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Agents Of Mercy - The Black Forest CD (album) cover

THE BLACK FOREST

Agents Of Mercy

 

Neo-Prog

3.99 | 202 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Agents of Mercy: The Black Forest [2011]

Rating: 8/10

An interesting change of direction.

At the time of this review's writing, it is fairly obvious that Agents of Mercy has become Roine Stolt's main gig. Roine has established himself as a true symph-prog maestro trough his work with The Flower Kings and Transatlantic; in my opinion, he is one of the best and most accomplished progressive-rock musicians not only of the past twenty years, but of all time. While Roine has firmly established his finesse for bombastic symphonic grandiosity, he has recently shown a desire to tweak his normal compositional attitude. Agents of Mercy seems to be the medium through which he is doing so. Because of this tweaking, the Agents have been rather controversial among Flower Kings fans. The Black Forest is the third Agents album after only three years. So far, each of these three albums has been stylistically unique, but still characteristic of Roine's signature style. The first album, The Fading Ghosts of Twilight, was a low-key and fairly underwhelming affair. The follow-up, Dramarama, was a symph-prog charged Beatlesesque treasure trove. That album was a masterpiece for me. This third album, The Black Forest, takes a new musical approach. The retro sensibility is still present, but in an entirely different way. This is by far the heaviest album Roine has ever been involved with. There is a strong hard-rock influence here, but it's combined with symph-prog bombast to create a consistently interesting listen that sounds like nothing Roine has ever done before.

The eleven-minute title track is a superb epic hard-rock song with sublime vocal lines from Nad and a wonderful keyboard solo from Lalle. The concluding section features a driving bass-line that blossoms into a fantastic conclusion. This track will be a classic in the years to come. "A Quiet Little Town" is centered on an infectiously funky bass-line. The drumming is particularly impressive here: Walle lays some very complex rhythms to back up the throbbing bass. "Black Sunday" is probably the heaviest thing on the album. The guitar is hard-hitting and the chorus is quite memorable. Jonas's bass is superb, as always. While "Elegy" is technically a ballad, that term greatly underestimates the power of this track. Nad's voice is in top game here, and Roine plays a magnificent solo near the end. "Citadel" features a hard-hitting Zeppelin-inspired riff, and Lalle's synth solo is one of the best on the album. Roine takes up the vocal duties on "Between Sun & Moon." This is certainly the most lighthearted song here, with great vocal melodies and guitar playing. "Freak of Life" is certainly the strangest song here, but in a good way. The instrumentation is excellent as always, but the vocals really stand out here. The combination of spoken-word, vocal interchange, and vocal harmonies make this quite an interesting listen. The closing piece "Kingdom of Heaven" is a somber piece that ends the album perfectly. The album's best guitar work is found on this track; Roine can really make the instrument sing.

I was enormously impressed with The Black Forest. The alternative musical approach the band has taken here manages to work extraordinarily well. One of the most impressive elements of this album is the democratic balance between the five members. Jonas and Walle create a grinding rhythm section that never ceases to be fantastic. Lalle lays down some phenomenal synth solos that would have made Peter Bardens proud. Roine's guitar takes a slightly different role here than normal - he uses it more as a rhythmic instrument and less as a melodic forefront. This style fits the music swimmingly. Last but certainly not least, Nad's wonderful voice ties the whole package together. Pieces like the title track and "Elegy" provide even more evidence of his vocal power. The Black Forest doesn't reach the same level that Dramarama did, but it is a phenomenal listen that I would recommend to any fan of heavy retro-inspired progressive music.

Anthony H. | 4/5 |

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