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The television set, that grand prognosticator of propaganda that continually leads the sheeple to the slaughter, has in recent years alleged that there are 1,000 Ways To Die. Being a refined skeptic of the day, the author of this little screed is always dubious of such claims as do not comport with his preset sensibilities and presuppositions. Call it empiricism if you wish, but he just can't imagine such a large number of ways to terminate one's existence without it either all happening before his eyes or if he already finds the idea agreeable. Nevertheless, he is keenly aware of the fact that there are a fair number of ways to screw up a metal album, and is even willing to use inductive reasoning to better understand such eventualities. In the puzzling case of Agent Steel's third LP since reforming with a new vocalist and fifth overall Alienigma, his inductive faculties had to work a bit harder to fully comprehend the diabolical master plan behind how a competent fold of musicians can go from glory to the modern scrapyard.
To dispense with the obvious, this album is a collective failure on multiple fronts, and it can all be summed up as a misguided attempt at modernization and playing to the sentiment of the day. In much the same fashion as Elvenking's sudden and revolting interest in My Chemical Romance a year prior that resulted in the horrid powercore abortion The Scythe, Agent Steel took a rather jarring fascination in Nevermore some time between the release of Order Of The Illuminati and the songwriting sessions that yielded these disjointed semi-speed/thrash anthems, and the results are a mixture of styles that tastes about as good as Islam's miracle cure of camel milk and piss might. The riff work is an uneven mixture of heavier thrashing ideas that are somewhat comparable to the previous album, but cut with muddy grooves and random-sounding detailing that sabotages any sense of symmetry in the arrangement.
This sense of confuted mixing of ideas crosses over into both lyrical and vocal territory, as the subjects of the songs veer into unsubtle bitching about politics in a manner about as boorish as Warrel Dane would, and Bruce Hall's vocals have likewise abandoned its signature upper-ranged gymnastics, largely sticking in mid-ranged territory and mixing in some extremely poor sounding grunts and barks that were largely abandoned by Dane a couple years prior. There are points particularly on "Wash The Planet Clean" and "Hybridized" where Hall actually attempts what sounds almost like Anal Cunt styled shouts, which are so woefully out of place and sloppily executed that it conjures up disturbing images of Phil Anselmo being circumcised with a belt-sander. Likewise, the incessant verbal whining about American politics in a manner about as awkward as a Green Day album from said time period often finds itself expressed in a stomach-ache induced bellow that's a dead-ringer of Warrel Dane's Dead Heart In A Dead World voice, particularly on "Liberty Lying Bleeding" and "Hail To The Chief".
Pausing for maybe a brief moment to remind everyone that he is not a fan of the regime holding sway during the year of this album's release, this review's author is content to limit his criticisms to execution rather than messaging, though it should be noted that several of these songs fit in with the Agent Steel discography about as well as aliens did into the last Indiana Jones film. Speaking of alien stuff invading our space, there is also the matter of some of these truly cringeworthy Pantera moments such as the opening groove on "W.P.D.". Since when does a riff that sounds like it was lifted off of a song about rednecks breaking bottles over each other's heads belong on an Agent Steel album? And what shall we do with the Machine Head steeped "melodic" intro found on "Liberty Lying Bleeding" or the mess of disjointed chugging at the inception of "Lamb To The Slaughter" followed by a sloppily executed blast beat with death metal vocals? This is the sort of incoherent and jolting shifts in style that some might argue are progressive, but ultimately turn most of these songs into sonic mush.
Naturally there are a few patches of decency to be found on here, be it moderately competent songs like "Fashioned From Dust" and "Tiamats Fall" that are not completely hijacked by modern incongruities, or the generally on point guitar solo interchanges between Versailles and Garcia (funny how even that part is a bit like Nevermore's sound as well), but overall this album is a stylistic train-wreck by a group of musicians who have proven themselves far more capable than this. The only way to explain what has happened here is commercial pandering, and as usual, the results are an album that is poorly defended by a sizable number of fans of the band when it first came out, but has been largely disowned by the band, which went so far as to wait eight years to put out another album under a different band name that completely repudiates everything that happened on here. In similar fashion, the rest of us ought to rightly disown this album in the manner that this band has, but avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The Bruce Hall era of this band produced two fine albums worthy of every fan of this band's earlier works' consideration, and they prove that this band was better suited to warning of invasions by little green men via CB radio than trying to save the world with material rehashed from network television.
