Poland’s Christ Agony are a force to be reckoned with. Having existed since 1990, and released some sixteen records (including demos and live efforts) they are one of Poland’s longest serving black metal acts alongside the ubiquitous Vader and Behemoth. Featuring members of the aforementioned Behemoth (the mighty Inferno on drums) as well as ex-members of Vader, the band’s pedigree is without doubt and on ‘Nocturn’ the band prove themselves worthy of such a legacy with an epic, martial album of brutal black metal that satisfies on every level.
The strength of ‘Nocturn’ is not so much its unflinching brutality as the fact that the band know when to reign their fire and brimstone approach in, allowing for a great sense of dynamic contrast, as on opener ‘Opus Sacrum/reign of chaos’ which sees the band switch from the baleful, almost orchestral intro to the crunching riffs and brutal, apocalyptic drums of ‘Reign in chaos’. Yet this is no raging speed fest. For sure the drums are powered by Inferno’s seemingly inhuman ability to unleash devastating rhythmic barrages, but the guitars are rather slow and methodical, hunting out and slaughtering each individual rather than wildly and inaccurately spraying out machine gun rounds in indiscriminate carnage and the result is a striking, mechanistic approach that is simply stunning when heard for the first time. ‘Frozen path unholy fire’ maintains this Bolt Thrower-esque momentum and it’s clear that rather than competing in terms of speed, Christ Agony sacrifice tempo for sheer weight resulting in a dark, heavy set of songs that are produced with crystal clarity and sonically devastating. Indeed, as ‘Frozen path…’ grinds on, the closest comparison is to Celtic Frost’s remarkably brutal ‘Monotheist’ and the dark, throbbing atmosphere of near-palpable evil is much the same across both records. And yet, for all its brutality and for all the grinding riffs that scrape across the dark recesses of the soul, there is still melody, as there so often is in this style of music, buried amidst the crushing drums and distorted guitar and the resultant mix makes Christ Agony’s songs not only devastatingly heavy but also deeply memorable which is no mean feat.
‘The stigma of hell’ sees the tempo increase, although the sense of darkness remains omnipresent. A rampaging torrent of riffs and hate-filled vocals, there is no hint of compromise in these satanic missives and as the riffs pile up and overwhelmingly assault the listener you can only wonder at the power of these tracks in the live environment. ‘Silent gods of darkness’ opens with distorted voices in the void before the band explode with an off-kilter riff that belies the distressingly heavy chorus that follows it only moments later. It’s a searing assault on the senses that succeeds in being both painfully heavy and strangely hypnotic, slowly drawing you deeper into the heart of the band’s black intentions whilst simultaneously forcing you to bang your head in slowly comprehending wonder. The sheer might of the band’s doom-laden riffs is utterly irresistible and pulling against them is rather akin to trying to defeat gravity, an indication of how awe-inspiring ‘Nocturn’ truly is. No less impressive is the bruising attack of ‘Demonicon Illuminati’, a track that starts with the quietest of introductions which proves to be the mere prelude to a storm of mid-tempo riffs and Inferno’s monolithic percussive attack. As with the other tracks here, ‘Demonicon…’ is a mini-epic in its own right, with tempo changes and variations to the central riff all adding essential variety to the bands aural assault.
‘Black star falling’ arises straight out of its predecessor with a stunningly violent approach to black metal. Playing this at high volumes is liable to render the listener paralysed by the oncoming juggernaut of sound represented by the track whilst the vocal exhortations become increasingly unhinged. There is a deeply malevolent sense of purpose about the way that Christ Agony approach black metal, and the riff here is as ferocious as the band’s single-minded and devotion-laden approach is undimmed. ‘Flames of several suns’ continues in the same savage vein, but there is a neo-classical aspect to the echo-laden guitars that gives the whole thing the regal feel that Emperor so successfully bought to their music, even during the heaviest moments. It’s a stunning track that highlights the fact that just when you though the album had nothing left to surprise you with, Christ Agony have the experience and the ability to keep you guessing right up until the brutal conclusion of ‘Opus profanum/fields of inferno’ the two part conclusion to the album. A slow-burning and atmospheric ending to an album that never fails to challenge the listener’s expectations, ‘Opus…’ sees the album out on a high and leaves you in no doubt that you have just witnessed a remarkable artistic statement that places Christ Agony at the very head of Poland’s exquisite black metal scene.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what sets Poland’s music scene apart from other parts of the world – perhaps it is the vehemence of the fans or the ferocious passion and determination of the musicians that makes the bands from that country so remarkable, but along with the likes of Nomad, Behemoth, Azarath and Vader Christ Agony are a true force to be reckoned with. Their music is at once savage and beautiful, primitive and yet complex, elemental and yet loaded with subtext and hidden meaning. Packaged with some stunning artwork and available on Mystic Production, this is an essential addition to any black metal fan’s collection.