Wombbath – Agma


Is there a more productive band in death metal than Sweden’s Wombbath? Fresh after releasing a thirtieth anniversary re-recording of old songs and a further full-length record in 2020, they now present a double album of sixteen tracks totalling one hour and twelve minutes. Many publications are right to observe that the quintet seem to be making up for their nineteen years of inactivity between 1994 and 2013, but the question is whether the quantity has the required quality. On the evidence of Agma, the answer is positive. This is a death metal tour de force that never lapses into mind-numbing brutality or technical overkill.

You know Wombbath are from Sweden by the guitar tone alone and the discernibility of the thrash foundations in their death metal sound. Opener, ‘The Law of Everything’, is a sensible crowd-pleaser that establishes the mood of the album by using a flawless mix of the old school with a claustrophobic underbelly and a virtuoso performance from drummer, Jon Rudin. Things start to intrigue with ‘At the Giant’s Feet’ and ‘The Seventh Seal’, the former embracing a hybrid of crunchy groove riffing with blackened death metal passages and a surprise soprano vocal in the chorus. Listen to the intro to the latter, and you’ll hear more than just solid down-picking. The chord choices are more dissonant and unbalanced.

Agma is technical, but it’s also filthy enough to appeal to fans of the punkier side of death metal. Double albums are rare in this genre, but you can appreciate this one if you treat it as two CDs, with tracks 1-8 being the first part. Highlights are abundant here, with ‘A World of Destruction’ offering the record’s essential equivalent to Morbid Angel’s ‘Where the Slime Lies’. The malevolence of ‘Misantropi Och Förakt’ thrives on Jonny Pettersson’s menacing rolling of his “Rs” and the surprise switch to a militaristic breakdown. By ‘Breathe in the Flames’, it’s clear Wombbath have their sights set on a landscape that’s more progressive but still just as unforgiving in its execution.

The second part of Agma explores more of the death-doom sub-genre and increases the experimentation. Who in the 2020s could sit through sixteen songs of HM-2 death metal? Wombbath understand it’d be a struggle and present the listener with a wider colour palette on ‘The Age of Death’, a song with the symphonic finesse and crunch of a modern Devin Townsend composition. There’s something wrong with you if you’re not spinning your head to this beast. Likewise, ‘In Decay They Shall All Fester’, converges on a slower pulse of palm-muted riffs and uses the sinister soprano roar to great effect. Here is where the formula comes to the surface – Wombbath are too advanced to rely on verse-chorus structures, but they’re too clever to ignore the anthemic peak of a chorus when the song demands it. ‘Departure From the Light’ captures the way the guitarists give the illusion of a key change with higher range scale patterns. ‘On a Path of Repulsion’ does the same thing. You might even hear a distinctive Peaceville Records vibe to the music of part two, as if Paradise Lost and Autopsy are the replacements for Grave and Dismember in part one.

Death metal is always a challenge as a long form experience. Agma could do with more screeching violins and esoteric guitar effects and might even be better for it if Wombbath added a couple of clean guitar songs to accentuate the claustrophobia. The experimentation tends to reveal itself as a drip-feed of avant-garde ideas that the band members approach with caution.

Nevertheless, the imagination and the confidence of the band’s delivery are admirable. This is a death metal album that embraces the high art and the diabolical side of the genre at the same time. Could Wombbath evolve into the HM-2 equivalent of Between the Buried and Me?

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 24/12/2021

Record Label: Transcending Obscurity Records

Standout tracks: At the Giant’s Feet, A World of Destruction, The Age of Death

Suggested Further Listening: Putrid Offal – Sicknesses Obsessions (2020), Morbid Angel – Gateways to Annihilation (2000), Behemoth – Evangelion (2009)