Release DetailsLABEL Dobles Productions
RELEASED ON 12/1/2006
posted on 3/2007 By:
Why was Aghora's sophomore outing, Formless, quietly pushed out to an apathetic audience at the tail end of '06 to no fanfare? Good question. There was a time when dropping Aghora's name in conversation would grant you access to an underground network of Cynic worshippers; ones who would gladly bare-knuckle brawl over Portal and who had the tracklisting of the Roadrunner demo inked on their neck. To those hardy fans of fusion, Aghora's eponymous debut reached near legendary status due in large part to the clever and inventive interplay of Cynic's former Seans. Those tracing the footsteps of Malone and Reinert stumbled upon a quirky Eastern-tinged prog album that furthered the jazz meets metal that made Focus such a feast. Even though Aghora was, ahem, focused mainly on the rhythm section's feats, the six-string virtuosity of up-and-comer Santiago Dobles and the backing strums of Charlie Ekendahl were definite highlights, matching jazzy atmospheric textures with off-time chugging and G3-ready soloing. Like a cherry on top, Danishta Rivero's unvarnished vocals wafted above it all, providing just enough humanity to offset the inhuman display of dexterity. True, the songwriting was a bit dodgy, but the album was revered for its immense musicianship and its immense potential. So, what the hell happened to Aghora to warrant such a disregard of past achievements and to ensure that Formless wasn't even a blip on the screen of most metalheads?
For those jaded readers that immediately guessed major lineup changes, congratulations on being half right. True, everyone dropped out except Dobles and Reinert (who only appears on half the album as a session skinsman). But, take heed cynical ones: while Formless is a more guitar-centric album than its predecessor, Aghora hasn't morphed into 'The Santiago Dobles Experience'. It certainly could have, but credit Dobles who tried to mirror the previous recording lineup by snagging the strong pipes of Diana Serra and the nimble fingers of bassist Alan Goldstein to help share the spotlight. For the most part, the band recreates the basic song design that was explored on the debut, but with the fresh blood comes a far different feel.
There's a strong sense that Aghora 2.0 wants to leave their music theorists followers behind and link arms with the more “accessible” prog-metal of your To-Meras and your Echosilences. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Aghora is equally adept at finding the middle ground between complexity and catchy. Their music remains easily digestible without making tech gourmands feel like they’re feeding on Alphabet Soup or causing nouveau-proggers to clog the john with a calculus textbook immediately after disc stops spinning. Instead, the lack of variation in the songwriting is what really drags down Formless; a deceptive name for an album that so interested in repeating itself.
Formless is essentially made up of three guitar-based sections. There are the aggressive palm-muted chunky riffs that wouldn't sound out of place on a Textures album, the treated, ethereal guitar leads that back the verses, and the high flying scale running of Dobles’ soloing. And that’s kind of it for seventy bloated minutes. Taken one song at a time, the formula can work, but once you’re a few tracks deep it's like you’re trudging through alt-takes. The same complaint could’ve been leveled against Aghora if it weren’t for the studly Seans and their day-saving creativity. Not surprisingly, this is where Aghora misses Malone the most. The drums and bass, which were so crucial to their sound, fade into the background as Goldstein's tone is absolutely anemic and the percussion platoon of Giann Rubio and Reinert provide a comparatively undecorated backbone. Granted, their playing can still widen the eyes of a blind mole, but the missing members leave a gaping hole that’s never filled by the newbies.
So, Aghora has contracted the sophomore slump, but it's not like they need to be treated for scoliosis. When you power down the critical mind, Formless is like a sophisticated sugar rush. Be it Serra's addictive delivery, “Moksha”'s winning assortment of hummable melodies, or just the wankeritis-free noodling, Formless almost turns a skeptic into a believer. It’s flawed, but it deserves more attention than it initially received. If you pine for the past you’re going to despise it, but if you judge it with a glass-half-full optimism, it comes off as a promising blueprint for the future. Give them a few more ideas and a little more time in the incubator, and they’ll be alright. Provided that, you know, they don’t lose the entire band again.
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