At the moment, it’s just us.
By which I mean the progressive metal fraternity, who are championing Agent Fresco and waiting, with baited breath for their second album. Now that moment is almost upon us, I have this opportunity to stand on this platform and declare just how significant a release I believe this record to be.
On their scintillating debut, A Long Time Listening, Fresco displayed a voracious skill for infusing highly textured math rock with the kind of emotionality normally reserved for longer artistic forms. Returning with Destrier, their aptitude for this enviable talent has deepened in its application. Its new depth nurturing the creation of songs that are simultaneously light of heart yet swing with a darkly delicious pop momentum.
Seemingly able to pluck sublime choruses out of the aether, Fresco’s status as beloved denizens of alternative metal, is hopefully just a staging post on the road to significant and widespread success. However it is the multi-faceted resonance of these choruses which conceals the nuanced complexity of the songs behind them. Metre, timbre and dynamics are all explored with a progressive and underlying Metallic sensibility. But the real pervading victory within Fresco’s music is how they translate the complex and ravenous musical appreciation of extremes into swelling, heartfelt and jubilant music. Music, moreover, that speaks to the most explicit and rarely engaged with emotions inside us.
This trembling, lachrymal quality can be mostly attributed to the vocals of Arnor Dan Arnason. He utilises his classically trained voice to illicit a sincere and lasting emotional response. In much the same manner that guitarists such as Plini or Jakub Zytecki, do with their instruments. But whereas guitar tones tend to inspire admiration, jealousy or contorted features; the human voice, as applied by Mr Arnason, brings forth a catharsis so powerful, that it renders the moment immutable and renders tears of joy and regret, inevitable.
He combines experienced technique with a raw and enviable energy. This fortuitous combination mitigates any clichéd undertones which operating at the delicate fringe of existence can generate. Both him and the band, pulsing in unison behind him, seem unafraid to challenge the parameters of what is considered justifiable and appropriate in the world of rock and metal.
Musically this album is a orgiastic blend of the greatest of the late 80’s and early 90’s, coalesced into a form which quivers on the raw cutting edge. At various times acts as diverse as Tears For Fears, Kate Bush and Massive Attack are all brought to mind. Comparisons this weighty are needed to impart just how charismatic and appealing the music of Agent Fresco has become. With waves of astute electronic texture blended with powerful, intoxicating syncopation, the level of hit-making on this record has to be heard to be believed.
If I were writing this review in a national newspaper, where I had the chance to effect influential middle-class wallets, I’d describe Fresco as a Progressive Rock version of Keane. Except with real heart, real balls and a talent for writing the kind of songs which make you feel forever on the cusp of understanding. Frozen at the age when adult problems were a burgeoning mystery but the songs about them could still make you well up.
There are points on this record when AF achieve a musical ultimate as it becomes difficult to compute that there are 4 separate humans who have created and crafted the music swirling around you. Such is the wholistic integrity with which this album pulls.
Somewhat reductively, much Icelandic music is labelled as experimental. Artists such as Bjork and Sigur Ros are regularly hailed as leading lights of the avant garde. Well, these artists may attempt to be strange, progressive or experimental, but Agent Fresco, by comparison have finished their experiments. They’ve poured their chemicals into a vat of private thought, allowed them to break down and let the elements react. So that instead of witnessing the experiments, regardless of how intriguing they may be, you just experience the results.
Agent Fresco are somehow able to make music that has recast many of my favourite albums as fey, pretentious works made by musicians so desperate to please that they just tried too hard. Whereas, on Destrier, the naturalness of sublime achievement flows fecund from their collective fingertips.
At the moment it is just us, the progressive metal fraternity, who get to cherish, celebrate and revel in the wonderment that is Fresco. This surely will not be for long. Catch them while you still can.