Death metal bands are as commonplace in Finland as singer-songwriters are in Ireland. Like their Gaelic counterparts, you can often predict approximately what the next album will sound like. Shadecrown buck that trend and evade any accusations of predictability by mixing doom, thrash, and classic rock into their deathly cocktail. The band formed in 2012 around songwriter Saku Tammelin, and Agonia is the follow up to 2013’s Chained EP. The album harks back to old school ‘90s metal and the emergence of the death metal sub-genre as a force of its own.
‘Eremophobia’ begins with an elongated instrumental section. Acoustic guitars set the melancholic tone over Saku Tammelin’s keyboards before the opening riff. Shadecrown are the musical equivalent of a horror movie, as heavy metal is truly meant to be. When Jari Hokka’s vocals appear, it is a surprise to hear a death growl. Like Morbid Angel's David Vincent, he injects melody into his guttural utterances and, with occasional clean vocals from bassist Janne Salmelin, Shadecrown manage to make death metal that is expressive and emotional.
The variations within Agonia are not limited to the vocals. The tone, tempo, and the nature of the guitar riffs change often and unpredictably. The songs evolve naturally and, despite the disparate nature of each section, each new movement flows inexorably from the last. ‘Led Astray’ sounds like it was cribbed from Paradise Lost's copybook. The guitars could easily be those of Gregor Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy, while the composition of the tune flows so beautifully that it brings to mind Metallica's Master Of Puppets.
‘Walk Through Hell’ opens with a Megadeth style riff that Dave Mustaine would be proud of. The chunky, staccato verse riff and uptempo chorus sound like Judas Priest jamming with Prong. Throughout Agonia there are nods to Priest, Death Angel, Testament and a myriad of metal predecessors. Shadecrown exhibit a unique melodic composition of the type that Metallica have been missing since the death of classically-trained bassist Cliff Burton.
'Longing For Sleep' is the album’s token ballad. The music is suitably dreary and miserably effecting but in the context Jari Hokka’s death growl sounds ridiculous. The tone of the song is completely unsuited to this vocal approach. It's a shame because otherwise 'Longing For Sleep' would have been an album highlight. That minor stumble is quickly compensated for when 'The Ruins Of Me’ kicks off in classic thrash style. 'Silent Hours' acoustic intro gives way to some kick ass drumming from Kalle Varonen and Thin Lizzy-esque lead guitar. Agonia is front-loaded with good tunes and the second half of the album loses momentum but this is a quality debut and Shadecrown will only get better from here.
Agonia is available from Amazon.