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Aghora - Aghora (Independent, 2000) Aghora is a jazz-influenced metal band led by guitarist Santiago Dobles, featuring the rhythm section of jazz/metal pioneers Cynic and Dobles' sister Danishta Rivero on vocals.
The music will undoubtedly be compared to Cynic because of the common band members and the obvious jazz metal influence. However, Dobles, credited with writing all 9 songs on the CD, has created a different beast in a metaphysical, spiritual sounding jazz/metal hybrid that shows a Cynic influence but also an expansion of the melodic elements that Cynic touched on but did not fully explore. Dobles also captures a spiritual, improvisational feel reminiscent of Mahavishnu Orchestra, an influence he cites in the liner notes.
The CD starts off slowly, and the arrangements of several tunes that are re-recorded versions of those on the 1998 Aghora demo are not as good as the originals, particularly the wah pedal processed vocals in "Immortal Bliss." However, the lazy, sparse jam of "Jivatma," the rocking grind of "Existence," and the sitar backed chorus of "Anugraha" pick up the second half of the CD considerably.
Sadly, the sound does not live up to the level of the songwriting or playing. The rhythm guitar sound is muddy and often mixed too low. The vocals and the snare drum in contrast are often mixed too high, and the vocals loose some of their musical value when the slightly silly metaphysical lyrics are clearly audible. The clever mix on the Aghora 1998 Demo held the rhythm guitars in the background and allowed the melodic elements like vocals and bass to shine through, a unique sound for a metal band. However, the inconsistent mix on the Aghora CD alternates between having the melodic elements too forward or too subdued.
Toward the end of the CD, the sound mix improves as the music does. The vocals mesh better with the overall music in later tracks like "Existence" and "Anugraha," where they are blended into the mix rather than prominently afixed on top. "Anugraha" is the best use of the voice as a pure instrument in recent prog metal, since lyrics are not even sung in the vocals.
The lead guitar sounds are excellent, and the solos are mostly skilled and tasteful except occasional bursts of shred arppegios. The added timbres of clean piano, synth, and sitar, presumably played on the guitar synth credited to Dobles, flesh out the sound beyond that of a standard metal band.
The "Sean and Sean" Cynic rhythm section is in top playing form as usual (do these guys have any other form?), with Rienert's delicate cymbal work and Malone's purring Ibanez Gary Willis fretless bass.
"Aghora" is a solid full length demo in a very intruiging style, but it doesn't have the musical or sound refinements of a studio quality album. The artistic vision of a blend of technical metal and jazz fusion has great promise, and hopefully the band can build on this CD and produce brilliant work in the future.
Review by Scott Andrews [firstname.lastname@example.org] Listen to samples & Buy CDs/DVDs here
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