Agriculture main page

Agriculture’s Feel-Good Black Metal


By Ben Salmon

To begin to understand the restorative power of the band Agriculture, it helps to start in the “Inventions” section of the online Wiki for Calvin and Hobbes. That’s where you’ll find a detailed description of the Transmogrifier, an upside-down cardboard box that the classic comic strip’s young protagonist, Calvin, used to morph into other creatures…in his imagination, of course. For guitarist and vocalist Dan Meyer, Agriculture has a similar effect—except it’s real.

“I think the perspective we’re sharing is that there is joy to be found, even in the experience of feeling really shitty,” he says. “If we get to a gig and one of us is in a mood or feeling sick or whatever, just embracing that and bringing that whole self to the stage and sharing that with people, it kind of has this, like—it’s like the Transmogrifier box. You put a shitty feeling in there, and it comes out white hot with some good feelings.”

Welcome to the unorthodox world of Agriculture, a Los Angeles quartet that eschews the murky malevolence long associated with black metal in favor of expressing “feelings of absolute bliss, overwhelming love, and awe-inspiring sublimity” through extreme music. They call it ecstatic black metal—a term that has drawn both curious ears and skeptical side-eyes from a corner of the musical universe where debate about what’s kvlt and what’s not kvlt still happens in earnest.

“We didn’t set out, like, ‘OK, we’re going to make fucking ecstatic music,’” Meyer says. “It was more like, ‘Oh, that’s actually how it feels to play these songs.’ The intention is definitely to make people feel good, though.”

So far, it’s working. In 2022, Agriculture’s debut EP, The Circle Chant, established them as a promising act with all the typical tools of black metal—blast beats, tremolo-picked guitars, shredded howls—plus a fondness for unexpected elements like pedal steel guitar, organ, and saxophone. After signing to influential dark-music record label The Flenser, the band released a self-titled full-length last year that offered more of the same: Skyscraping melodic black metal, augmented by stretches of ambient twang, skronky free jazz, twinkling post-rock, and quiet, raw folk music.

Now, Agriculture is releasing its second EP, Living Is Easy, a four-song collection anchored by a bracing title track, which blends black metal fury with a cheerful melody that unabashedly echoes danceable Irish folk music, and “In the House of Angel Flesh,” a punchy thrash attack built around reflections on collective struggle, support, healing, and renewal.

“I wanted to write a song that pretty directly focused on themes of queer community and stuff like that,” says bassist, vocalist, and occasional Bandcamp Daily contributor Leah B. Levinson. “We have a lot of young queer people come out to our shows, and that’s something I always really appreciate seeing and something that means a lot to me, so I wanted to find a way to approach that without falling into slogans.”

The band wrote and recorded the new EP with more confidence and a stronger sense of purpose than it had while creating its earlier work, Meyer says. “We wanted to push ourselves to take all of the ideas from the record and put them in a seven-minute song,” he says with a chuckle of “Living Is Easy.” As percussionist Kern Haug recalls: “I’ll never forget, Dan, you texting our group chat and being like, ‘I think I came up with an even more ecstatic music!’ And it was this Irish folk tune-inspired metal song.”

They’re kidding around, but Agriculture is serious about its role not just in exploring the boundaries of black metal, but in pushing and pulling on those boundaries, reshaping the genre, and setting off to explore some more. “That’s something that we’re interested in continuing to redefine,” says guitarist Richard Chowenhill. “I think we pushed this concept of using very traditional tropes of black metal to create a swirling field of good feelings. [Living Is Easy] feels like a pretty natural limit for that, and we’re exploring some different territory now.” With new territory comes new ideas, new music, new acclaim, new audiences, and new opportunities. This spring, the band will tour the East cCast of the United States for the first time, then make its inaugural trip to Europe to play the prestigious Roadburn Festival in The Netherlands.

As always, Agriculture is changing. Fortunately, its four members get to navigate those changes together. “You start a band because it’s a fun thing to do, and it’s a way of expressing yourself and getting ideas out and playing shows. And I think we’re in a position right now as a band where it’s shifting, and it becomes less of a hobby and more about finding ways to do things like touring in a way that’s sustainable (because) the economic side of being in a band is no joke,” Meyer says.

“How do you preserve the joy that is the impetus for getting together with not just your band but everybody who comes to see you play?” he continues. “How do you preserve that feeling of, ‘This is a really special part of being a human being.’ These are important questions for a band that’s where we are right now.”