In the mystical, magical land of Perth, Australia lives a progressive rock/metal act by the name of Agnesis. For fans of more symphonically charged progressive music, like that of the mighty Opeth, both the ballad and nonsensical work akin to that of Mr. Bungle, and even gritty loops and toss arounds of acts like the Melvins, then by all intents and purposes, Agnesis would be the kind of band for you. In Places We Keep is the brand spanking new release from said act, and it is complete with all kinds of adventurous compositions and ever so subtle notes of the all the aforementioned acts, but a spin of their own in so many ways. All of this should usually lead to a glowing review of an honestly fun act, but sadly they also fall short on some key points for this particular grumpy reviewer.
The first and most notable aspect of In Places We Keep is the mild lack of cleanliness and clarity of the record quality. Acquiring a decent studio, with decent quality mics, mixing/mastering, and production staff and then putting together a tight record is the furthest thing from cheap, or even attainable, for most bands without label backing. In this particular case, although props needs to be provided for the professional presentation of this record, the engineering quality of it lacks to the point where it takes away from the compositional quality of the music. Something like this could easily be fixed by toying with guitar tones, getting fancy with vocal ranges and melodies, and just biting the bullet on drums, all of which were things I wish I could have experienced during my listens.
I can happily say that I’ve definitely bore witness to shittier recordings, but of a band that displayed so many promising influences and aspirations in their craft, it can boarder on that big scary phrase of inexcusable. The progressive branch of any genre is one that typically celebrates intricacy, mathematical insanity, and originality. This band has all of these aspects, but has seemingly cut corners in places where corners can’t often afford to be cut. Providing a unique and desirable string tone is something that easily sets each of the prog heavyweights apart and is an invaluable investment that I feel was missed on this record. I’m far from saying go spend your next entire year’s rent on an Axe-FX so you can be some fucking yuppie with shiny toy, but what I am saying is that plugging and playing into a haphazard set up rocking purely a clean and distorted channel will force whatever awesome and complex time signature arrangement you may have written to sound like every other high school garage act.
“Jungle” is the opening track and it bumps in on all kinds of odd meandering of beats. On paper, it probably would even give Mike Portnoy at least a bit of a chub, but the unpleasant grit and little unbalances of the recording mixed with the lack of clarity or resonance of the guitar tones make what most would consider a banger into an uncomfortable experience. The rest of the record keeps up a healthy mix between ballad and banger, and continues the trend of having all the musical know how to write complex tunes to your ears bleed but lacking in the tones to make them a more enjoyable listen.
This brings me to my final and most heartbreaking grievance regarding Agnesis. The vocal section is a taste to be acquired, and one that I could not seemingly accomplish by the time I wrote this review. The entire record consists of a mid-range monotonous frequency, with a faint harmony and then the occasional scream a la old school thrash/death. There’s nothing I enjoy about bashing something as personal as a voice, but before even touching on any other aspect of the songs, this is what perturbed me as it tends to lack in diversity or least a resonance familiar with that style.
All this rambling to say, I know this band is trying, I know they have the potential, but jumping isn’t flying, and this record could use a set of wings.
Written by Jason Greenberg
*edited by Danielle Kenedy