Label: UKEM Records
The debut album from Welsh band Agrona is an interesting one. Though it doesn’t really stick within the constraints of what a black metal album should sound like, nor does it really push at the boundaries of the style. There’s something about Realm of the Fallen that is simultaneously trve and kvlt, whilst also feeling like it has been created without any consideration of genre. Sitting somewhere between Dimmu Borgir and Anaal Nathrakh, it is a very distinctive album that moves will bulldozering force, the energy of which ensures that it combination of styles works even as the album itself is constantly shifting form.
For the first half of Realm of the Fallen, the album sticks closer to what you might expect from a black metal record influenced by the likes of Dimmu Borgir and Dark Funeral. There’s a grandiose sense that consistently present even without considering the symphonic introductory track, with symphonic flourishes at key parts; guitars that veer between a crunching brutality and overt melody; and drums that hammer like the march of some infernal war machine. These elements are at their most effective on ‘Burn’, a song that demonstrates Agrona at their most vicious.
As the album moves on though, the sense that something else is at play comes more and more to the fore. The darkness on songs later in the album – most notably on ‘Immaterium’ – owes less to second wave Scandinavian bands and more and more to Anaal Nathrakh, the music no longer summoning images of snow-capped mountains and fog-shrouded forests, but of the bleak industrial hell of Birmingham. There’s still something of second wave black metal to the album, and it never reaches the same kinds of levels of intensity as Anaal Nathrakh do (but then, who does?); but the comparison feels undeniable.
What makes Realm of the Fallen feel really remarkable, though, is that these influences combine in ways that feel very distinctive, but also don’t feel like they’re trying to push at the boundaries of the genre. It feels like Agrona have simply taken influence from the bands they like and combined them, whether consciously or not (which, really, is as it should be). The album is definitely at its best on the later half, when the band move further away from the Dimmu Borgior/Dark Funeral template and into something more unique and distinctive; but at no point does the album feel tired or uninspired. It’s a blast of unholy energy, the sort of album that does not take any prisoners, and though you sense the band have yet to firmly establish their identity, this is a very promising debut, and Agrona are ones to watch within the UK black metal underground.