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Argorok - Usurpator Award winner

Argorok
Usurpator
by Kira Schlechter at 19 January 2021, 6:47 AM

Upon poking around, the particular blend of melodic death/groove metal done to really impressive effect by the German band ARGOROK on their debut album “Usurpator” has been dubbed Neue Deutsche Harte, or “New German Hardness” – or even “dance metal.” If it might not make you want to actually dance in the traditional sense, it sure makes your body move. Theirs is a bit more heavy on the metal than something like, say, RAMMSTEIN (that’s a good thing), and their songwriting is fully and delightfully and surprisingly mature. This made an impact from the start and didn’t let up.

That start is “Aus der Tiefe” (“From the Depths”) with its crunchy guitar riff, head-bobbing melody, and eerie programming. Boa’s harsh vocal is remarkably clear and well-mixed, easy to hear and understand even if it’s in German, and his diction is precise. He’s assertive but not overpowering and the mix helps with that. Bill contributes with a creepy spoken vocal that’s accompanied by his equally creepy keyboards. The crunch returns and guitar and keyboard go on to carry the melody before it slows to a plod that features a guitar solo that mimics that tempo.

And it only gets better with “Protector,” with riffing and another appealingly heavy swing establishing things and a keyboard part that plays along with the melody of the guitar – a melody that’s kind of droll in some ways, almost waggish-sounding (like a bad horror movie, but in the best way). The feel of the rhyme scheme in the chorus is irresistible – even if you don’t speak German, it sounds like it’s supposed to. Boa’s guttural and Bill’s more black metal style (and frequent whispering) meld together really well, and the keyboard doesn’t soften anything but only adds atmosphere and fits in as it should – and here, jauntily, as in a solo section in which it sounds like a plucked violin.

“Odyssee” starts with a resonant plucked acoustic and a great melody (that also ends it), as well as another solid groove. The prechorus is darkly splendid, the keyboard melody lifting and punctuating the words (a section I could hear a million times over); the blending of the two voices and that orchestral keyboard with the blast beats (and yay them for not overusing them) are also highlights here, as is Andy’s soulful solo that’s way more treble than the deep-voiced riffing (again in the best way).

“Refugium” is rooted in that uniquely European folk-influenced 6/8 groove, a lilt that immediately grabs your attention, then it slows a bit to a doomy trod in the verse. The changes in tempo throughout are really well done, never off-putting. A vocal section after the first verse is rather chanted, enunciated crisply by both singers. That sinister little breakdown that’s all programming and that wonderfully odd keyboard and tasteful drumming are all great, as is the fuzzy guitar that’s situated exactly where it should be in the mix. The lilting chorus and an alternate melody that’s super brief but gorgeous, brings this one to an end.

The mighty bass start of “Konigin der Asche” (“Queen of the Ashes”) just chugs along, Bill’s fingers audible on the strings, before Andy’s guitar takes over on a fantastic melody and Bill’s keyboard texturizes and again dabbles in fiddle-esque pizzicato – it’s a humorous, or ironic, or tongue-in-cheek technique that made me smile each time. The verses have an airiness to them, there’s space between what’s going on with the vocal and the instruments, but it adds more layering in the chorus with Bill’s vocal and more guitar overdubbing. The magnificent solo section takes the melody and shifts it to overdrive, expanding upon it, switching up the rhythms, then it’s back to that damn groove and the chorus. When the guitars open up to those big open chords and just ring out at the end, you just don’t want it to stop.

“Kalter Stein” (“Cold Stone”) is suitably chilly programming before a wicked low-end tribal drum tempo and bass gets it going (it’s deceptively simple but gorgeous). A wistful piano melody and sharp riffing establishes the ultimate groove, punctuated just enough by programming. It drops off for just a beat to just the bass and drums again, and that alternating between those two is a hallmark of the entire track. The solo section is stately and dramatic; a second melody/groove combination, one that takes nothing away from the first, fades it out. Nothing goes on too long; there is great discipline and restraint at work here, which is so important for a young band to understand, and understand it they do.

The more uptempo “Hinter der Maske” (“Behind the Mask”) has another strong riff melody at its heart (they're really skilled at those) before it slows and elongates. Bill’s spoken vocal has Boa lurking beneath before he takes the lead again; that turn on a dime in the chorus, done differently both times, is so well executed. A section that almost sounds like a harpsichord, accompanied by bass and another spoken vocal, grows in intensity – in the end section, the drums change so imperceptibly and so perfectly, holding the beat in and then letting it go.

The push and pull of the chorus of “Katharsis” acts as exactly that, an emotional letting-go, a process begun by another standout keyboard melody and a harsh singular snarling guitar. The urgency of the keyboard part encourages the guitar riffing; the melodies tie together since they’re simultaneously similar but different. A brief guitar solo, a hush, and then yes, that’s a sitar – which sounds weird, but it’s playing the exact melody as the guitar, and the vocal with it is lovely before it powers back up into the chorus.

“Meister der Lugen” (“Master of Lies”) could not be constructed any better. Beginning with a music box being wound and a dainty melody, picked up by the guitar and set to a lingering, meandering groove, it is indeed, as other reviewers have called it, a nursery rhyme. The verse is hushed, luring, tempting (Bill is very nearly singing, or at least crooning, with whispers from Boa); the acoustic and rimshot drumming is ever so light and airy. The chorus gets heavier as a wonderful contrast, but the keyboard ever lurks with that melody. It reprises at the end (both the heavy guitar and the music-box take on it) and it’s over before you know it, or want it to be.

The longest track, the closer “Tag des Zorns” (“Day of Anger”), treats you to a techno beat, a meaty riff, and a memorable (here it’s vaguely Eastern) guitar melody that’s simple but unforgettable. The key change in the intro is a little aural treat, as is another bit of sitar leading into the verse. Bill takes the vocal lead here (again he’s just about singing), before Boa roars in and then takes over on the second verse – the two of them together is just so good. The bridge is ever so slightly different in rhythm (adding evil spoken vocal and wafts of keyboard), then it just effortlessly picks up in tempo. The sitar serves as a divine lead into the chorus, bringing a little bass with it the final time in. The end is the same groove as throughout, but with a few little parts missing, so it’s again familiar but unique at the same time.

Had “Usurpator” come to my attention prior to the end of 2020, it would have been in my best-of list, it’s that good. Don’t let any more of 2021 go by before you check it out.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Aus der Tiefe
2. Protector
3. Odyssee
4. Refugium
5. Konigin der Asche
6. Kalter Stein
7. Hinter der Maske
8. Katharsis
9. Meister der Lugen
10. Tag des Zorns
Lineup:
Boa - Vocals
Andy - Guitars
Bill - Bass, Programming, Vocals
Record Label: Independent
     


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