To say that Agriculture’s debut EP The Circle Chant took the underground metal world by storm would be at once an over- and an understatement. Overstated because, despite coverage in major magazines, the buzz seemed largely still remaindered to those underground spaces which exactly experimentalist and avant-garde work of varying stripes. Understated because, well, the fervor in those spaces was wildly intense, such that their near-immediate signing to a label and announcement of fast-tracking writing and recording material for a full-length was met with as much jubilation as it was a smug “well, duh” attitude. Their previous song cycle, which clocked in under 15 minutes, felt, pardon the pun, ripe with life, such that the idea that they could sit down and give at least a solid 30 or 40 minutes more felt remarkably obvious to just about everyone that spent time with them.
Their debut doesn’t change up the formula they deployed on their demo. Here we see an approach to black metal that is, to be frank, not quite black metal, the same half-in approach we witness in bands like Krallice, Liturgy and especially Deafheaven, who feel remarkably present especially in the frank emotional candor of these pieces. It’s always intriguing to me when bands that clearly exist in hybrid space, here playing with elements of noise rock a la Sonic Youth and Glenn Branca, experimental rock, emo, post-rock and even elements of country music, get integrated into a space like black metal when other bands that explore similar or even far more proximal elements find themselves excluded. This isn’t an attack on the gatekeepers of black metal orthodoxy, to be clear: genres are not just their external elements but also an inner spiritualist component, the directional vector and heaving heart of things, and that this group has been welcomed with open arms by black metal legions I think acts as a good indicator of the sincerity of that spirit that occupies them.
The record is, true to black metal form, made up primarily of three songs: “The Glory of the Ocean,” “Look” and “Relier”, with a short clean-sung interlude called “The Well” placed early on. People familiar with the modus operandi of Liturgy’s fusion of noise rock with black metal and Deafheaven’s fusion of screamo with black metal will find a great deal of this record already ordered; tracks roll on and on, with riffs pouring out like rivers, but held fast by an emotional and timbral logic even when sometimes the brief interludes or breaks in the riffs strike as jarring. These songs feel most of all played and not composed, shrugging off the intellectualism and overly-fussed over sense of arrangements that sometimes can creep into these types of records for something a great deal more continuous and organic. The purpose of improvisational music, after all, isn’t to show off chops but instead to say something true and from the heart, to dispose of the artifice of preplanned sentiment to deliver something grounded in a specific real moment. Agriculture is able to achieve this sensibility without the attendant risk of feeling amateurish or unconsidered; there is a clear cohesion and high fidelity of execution even as these pieces reach emotional climaxes, which is extremely commendable.
The feeling of the record comes less from the band name and more from its opening track, feeling often like being plunged into a river washing over you, with emotional emphasis on that sense of washing. It feels often like being plunged into cold water, the sheeting guitars like rapids, the swooning country-inflected guitar melodies like sunlight. This sensation, the washing clean, feels like the heart of what they mean when they call themselves “ecstatic black metal,” the binding force which motivates and differentiates this. It feels, despite the blast beats and tremolo picking and throat-ruining shrieks, to be music of healing and restitution. While it’s currently unclear how many more records they could produce within this same style without new inflections added, this extension to the sound of their demo is warmly welcomed and places itself comfortably among the more emotionally affecting metal records of the year.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.