I won't lie; I got into this band by first hearing the Alienigma album. After finally obtaining this disc full of edge and assertive strength, I immediately recruited to several metal message boards, and I was a bit shocked to read that Agent Steel "used to be so much better".
After digging and hearing the sounds of Skeptics Apocalypse, Omega Conspiracy, and Order of the Illuminati (all great albums mind you), I felt safe to say that this was a more pleasant change than that of other bands. Since some people would refer to Agent Steel as a power metal band, and a lot of power metal bands seem to want to make progressive metal (or perhaps more money), I don't feel that the new, more thrash direction of Agent Steel is too terribly different from a speed/power direction. Their lyrics haven't lost their anarchic state of mind, and they still make me really think.
The album starts off with a fast and equally hard song, "Fashioned From Dust". The song was very well put together, particularly the vocals from what I notice. Most other bands who might play this style really make me wish they were using death grunts instead. I also must comment on "Liberty Lying Bleeding", while their guitar riffs at the beginning of the song might at first seem out of place, it very well blends into the music. The rest of the instruments very well match the guitar solo of this song. It's a rush to hear the drums thrash about during the solo so appropriately. I'd also have to say "Wash This Planet Clean" was remade better than their previous version. The production seems more full, and the song seems better done as far as creating metal music goes.
The skills of the band members aren't something to ignore either. While Bruce may not win too many singing contests, he really knows how to make the sound work. The drum playing is my favorite. It balances the music out great, with all the fills, and the fact that he can actually stay on beat. You won't get less skill than you should expect from a veteran metal band.
I rate this album a 90. While I'm not here try to improve the average rating of this album, I want to point out the greatness of these songs. After hearing what Kreator has to offer, listening to the new stuff from Testament, having seen Resistance (US) play live, I couldn't say there's a thrash album that I've heard that is better than Alienigma. As far as the earlier albums from Agent Steel, they had a great sound then, but I am really loving this new sound too.
Not very often does a band I grew up with succeed in making me smile wide when the opening chords of a new album are implemented, but Agent Steel has proven there is much life beyond John Cyriis. All I might muster right now is a few properly-placed "Holy shits" and the obligatory head bobbing associated with my love of all things metal. This is a monster release, my friends!
I was one of the last holdouts when I heard Steel was going on without headcase Cyriis at the helm, but the band has done nothing but surprise and delight these aged ears! I was surprised to see my esteemed fellow reviewer, Empyreal's, association with Nevermore. Let me say, I hail all things Nevermore and yes, I hear the technical side of the Seattle guys in this, but Steel has its own touches on their music on Alienigma, believe me! Yes, some may call this the "sell-out" record, but might I remind them of St. Anger, the Black Album and Loads one and two? If this is a sellout record I'm all for being he newest bandwagon rider. I may even go as far as to say that I prefer vocalist Bruce Hall over John Cyriis, but I also equate that to being older and ruined by all of the crap high vocals called power metal these days. If I hear one more stroke from Germany try to be Kai Hansen or Michael Kiske I'll open a vein! While Cyriis had a place back in the day, the new dawn is Hall and co.
The power behind this release does, indeed, remind one of parts of Godless Endeavor and possibly Dreaming Neon Black by Nevermore, but the comparisons are limited because Steel simply shreds everything around it with this album, and that's just a fact. Also it should be noted that if we metalheads had bands with such stellar production back in the day we'd all be hearing a lot less than we do now.
For a taste of true metal at its finest grab this and play it until the walls of your house bleed!
