Out now on Listenable Records
Bursting on the scene in 2001 with the highly impressive debut Sanctus Ignis, Adagio are a band that deserve to be wider known than they are. Originally featuring vocalist David Readman (now of Voodoo Circle) for their debut and follow up Underworld, the band saw Readman depart after the live album A Band In Upperworld (live) and a replacement was then found in Brazilian vocalist Gus Monsanto for the 2006 album Dominate. This third album saw the band move away from the highly impressive symphonic/neo-classical metal tinged progressive metal for a sound than incorporated more extreme music influences such as death metal grunts and dark gothic elements. Unfortunately this third studio album was a major let down in my eyes and I held out little hope for this their fourth album. However, I was pleasantly surprised after a few spins of Archangels In Black. In the gap between albums the band have had another vocal replacement, this time in the guise of Christian Palin whose vocals thankfully hark back more to those of the Readman era.
Musically the band combines elements from all eras of the band, yet whilst there are still some of the overtly darker elements of the previous album the quality level of song craft is infinitely higher. Musically it’s always been very hard to fault Adagio. Led by the guitar virtuoso Stephan Forte – a name highly regarded in French metal circles and rightly so for this guy is a monster the band also hold monster keyboard player Kevin Codfert (a name you might recognise from the Venturia reviews here at V1) and the striking rhythm section of drummer Eric Legally and bassist Franck Hermanny.
Opener “Vamphyri” initially got me a little worried with its guttural demonic screams and pulsating blast beats but it soon progressed into oriental melodies over crunching riffs that were so effective on “Underworld”. First impressions of new vocalist Christian Palin as previously mentioned are all good, and his addition to the band is certainly better than that of his predecessor. “The Astral Pathway” is a fine blend of the key Adagio elements with grand piano breakdowns from Codfert and also home to a great chorus where Forte’s lead work comes to the fore in fine style. “Fear Circus” follows a similar path but here the musicianship delivers big time in instrumental midsection, home to a riff which could be seen as the bastard offspring of Pantera’s “Walk”, the solo sections also possess a fluid flavour like that in Megadeth’s “Hanger 18” .
“Undead” begins with another Codfert piano concerto before giving us our first real taste of the death metal grunts for the pre-chorus, luckily these are soon eradicated for the main chorus. The track is one of the most disjointed on the album and probably my least enjoyed but its as good as anything on the last album. Next up is the title track “Archangels In Black” which really sees the band going extreme on its frantic intro, super tight and quite terrifying that humans can play this sort of stuff. Again the track has a rather disjointed feel to it, but luckily has enough strength in depth to come across well enough. The tempo drops to a more mid-tempo feel for “The Fifth Ankh”, yet Adagio can fit more into this type of groove than any other band I can name. Here the orchestrations entwine with the guitar work to euphoric levels and the vocals of Palin are once again something to behold with the mix of grunts, and soaring traditional metal vocals enhance the vibe nicely – a highlight.
“Codex Oscura” is the 9 minute epic of the album and long-term fans of the band know these are something very special. No pointless waffling is needed here, simply said this is likely to go down as an Adagio classic. “Twilight At Dawns” sees 7 string guitar deliver another scorching slice of metal than will surely appeal to fans of Symphony X and the like. Vocals are once again from a number of different schools yet the impact is once again impressive. The film score like middle interlude leads into an eerie guitar solo from Forte before progressing in intensity and scope – a master class in modern metal lead guitar.
Album closer “Getsu Senshi” you might expect might be a laid back affair after the previous 8 intense tracks – not so as it’s a streamlined 3 minutes and 42 seconds of classic Adagio which closes the album in fine style with a great chorus and more virtuoso performances from all band members.
It’s taken me a little while to get around to picking up this album, the previous album did really make me think the band had lost most of what made it great so its incredibly heartening to see the balance has been restored for “Archangels In Black”. Heck I can even now enjoy the more guttural vocal aspects found in the bands sound and can see the vision of the band in how these would work with the music. New vocalist Christian Palin is a fine find and a vastly superior performer to his predecessor and with this guy in the band the hangover legacy of the loss of Readman is eradicated in my eyes. Performances from the rest of the band are as good as any other band out there, and in Forte and Codfert they have a guitar/keyboard tag team that deserves to be revered in the same circles as Romeo / Pinella and Petrucci / Rudess.
All in all “Archangels In Black” is a fine return to form – now do yourselves a favour and check out this band and album.
Hot Spots : Fear Circus, The Fifth Ankh, Codex Oscura, Twilight At Dawns
Rating : 92%