Review Summary: Agents Carl-Michael Eide and Co. are shaping the desert by going through the motions.
The previous two albums from Virus were (more than) competent avant-garde rock/metal interpretations of what Ved Buens Ende had achieved back in 1995. These interpretations proved that VBE’s avant-garde extreme metal was, most peculiarly, super- and under- developed at the same time. Carheart and The Black Flux were weaved patiently in silence and this delay that was sublimely slipstreamed in between the indiscrete stages of their development, was perhaps the second most important factor for their critically acclaimed artistic success, apart from the high quality of the raw material used for their making.
However, with the band’s 3rd album The Agent that Shapes the Desert, this unwritten pact of silence was somehow broken. Long before its release and due to problems of financial nature, the band members, confident as they were about the high quality of the new material, put forth an open invitation to their fan base to support and accelerate the birth of the album. In addition, different release formats were issued, corresponding to the amount of the donation per fan. In principle the band’s decision was a good call, however, it unconsciously built an unjustifiably big hype about the new album, should it that two facts be left aside: a) the fan base was aware of the band’s highly acclaimed past and foresaw, in all righteousness, for a similar (if not better) future and b) that the previous two albums were made in utter secrecy. In any case, The Agent that Shapes the Desert does not seem to live up to the hype preceding its release.
During the first few listens, the first thing that becomes immediately apparent is the absence of pronounced dynamics within the context of each song and in the album overall. That holds mostly due to the “lazy” philosophy under which the songs were conceived. In The Black Flux the music was soaked in highs and lows, that made it to oscillate most intriguingly from the black metal to the rock end of the avant-garde pedestal and vice versa. The clue of Carheart was this freshly conceived conviction of how rock could be played, baring a substantial dosage of eeriness straight from the extreme spectrum of metal. With the element of surprise inherently long gone, the new album initially seems indifferent in attractively presenting its merits, as ideas and patents used superbly in the previous two albums are shamelessly rehashed here. This notion of unwelcome familiarity becomes even firmer, as the new album leans closer to Carheart, whose margin for further development was small with respect to The Black Flux, whereas the appropriately fitting sound production doesn’t really add up as well to the overall outcome. Although the aforementioned may not be considered as negative selling points, the way the whole thing goes in here is not so overwhelming, leaving the listener’s general whereabouts to make the final decision whether this is “average”, “good” or “great”.
In more detail, Carl-Michael’s riffing is solely based on rock n’ roll and the blues following the ways of Piggy from Voivod (R.I.P.), but it is filtered through his unique looking glass. However, it is typical and merely enjoyable with strict respect to his previous work, as he remains quite original as a guitarist compared to the rest of the competition. On the other hand, his vocals are quite possibly the only thing that shows a slight diversity, as here it is evident that he has worked more on his vibrato capabilities. His duo with Garm (of the critically acclaimed avant-garde act Ulver) on “Call of the tuskers” is enjoyable, although Garm’s floating vocals give the impression that they struggled hard to fit into the music, when compared to the stentorian crooning that Eide applies by default. The rhythm section, while it is profoundly solid and enjoyable, follows the guitars, in terms of the band's unique typicality.
In so many words, in The Agent that Shapes the Desert, agents Carl-Michael Eide and Co. seem to have lost their compass while reshaping the infinite and highly unexplored desert of avant-garde rock/metal. As a consequence, they are moving in circles that are not far from being characterized as vicious. While the album is good, it signifies a halt to the band’s furious progression observed in the previous two albums. Well, they say that sometimes in order to go forward, one must take a step back. It remains to be seen whether Virus will file under that proverb…
I'm amazed by the fact that some people want to see Virus re-invent the wheel again and again. Yes, on The Agent.... Virus uses their trademark guitarplaying, their trademark bassplaying, their unique hypnotizing grooves and their masculine, clear and authoritarian vocals. Like they've done on The Black Flux and their debut. First of all, how many bands can grace themselves with such unique qualities?? I mean, the guys have their very own chords! They're as unique in todays metal-scene as Voivod was back in the eighties. Voivod (the reviewer) says that Virus is moving in circles(!?). Well, my mother would'nt be able to hear the difference between Nothingface and Angel Rat either. Shame on you, mister Voivod. While The Black Flux was Dark-blue and Oceanic, The Agent That shapes the Desert is Deep-red, dry and desert-like. You've totally missed out on the atmosphere and over-all sensorial feeling of this MASTERPIECE of an album! No good, Voivod. You need to re-write this review. You're being unfair. This is a 4/4.5 - album. Get a grip!
First of all, check my rating. It's a 3.5/5, which means "great", which means i like the record a lot.
The review rating is a "3", which means "good", which means that someone who hasn't listened to the previous Virus records will find it enjoyable at least.
Now for someone like me, that has shred the previous two albums in literally COUNTLESS listening sessions, this is a disappointment, because the band does not move one step further from the past.
The 3/5 rating takes into account all that.
I'm not saying that the wheel must be reinvented, but they could be a little more inspired. Still, I'm reminding you that I like the record a lot, hence the personal rating of 3.5.
In my review, I report that the quality of the record is not a black-or-white matter, as it oscillates (personal opinion) between 2.5 (average)-3.5 (great). Check out the span of the ratings for the record and judge for yourself whether the album's quality is ambiguous or whether I'm inside the aforementioned margin or not.
Black Flux was a major step forward with respect to Carheart and Carheart was/is so fresh even now. The Agent that Shapes the Desert feels (to me - personal opinion again) like a less inspired effort to recapture the patents of Carheart.
And about the rehashing of old ideas, check out "Chromium Sun", for example, and tell me whether its main rhythm (not the riffs, the rhythm held by the drums and the cymbals) is directly copied from the eponymous song from The Black Flux.
Or the abstract piano note on the same song "Chromium Sun", first found in the song "Inward Bound" from The Black Flux.
And let's not discuss about songs that are crafted rather sloppily, such as "Where The Flame Resides" which ends most unexpectedly/abruptly or "Parched Rapids" which repeats the same uninspired riff again and again and ends abruptly as well.
Well, my mother would'nt be able to hear the difference between Nothingface and Angel Rat either.
If your mother is not into metal, I would say that you are correct. If you believe it too, then you have got to be kidding me.
PS: You can always write another review and state your arguments as to why this record is a masterpiece. I would be happy to read it, honest.
Huge VBE/Virus fan here. But I agree with the reviewer, there's not much here that stands out. First track is absolutely superb, the rest is pretty formulaic! Uniquely Virus, true, but still formulaic according to their patented Virus formula. Even the "respite" in the middle of the album is the same as "The Black Flux"--a two-minute floating track #5 on a nine-track CD.