Well, well now, I think I just might owe Agent Steel something of an apology. I wrote a middling, overly critical review for this album a few months back, but upon a recent re-listening, I've undergone a complete 180 flip in opinion - I'm going to come out in the open and admit that I was fully wrong about this disc. Alienigma is surely different from the old Agent Steel, and old Agent Steel is surely good in its own right, but we can't hold onto those classic albums forever. Especially not when you consider the crushing magnitude of this new release, and the soaring heights to which this band has taken their instrumental and songwriting powers. So this is my mea culpa, and I have to say that Alienigma fucking smokes; no way around it.
Moving onto the music, the band has upped the heaviness a considerable amount since their last effort Order of the Illuminati, and they've also tightened up their sound and produced a full album with no fillers or weak cuts like the last album had. The guitar tone is thicker and fuller, the bass is sizzling and red-hot and the drum sound is pulverizing in its vigorous display of skull crushing goodness. Bruce Hall's vocals are not quite as smooth and sleek as they were on Order, and I don't think the vocal lines he sings are always the best, but he sounds angrier and tougher here than ever, and it fits like a glove with the new direction the music has taken. You will hear calls of "sellout" and "Nevermore clone," but those people have not given this album enough of a chance, because this is a hundred times better and more powerful than anything that lame band has ever produced. The production may be modernized, but don't make the same mistake I did and dismiss Agent Steel for that.
Thrash metal? Not exactly, although it's obvious that is definitely one of the prime influences at work on Alienigma. While still obviously drawing from the well of Thrash, what with the chugging, dynamic, go-for-the-throat riffwork, Agent Steel have also implemented a hugely prominent 80s classic metal influence that simply can't be denied. I hear deep, defined shades of Helstar's Remnants of War intertwining furiously with the undeniable majesty of Liege Lord's Master Control, with just a few hints of Judas Priest making themselves known, all wrapped up in the crystal-clear-yet-still-fucking-mountainous production job that I really hope the band sticks with from this point forward. The riffs are more plentiful and better than ever, and the solos are pure classic metal bliss, and no connoisseur of traditional Heavy Metal can deny that fact. Agent Steel in the past were always a good band, but never before did they ever meld their influences into such a well done piece of music, and never before did they kick quite this much ass.
As for standout cuts, every song delivers a heaping helping of pure American steel, from the bone-rattling mastery of the opener "Fashioned from Dust" to the full-throttle assault of the following anthem "Wash the Planet Clean," with it's monstrous shoutalong chorus, to the double-whammy assault on the senses of "Wormwod" and the awesome "Liberty Lying Bleeding," and to the aural assault of any number of metallic crackers on display here. The band never misses a step here, always on top of their game and always going straight for the jugular, tearing in with such ferocious enthusiasm that even the most jaded metalhead will be forced to admit to the raw, unrelenting power Agent Steel have now, in the face of the behemoth that is Alienigma. This is mandatory.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
This year’s album from old-timers Agent Steel sees the L.A. band finally shake off its archaic thrash and speed metal origins and get with it, granddad; ‘it’ being the generic, monotonous style of down-tuned post-thrash that all American bands have been getting away with since Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax decided to slow down at the start of the Nineties. This is a particularly disappointing move for Agent Steel in light of the two previous albums released sporadically since their reform, which brilliantly re-captured and even improved upon the classic speed metal sound they helped pioneer in the mid-Eighties, and despite a large audience still existing for classic metal, admittedly far away in Europe, the band obviously decided it would be a good idea to try to keep up with current trends. Thus, they set about recording what is essentially a tribute album of Nevermore songs circa 1997.
