Thursday, December 1, 2011

Virus - The Agent That Shapes The Desert

For the last thirty-one days of the year I'm planning to do a review on a 2011 album every day. It'll get me in the writing mood and serve as a break from studying for finals.

Tritones out the ass. That's what Norway's Virus' The Agent That Shapes The Desert sounds like. This agent is rhythmically jazzy and dissonant, with a pinch of metal. Although pretty much avant-garde rock, Virus has made quite the name for themselves in the metal scene as well. In this way they're kind of like Porcupine Tree after they assimilated a bunch of pretentious metalheads into their fanbase.

Except Virus is significantly better than slightly above-average progressive rock.

The Agent That Shapes The Desert is a very cohesive album. The instruments are all extremely bright, noticeable, and really pull you in. There's a degree of production here that's unprecedented in this kind of music, and it captures the atmosphere that the music is trying to convey perfectly, making it extremely memorable. Songs like "Chromium Sun" open with a galloping (no not triplets) bassline and keep the tritones and major-sevenths flowing. Others like "Continental Drift" manage this speed over slower chord progressions, creating a slow-moving, geologic feel to the music. The deep bassy distortion at the beginning of the latent track "Dead Cities Of Syria" is addicting and droning, and the song builds nicely on that strong foundation. All the songs are very well-crafted, and it really conveys the precambrian-mesopotamian theme of the album well.

Much to my dismay they had to ruin the fun and add in some of the more boring vocals I've heard this year to each and every track. They almost have an operatic-symphonic quality to them similar to other progressive rock or metal bands, and I always tend to find this style hit or miss. Sure sometimes it's fitting and you can hear the lyrics clearly, but the sheer enunciation of the vocals really kills the atmosphere. Had this been an instrumental avant-garde or even math rock album it probably would've been a bit more tolerable. There are some instances where I feel they work really well though - "Parched Rapids" comes to mind first. The song's innate dissonance and the good use of rests resonates with Czarl's off-kelter vocal approach.

If you're looking for well-written avant-garde rock with several degrees of jazz, metal, and progressive music in its sound, I wouldn't put it past The Agent That Shapes The Desert for it to be exactly what you're looking for.

7.5 out of 10


1. The Agent That Shapes The Desert

2. Continental Drift

3. Chromium Sun

4. Red Desert Sand

5. Intermission: Furnace Creek

6. Dead Cities Of Syria

7. Where The Flame Resides

8. Parched Rapids

9. Call Of The Tuskers


  1. Great album. I didn't like the vocals at first but they grew on me.

    Cool banner/logo thing by the way. How'd you make it?

  2. I actually drew it out on paper. The original is that logo/skull, but the skull is impaled on a staff carried by a skeletal/undead plague doctor. I took a bad quality picture with my phone and uploaded it and edited it down to the logo in paint and gimp. That's the final version.

    The problem was that I couldn't fit the full picture into a banner and changing the colors and editing it was a huge pain in the ass. Oh well.