Agriculture, “Agriculture”
By Ben Salmon · July 18, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, T-Shirt/Shirt, Other Apparel

The self-described ecstatic black metal band Agriculture burst onto the scene last year with an excellent EP called The Circle Chant. Despite clocking in at just four songs and ten minutes, it nonetheless reveals a lot about the Los Angeles-based quartet’s unique approach, not to mention their stark ambitions. One standout, ”Salt,” is 48 seconds of layered, wordless a cappella vocals, while “The Circle Chant, Pt 2” showcases beautiful pedal steel guitar and softly glowing organ, the sound of a country band practicing at an old church. While clearly attuned to black metal’s harsh forms (machine-gun drums, tremolo-picked guitars, and strangled-demon screams) Agriculture are ultimately a band predicated on melody and transcendence, rather than uniform darkness; the same radiance that catapulted Deafheaven from the Bay Area underground to the mainstream recognition speed a decade ago.

A little over a year later (and now on the influential record label The Flenser), Agriculture’s self-titled debut full-length solidifies the Los Angeles outfit as one of the most promising American black metal bands to come along in some time. True to form, they shake up stylistic norms from the jump with the pedal steel-propelled opening track “The Glory of the Ocean:” an eight-minute epic that devolves from serene ambient twang into a full-blown thrash attack, punctuated by a sludgy breakdown. As the gorgeous post-rock sunrise gives way to the black-metal maelstrom, the lyrics drift from contemplation to despair

 I looked at the waves
And felt surrounded / I felt the water deep in my lungs
I felt the water deep in my lungs
And I let myself slip away
Taking it in
My body – give it away
An empty space
With nothing after all

The bulk of the album is a three-part suite of songs titled “Look.” Part one starts with 77 seconds of chugging, charred guitar riffs that, in Agriculture’s hands, sound like a superhero’s theme; then, the music drops out and prolific experimental saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi fills the space with a knotty blast of bleating horns. Part two skews more dynamic and headstrong, a chaotic noise-rock romp reminiscent of a final boss theme from some long-lost video game. Part three caps off the suite with a visceral climax: Shiroishi’s saxophone rises up from the din, the guitars swoop down suddenly like a flock of screaming eagles, and the rhythm section kicks into overdrive.

Bookending “Look” are two songs that show off the far ends of Agriculture’s range. “The Well” is quiet, slow and emotionally raw, with guitarist Daniel Meyer-O’Keeffe singing in clean, sometimes quivering tones about love, nature, God and death, accompanied by a single, undistorted electric guitar. Similar themes return in the album’s closer, “Relier,” an exploration of existence and self-acceptance that ends in an intense black-metal barrage, with every needle buried in the red. It’s an excellent example of why Agriculture has fully embraced “ecstatic” as a descriptor for its music – they are a thrilling band with transcendence at their fingertips and a wildly bright future, if they want it.

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