‘Alienigma’ isn’t a bad album, in fact it’s quite competent as a modern-sounding release, but it’s left many fans feeling disappointed that the classic style has been replaced by one equally as clichéd and repetitive as the one they obviously wished to leave behind, despite having more of a knack for it. The style never moves beyond sounding like a Nevermore clone, with liberal borrowings from this decade’s most prominent metal acts popular with macho morons, namely Machine Head and melodic death metal bands teetering dangerously on the edge of metalcore, specifically Arch Enemy. The sound is grounded in down-tuned riffs that lack much in the way of creativity or originality, while Bruce Hall’s vocals are almost entirely restricted to a half-hearted shout reminiscent of Machine Head’s Robb Flynn that occasionally reaches an octave or so higher to sound like a dead ringer for Nevermore’s Warrel Dane, clearly revealing the albums he’s been listening to since ‘Order of the Illuminati.’ Long-time guitarists Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles are at their most disappointing and disillusioned in the riffs, all of which chug along entirely unremarkably, but fortunately their fantastic solos manage to make most songs worth listening to, always sounding fresh and original in a manner that’s both enjoyable and frustrating, as it rubs in just how much better this album could have been if the foundation was as good as the polish.
I have to credit the band for pulling off this uncharacteristically brutal and aggressive sound very well and completely convincingly, and any newcomers would most certainly be surprised to learn that these guys were around back when their dads were into metal, but it doesn’t make this any more impressive as just another entry in a dull genre that by all rights should have expired at the end of the last decade, but bizarrely continues to find favour with American metalheads. You might think I’m something of a hypocrite and madman for preferring that the band instead follow and even older and more outdated style in its place, and you’re probably right, but that would be to celebrate and continue expanding on a sound that still packs as much of a punch as it did back when most people weren’t ready for it. Continuing to abandon their roots, there’s also a minimal focus on the band’s old gimmick of alien abduction themes in the lyrics, being largely replaced with tirades against religion and the government that only cement the Nevermore comparison ever further.
1. Fashioned from Dust
2. Wash the Planet Clean
3. Hail to the Chief
5. Liberty Lies Bleeding
7. Tiamat’s Fall
8. WPD (World Pandemic Destruction)
9. Lamb to the Slaughter
To cut to the chase, pretty much all of these songs sound exactly the same, and it’s only through a more focused and dedicated listen that certain favourites and rare moments of creativity shine through the mid-tempo ‘heaviness’; heaviness obviously being characterised by the extent to which you down-tune your guitar rather than the needlessly time-consuming task of having to come up with technically powerful riffs. Some songs are a little faster (‘Extinct’), some a little more traditional (‘Wormwood’), and some nothing more than an uninspired meeting of Machine Head aggro and Arch Enemy riffs (‘Wash the Planet Clean,’ ‘Liberty Lies Bleeding’), or at worst, Pantera with Pantera (‘Lamb to the Slaughter’). Opening track ‘Fashioned from Dust’ sets up the general sound acceptably without going overboard in offering anything special outside of the first of many great solos, maintaining a slow, hammering alliance of guitar and clicking bass drums that will continue without much interruption for the next fifty-three minutes.
The longer songs tend to be the ones that most noticeably outstay their welcome, with the six-minute ‘Hail to the Chief’ and ‘Hybridized’ not maintaining enough interest to justify their length despite an excess of breakdowns in the former and some ineffective spoken word in the latter that struggles to bring back the sci-fi theme, but fortunately the similarly lengthy ‘Wormwood’ burrows its way through these stale corpses and succeeds in being the stand-out track of the album, at least for fans who prefer the band’s older style as I do. The main riffs are still pieced together from Arch Enemy’s studio floor, but there’s a return for that old favourite the neoclassical solo, succeeding even the excellent virtuoso spots of tracks two and three, and Bruce Hall puts in his best effort to emulate the operatic singing of Eighties metal, though he’s still evidently restricted to the middle range, either by preference or vocal limitations; either way, it’s a refreshing break to hear him sound like Bruce Dickinson rather than Warrel Dane. It’s not a patch on the band’s better work, but at least proves that there’s still hope for future releases.
