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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.