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Black Moon (1994)

For many, the Hellenic black metal scene consists only of Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia. This was true for me, for quite some years. I never bothered to look deeper into things as I couldn't imagine there being many more bands coming from this area. Upon asking a friend of mine if there were any other decent bands to check out (assuming there might be one, if I was lucky), I soon discovered that there was a whole world of music waiting to be explored. Among the first that I was introduced to was Agatus, via the Black Moon promo. This was, actually, their second release. The first thing I noticed was the photo of the Chindia Tower, in Romania, on the cover. This has some significance, as I've actually visited this place. I was already interested, based on that. The next thing was the fact that the running time was under six minutes. Usually, this would be seen as a shortcoming, but it served as an inviting factor in getting me to give these guys a chance. Even laziness couldn't prevent me from checking this out, as I had no excuse not to invest six minutes in this.

"Black Moon's Blood" begins with a brief, yet majestic, intro. The Greeks were always much better at this type of thing than many others. Immediately, the song shifts to full speed. The sound is remarkably clear, while possessing enough character to suit the music. The guitar riffs are the standard tremolo-picked style, accompanied by powerful and blasting drums. The vocals are quite frenzied, though sparse. As a matter of fact, the only lyrics seem to be the title of the song being repeated a handful of times. It all ends with a brief 'choir' section, similar to something Dissection or Hypocrisy might have used around this time. For a song that clocks in under three minutes, it certainly makes and impact and leaves its mark.

The second song is "Force of Desecration". It picks up where the previous one left off, going at full speed. It appears to have more lyrics, as well. After about a minute, the pace slows down, briefly. Then, the feeling becomes a little more... 'epic' wouldn't be the right word, I suppose, but it definitely has more feeling during this section, as it builds a sense of tension. The lead solo serves as the climax of the song, continuing toward the conclusion. Again, for such a short song, it's very memorable and sticks in your head for some time.

While this release offered nothing terribly original, it does provide another dose of quality black metal, far superior to the legions of over-produced, substance-lacking bands that would follow. Black Moon is a very succinct release, giving just a small taste of what was to come on their debut full-length, Dawn of Martyrdom, which exceeded the lofty expectations created by this promo.
(17 Dec. 2009)


After releasing the A Night of Dark Ages and Black Moon demos, Agatus released their first full-length album, Dawn of Martyrdom. Released on Hypervorea Records in the autumn of 1994, this L.P. is a good offering of Hellenic black metal, with a decent amount of northern influences. Somehow forgotten among the more popular bands, like Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia, the debut record from Agatus is just as worthy of exploration.

Musically, this includes a lot of the same techniques utilized by their Hellenic peers, yet the band also shows a healthy does of inspiration from the northern regions of Europe. It is built upon a solid foundation of epic metal riffs, pounding double-bass and cold tremolo melodies, many of which would not be out of place on one of the classic Norwegian albums. In fact, there appears to be a strong Burzum influence, even during the more mid-paced sections. Despite such clear inspiration for many of the guitar riffs, the percussion and synth are both very Greek in execution, with the former being quite prevalent. Some of the keyboard parts are so strangely upbeat that they severely distract from the vibe being created by the guitar riffs. This mixture may be a bit off-putting to some, who either want one style or another, but Agatus actually pulls this off very well. The vocals are another positive addition to the overall sound, possessing hints of a shredded throat that gives a rather tormented and impassioned feeling. This is most evident on "Spirits from the Depths of the Earth", which is one of the highlights of the album. Also present are the two tracks from the Black Moon promo, "Black Moon's Blood" and "Force of Desecration", in the exact same form and are the most straightforward songs on here. To contrast this, the two instrumental tracks are drenched in an odd Mediterranean atmosphere that seems at odds with the spirit of black metal. The songwriting is pretty strong, throughout the album, though it is not without its inconsistencies. However, taking into account the running time of 50 minutes, this is to be expected.

The production is not too bad, though it could have used some improvements. The percussion is too high in the mix, and sounds somewhat fake. Also, the guitars would have benefited from a more raw and sharp tone, which would have done well to emphasize the cold tremolo melodies. Then again, the type of production featured on Dawn of Martyrdom is one of the main things responsible for the Hellenic feeling. Either way, whether using another approach or just lowering the drums in order to allow more of a focus on the guitars, this small improvement could have made a lot of difference. The vocals are just right and, from the style to the placement in the overall mix, nothing should be changed about this element.

In the end, Dawn of Martyrdom is another solid release from the Hellenic black metal scene and placed Agatus among the second-tier bands like Legion of Doom and Thou Art Lord. Despite whatever flaws it may possess, this record is of a higher calibre than the likes of Crossing the Fiery Path or His Majesty at the Swamp. The music is rather dynamic, never boring, and one can tell that the band put every bit of energy that they had into this. It may take a couple listens to shake off the average impression and to really get what the band is doing here, but it is well worth the time.
(10 Jan. 2012)

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