The harder songs that will appeal most to Machine Head / groove metal fans tend to come in the second half of the album, with most running out of steam and ideas long before they’re due to fade out. The finale ‘Extinct’ is the main exception, mostly due simply to its more appropriate length of under four minutes, but there’s also a greater amount of energy in this final performance from all the musicians, and the eager, early solo sounds properly integrated rather than hastily slapped on top of the repeating riffs as the song draws to a close. ‘Tiamat’s Fall,’ ‘WPD’ and ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ form the weakest section of the album, the first two for sounding pointlessly like Nevermore B-sides and the last just being a really unnecessary bit of Pantera worship, while ‘Wash the Planet Clean’ and ‘Liberty Lies Bleeding’ at least try to incorporate melodic death metal elements into the band’s sound so that anyone listening to this in a couple of centuries’ time will be able to place it in its correct decade, but it’s a real shame the band hadn’t exposed themselves to the more authentic and exciting bands playing this style in Scandinavia rather than the home-grown knock-offs that this ultimately resembles more.
‘Alienigma’ is, on the whole, an entirely pointless album, the only purpose of which could be to satisfy die-hard Nevermore fans with a sound-alike of that band’s better period prior to ‘Enemies of Reality.’ The substitution of Machine Head growls and Arch Enemy riffs for the band’s traditional speed metal sound was an unwise decision that was clearly going to alienate fans, and it’s a real shame that they didn’t choose a more worthwhile direction than generic post-thrash, or whatever you want to call it. I wouldn’t be so critical if their previous two albums hadn’t been of such high quality – get those instead.
At least the metal I like.
Well, when Agent Steel said this would be their heaviest album yet, they in fact meant it. Alienigma is the most brutal and vicious album to come from this band. It is also easily the worst album they have put out, replete with groove and a modern production (don’t ask me why this is characterized as “modern” when it is mostly associated with mallcore bands that most decry as not really metal). Empyreal pretty much nails everything wrong with this album, though I have to say I am likely a bigger fan of the last two albums than he is so the lack of quality inherent in this release depresses me even more. When Agent Steel reunited, it felt like a much needed infusion of classic 80s metal after so many bands from that period had gone astray. Of course, Agent Steel also managed the rare feat of actually exceeding their earlier output and so their return was all the more glorious. Therefore, to see the band fall into the trap of succumbing to a modern sound after they had so nimbly avoided it before truly devastates.
So what is wrong with this album? First, Bruce Hall appears clipped on this album. Agent Steel’s new approach doesn’t really assimilate well with Hall’s performance on the last two albums. Instead, Hall does nothing interesting at all with an unconvincing attempt at harshness. I would like to think that perhaps Hall chafed at his reduced role in the conception of this album because his voice and the vocals he created for the Order of the Illuminati and Omega Conspiracy thoroughly defined those albums and something like Alienigma doesn’t require much from a vocalist.
The riffs sound repetitive and lack that unique thrashy and speedy quality Agent Steel has maintained throughout their career until now. You will not find anything like that emotional and ethereal under-chorus riff from Into the Nowhere of Omega Conspiracy. The production doesn’t alleviate any of the problems, in fact it exacerbates them with that awful down-tuned sound that incorrectly sacrifices melody in pursuit of “heaviness” as if the quality of being heavy comes only from your guitar tone.
Now, I am obviously biased against this album because I don’t like groove or even a lot of brutality in my metal. I do not listen to death or black metal or even most German thrash. With that in mind, perhaps this is actually a good groove album; for anyone with tastes such as mine and especially anyone that delighted in Agent Steel’s previous outings, avoid.
Once again what we have here is an intense array of thrash metal songs which have been polished to near perfection by veteran thrash/power metalers, Agent Steel. These guys have been pushing the envelope with their last few albums to include more technical compositions and a forever improved production from album to album.
Alienigma may lack a little bit of the intensity which was so prevalent on Order Of The Illuminati, but we as fans cannot deny the effectiveness of this new creation of songs from this legendary band. This album is full of hooky riffs and some stellar lead work from the disgustingly underated Bernie Versailles and Juan Garcia. Specifically Bernie, whose ability as a lead guitar player is lightyears ahead of some of the more glorified players, such as Dave Mustaine, Glen Drover, Kerry King, or Kirk Hammet. Bernie can easily play circles around these guys, yet due to better album sales, the aformentioned people always manage to grace the cover of world renowned guitar magazines...go figure.
