Ukrainian quartet, Aghiazma, achieved minor fame in their homeland after reaching the semi-finals of the 2017 Eurovision heats as a visual-kei gothic rock act. Their career kickstarted a year later when Elvira Gasratova joined the band as lead vocalist in time for their 2018 debut, Plus Ultra. Since then, they’ve embraced a heavier industrial and metallic direction while keeping their melodies and structures rooted in alternative rock. Now, they present their sophomore album, except it’s more of an EP than a full-length record. The current situation in Kyiv doesn’t help matters, which means we should be thankful for any new material available.
You can tell Aghiazma are veteran battle-of-the-bands performers in their homeland. They put a big emphasis on hooks and choruses and keep most of their songs below the four-minute mark. Opener, ‘Try Harder’, retains a shade of gothic-rock from their early days but subsists on heavy guitar distortion and thumping drums. Gasratova’s voice is not as immediate as her coquettish image suggests. You expect a sultry contralto, but she prefers to utilise a nasal technique that takes at least two verses to leave an impact. Her vocals are much better when she distorts her voice and screams as if her life depends on it in the breakdown section of this track. It’s always hard to enhance the metallic features of a vocal-led song with little room for guitar extravagance, and this one relies on the bass and drum interplay to provide the adrenaline.
One problem with this record is the predictability of the shorter compositions. The obligatory metalcore posturing in the middle eight of ‘Remedy’ and ‘Mental Abuse’ seem to find purpose in reminding you that the band would like to share a stage with Infected Rain or Ignea in the future. Put this reservation to one side, and you’ll grow to appreciate the latter. Here, Gasratova sounds like Brian Molko of Placebo but with better lung capacity and a skill for roaring down the microphone when the aggression demands it.
Unfortunately, you’ll feel like you’re trapped inside a cautious major label album from 2002 due to the band’s unwillingness to deviate from the verse-bridge-chorus repetition in most of the tracks. The trumpet-infused trip-hop of ‘The Legacy of Meat Grinder’ would be far more effective if they expanded it beyond the intro and stayed away from the temptations of industrial nu metal. It makes the brief flirtation with thrash metal at 02:15 seconds even more of a frustration when you realise that Aghiazma have the ideas but lack the ambition to see them ripen. Only closing track, ‘Slaughterhouse’, exhibits the group’s full potential with a potent mix of contorted guitar shapes and rain-shower keyboards to underpin Gasratova’s angst-ridden screams. This is a magnificent way to end the record, yet it comes too late to dazzle you into a change of heart.
Carnage has much promise but few moments when this comes into fruition. We need another three songs here to judge Aghiazma on their true talent. Their tendencies to overemphasise every chorus with excess repetition doesn’t help, but their singer deserves credit for going against the current trends. The way she uses the nasal technique is brave and not always successful, but it strives to be unique.
Release Date: 30/11/2022
Record Label: Lizard Production
Standout tracks: Try Harder; The Legacy of Meat Grinder; Slaughterhouse
Suggested Further Listening: Placebo – Black Market Music (2000), Moonreflex – Resurrection (2020), League of Distortion – League of Distortion (2022)