Aghora – Formless

05/05/2007 § Leave a comment

Season of Mist have some decent bands on their roster and USA’s Aghora is hardly an exception. Not the kind of ensemble that has been publicised or touted to the femme metal crowd, fans of this lot are more likely to come from the prog/thrash hordes of the early 90s. Femme metal followers generally seem to be of the younger variety who would have to – heaven forbid – look at 90s back catalogues to have any real idea of the artists who shaped the progressive scene as it is today so Aghora may not be known to many fans on this side. However, Aghora is not the band that it was in the 90s, losing not only their singer, Danishta Rivero, but also Sean Malone on bass, which was arguably a bigger detriment.

Six years later and the band have put out their long-awaited second album, and long-awaited it was indeed since the debut created such a furore that it was painful for some to have to toe the line and sit it out until Formless hit the shelves. Danistha’s trebly whiney vocals have been replaced with the softer more ethereal tones of Diana Serra, and the bass, now far less of a feature than it was, is taken on by Alan Goldstein. In a sense Aghora is less the beast it used to be and a few changes have had to be made musically as a result of the alterations in the line-up. However, Formless has not suffered a terrible blow as result of this, even though many of the debut purists have whinged about how inferior this sophomore release is.

The gulf between albums was inevitably going to bring a few changes to the band’s sound. Formless is still very much a successful work of progressive metal though now the focus is more on guitar riffs than anything else, in fact the whole thing has turned into the Santiago Dobles Shredding Show. Rhythmically there is a heavy concentration on chuggy and trebly riffs and there aren’t so many tempo changes but more cut-and-pasted rhythm sections. Atmas Heave and Mahayana are the best examples of this, being laden with heavy guitar, and imaginative percussion, all mingled with the band’s token middle-eastern vibe. Dual Alchemy is another of the album’s best with a calm, clean-guitared chorus over Diana’s smooth lyrics and it’s at more thought provoking numbers such as this that the album really excels. It is sometimes a thrilling and absorbing experience, the rhythm is so crisp and certain in places that it’s hard not to get drawn in by it and when so many bands profess to be progressive in femme metal, it’s good to see one that actually is.

Formless does seem to suffer from the affliction which is also its namesake though, being sometimes made from too many trebly, high end trashy riffs and disorganised ideas that it’s hard to discern one song from the next. The title track is quite an unimpressive 12 minutes as well, even managing to shove in the same chorus and verse tune from Dual Alchemy at points which is less than impressive and one wonders whether the band would pass this off as mirrored creativity or lack of ideas. The other thing that bugs me about this album is the sound production. Even though it’s perfectly clear and not thick and sludgy like some of the albums released by bands on poorer labels, the levels in Formless really need some help. Singer Diana sounds too low in the mix for me and there are a couple of times when I’m really struggling to make out what she’s saying, doubtless not helped by her poor diction. The drums also sound terribly shallow, not deep and intense as I’d like them but thin and hollow, some of the fills sounding as though they’re struck on kitchen utensils rather than a full kit.

Whether you have a soft spot for Formless very much depends on what you choose to compare it to. At a time when I find myself caring increasingly less about some of the more ‘Gothic’ bands in the scene, it’s nice to be able to find one that can actually carry something distinctive. In spite of this I can’t help but feel that Formless had potential to be more on so many levels – more heavy, more intense, more creative, and yes, more progressive. It’s also sad that Diana’s vocals aren’t given more of a chance to shine, she’s certainly competent and in tune but it’s unfortunate that her talents have been forced to give way to the sometimes relentless battering of Doble’s rhythm guitar. After such a long gap between releases you’d be forgiven for thinking that this album wasn’t rushed but it still feels like not enough concentration went into the finer details. As a work in femme metal it’s definitely worth getting and admiring above a lot of other albums, but as a work of progressive metal it could have been far grander.

7.5/10

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