Anyway, this album is great! The songs are overall slower this time around, but there certainly are some serious thrash breaks from time to time which could definitely rival any Exodus tempo of recent memory. There seems to me more focus on structure and the groove aspect, as oppose to the balls out speed of Omega Conspiracy or Unstoppable Force. Some people, for whatever reason, think that when a band slows down a bit, that they've sold out and lost their intensity. Well, I need to remind those individuals that if you listen to this album in its entirety, you'll soon realize that these tracks, albeit slower than much of the bands back catalogue, is still just as heavy. These tracks all have great headbanging rythms and choruses which will have you hooked from the very first listen, I guarantee it. Lyrically, this band has to, at the very least, be considered rather original. The interest that this band has with the idea’s and concepts surrounding aliens and the idea of alien life form having some parallels with God is rather interesting topic. The album is sort of like the third chapter, from which the story originally came to fruition with the Omega Conspiracy. The religious comparisons are a little more prevalent this time around, but the general idea remains the same.
The production on this album is extremely well done. Bill Metroyer, whose better known as one of the Metal Blade Records producer's has done a great job with this album. It does sound strikingly similar to some of what he did with Flotsam and Jetasm's sound. Having also handled the mixing and mastering duties, Mr. Metroyer has once again proven his worth as a reliable and capable thrash metal producer. Overall, this album is a great thrash metal album which can easily spin from beginning to end, with the listener not having to reach for the “skip track” button.
Every track is worthy to be heard, and the album only gets more interesting with each additional listen. Now if only the band will tour Canada!
If you're like me, and you're a huge fan of the first two Agent Steel albums, I can tell you one thing about the probability of this appealing to you: fuck if I know.
I'm not familiar with the last two albums, but a couple things stick out to me about this one. The vocals suck. And Agent Steel have suffered somewhat from the age-old affliction of legendary-band-of-yore-is-now-groovy. Oh, and this sounds like a collaboration between Arch Enemy, Nevermore, and Machine Head, with a thoroughly hung over Bruce Dickenson doing occasional vocal lines. I think some would be shocked to find how accurate of a description that is. For example, the main riff in Hybridizer I swear is straight out of a newer Arch Enemy song. And Wormfood. And at least one riff in every song. Seriously.
No, this is not the Agent Steel I love, but that doesn't necessarily mean I can't grow to like it, right?
Doubtful, I'm afraid.
Primary problem being: the vocalist is a twat. Like I said, I'm not familiar with the last two albums, but after a quick listen, Mr. Hall didn't sound this lame on those albums. This is just all around weak; his pseudo-thrash vocals don't cut it, and he certainly can't sing. What's worse is that he's too loud in the mix. John Cyriis may be a complete basket case, but I'd prefer him on vocals any day.
Now, there are a couple really cool riffs floating around here. They are few and far, however. The guitarists attempt some melodic epic leads but they’re just not cut from that cloth - Agent Steel isn't a band for guitar finesse. And unfortunately, they mostly resort to using riffs ranging from passable to flat out dung that borders on nu-metal.
Modern generic thick production. Standard drum performance. Overly thick and inappropriate downtuned guitars (very nu-metal sounding guitar tone). And a poor man’s Warrel Dane/hung over Bruce Dickenson twat on vocals. For shame, Agent Steel.
Occasional cool riffs are the only saving grace here. There are actually a few songs that are pretty good from start to finish, which include: Tiamat’s Fall which includes a pretty old school, almost NWOBHM sounding riff; Fasioned From Dust which has some quirky riffs is pretty interesting; Lamb To The Slaughter is really fast, actually bona fide thrash at the beginning (surprise!) and goes into probably the fastest drum part out of any Agent Steel, wasn’t expecting that toward the end of the album. Extinct is tolerable, too.
The rest is pretty much dung.
Agent Steel may have managed to come away from a decade long hiatus with some of the old magic intact, but I don't see it carrying them much further.