When Wombbath announced their return in 2014, a sense of enthusiasm was my first emotion. Then quickly followed by scepticism. How many of the ‘old masters’ who returned years or even decades later have actually been able to make a truly deep impression? Many do deliver reasonable albums, but can hardly match the quality of new bands, much less the youngsters’ fresh enthusiasm. Still, I bravely picked up the first (split) EP’s the band released, which were far from bad. But the full-length albums were indeed somewhat disappointing. The holy fire seemed to be extinguished and the band was clearly searching for their angle and sound.
That search for their musical identity led to almost all albums having a different sound and consequently offering no consistency at all. The ‘Tales Of Madness’-album released before this latest one (2020, Transcending Obscurity Records) had a somewhat strange compressed guitar sound. This was also the case on its predecessor, their weakest album ‘Choirs Of The Fallen’ (2020, Soulseller Records), but now it had definitely been pushed further into the extremes. While ‘Tales Of Madness’ was the best album these Swedes had released up to that point, it was still a far cry from their classic ‘Infernal Caustic Torments’ album (1993, Thrash/Infest Records).
The band can perhaps be blamed for not getting back to their old level, but at least you can’t accuse them of lack of motivation. ‘Agma’ is their fifth album since their resurrection seven years ago, on top of which they have also released 7 (split) EP’s. In that respect, the holy fire seems more than ever a true inferno. And after some experimentation with their intended sound, Wombbath too sounds better on this most recent work, from late December 2021, than it has since their return. The too heavily compressed sound of ‘Tales Of Madness’ has been abandoned and the memory of the downright ugly sound of ‘Choirs Of The Fallen’ now seems to have faded. On ‘Agma’, the band sounds well-balanced, the equilibrium between the Old School Death Metal sound as we know it from their debut album and a slightly more modern approach works very well here. A nice Old School guitar sound, without sounding overly or forcedly Swedish, forms the basis of all songs. However, there is also more room for melody and guitar leads, which gives the whole thing a fresher sound without detracting from what is Wombbath’s core business. Also notable are the semi-clean bits of vocals, which can be characterised as being the middle ground between Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Joe Duplantier (Gojira) and Devin Townsend. But don’t let this put you off, the vast majority of the vocals are just the typical Death Metal growls and grunts, but there’s clearly more variety in the vocal part now, and it actually proves to work more than well.
When you think you’ve had it all, halfway through the album you are treated to even more surprises. For instance, in songs like ‘Breathe In The Flames’ and ‘The Age Of Death’, you get to encounter a true string section and even more melody is woven into the songs. To almost dreamy leads, where admittedly the double-kicks keep rattling underneath, melting together into a rather unique whole. Only criticism is that their seemingly indomitable work ethic has resulted in an album of over 72 minutes. That’s really a bit too much of a stretch. As far as I’m concerned, it would have been better to make it half as long and release the rest of the otherwise fine songs on (split) EPs. This way, this is quite a hefty listen.
Although experience shows that it is a bit hard to predict for Wombbath, on this most recent work the band seems to have finally found a musical format that suits them well. Both in terms of the production and sound as well as on the somewhat more experimental musical content. So now it is mainly a matter of holding on to this and not doing another turnaround. ‘Agma’ is a solid album on which enough familiar elements can be found, but where they also colour outside the box in a fresh and inspiring way.