Santiago Dobles to form the band Aghora. Aghora’s first album, a self titled affair, was released in 1999 to much fanfare. Or, not. Aghora seemed to slip under the radar, because judging from the reactions I get from many of my musically inclined friends, nobody has any idea who the hell these guys (and girl) are.
Fast forward to 2006. With a completely revamped lineup (save Dobles and Reinert for part of the album), Aghora have released their latest masterpiece to the world, entitled Formless. All I can say is this:
It was WELL worth the wait.
Aghora share the same love of odd time signatures and unique fusion style music as Cynic did, but to call them the same would sell the band short. Dobles (who serves as the chief songwriter) writes music that can only be termed “progressive.” Not progressive like shallow instrument showoff based compositions. Progressive as in never staying put in one place, and always changing, much to the listener’s delight.
Dobles’s music is heavily rooted in many different styles. From Middle Eastern sounding guitarwork to Spanish flamenco stylings to absolutely crushing riffs, Dobles has truly crafted a masterpiece here. What’s most amazing, though, is the fact that the album rarely gets boring. At times, the downtuned block of instruments flows together, making certain songs hard to distinguish between, but there is enough variety in songwriting throughout to keep the listener entertained. Coming from an AMERICAN metal band, no less, this is a near impossible feat, but Aghora manage to pull it off. Kudos.
Now, of course there is the fair share of showing off, but it is done tastefully. The single of the album, Atmas Heave
, displays Santiago’s extremely impressive guitar ability. Sweeping galore, epic solos, and crushing technical riffs all come together to create an aural onslaught that rarely lets up. Instrumental track Dime
also brings out the best of Santiago’s guitar prowess.
Don’t get the impression that the album is nothing but technicality though. It is SO much more than that. The atmosphere created by Santiago’s arrangements is terrific. I find that the music has a very uplifting quality to it. It puts the listener to peace, even with a guitar tone heavier than sin. Formless
displays the two sides of the band perfectly. The longest track on the album, clocking in at around 12:30, it alternates between spacey and heavy multiple times throughout, never making the track feel like it drags on at all.
Without Malone on bass, you can actually HEAR the guitars. That was a problem I had with Aghora’s first album. I mean, Malone is a terrific bassist, but on that release the bass overpowers EVERYTHING in the mix, which is never good to have. New bassist Alan Goldstein is mixed significantly lower, but you can still hear his basslines. Personally, I'd rather Malone. After listening through this album again, Goldstein is kinda...boring. He does have some VERRRY sweet fretless basswork, and a few bass fills here and there, but he follows the guitar most of the time. I would have liked to see him branch out a bit more.
Another gripe I had with Aghora’s former album was singer Danishta Rivero. She had a very good range, and interesting vocal arrangements, but something about her was off. I didn’t like the tone of her voice much at all, although that comes down to more personal preference than anything. Diana Serra, Rivero’s replacement, makes the band exponentially better. Serra has an almost Marcela Bovio (Elfonia, Stream Of Passion) - esque quality to her voice. Considering I think Bovio is one of the greatest singers ever, that only enhances the band even more. Serra is blessed with a beautiful, yet still powerful, voice.
I think the main factor of why this band is so good, though, is the togetherness factor that they all display. All the musicians play off each other perfectly. They read each other, knowing when to tone it down and when to crank it up. Especially with music of this caliber, it’s extremely hard to pull that togetherness off, yet Aghora does it with apparent ease. That extra factor puts them head and shoulders above all of their competition.
2006 was a strange year for the music scene. Many of the year’s best albums came at the start and at the end of the year. The two best albums of the year, in my opinion, were released at the extremes of the year. Devin Townsend’s Synchestra was released in January, and remains one of the best things I have listened to since. The other album was released in December.
What is the other album, you may ask?
It’s quite simple.
That album is Formless.
Open Close The Book
After listening through this album a few more times, more problems popped up. It's still a quite excellent album, but it's not as good as it would let you believe.