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To return after twelve years is not so difficult at all, but to reanimate the old spirit is a challenging task. Agent Steel accepted the challenge. The well-known guitarists Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles built the backbone of the line-up. They kept the band running and its UFO flying. However, Agent Steel was travelling through new spheres. The modern sound did not pay tribute to the classic works of the formation. From my point of view, this constituted no reason to stigmatize the sound engineer. "Omega Conspiracy" had a natural drum sound and the guitars generated an atmospheric density. The voice of Bruce Hall, the successor of the slightly mad cult singer John Cyriis, was enthroned above the instrumental section. High-pitched singing and a powerful mode of expression, woeful vocal lines and imperious commands, Hall served the entire bandwidth. It is always difficult to slip into the shoes of other people, but Hall was not racked by self-doubt. No doubt, to select him for the job on the microphone had been a good choice of the band.
With regard to the song material, Agent Steel proved again its flexibility. Without being inconsistent, the band covered a wide spectrum. On the one hand, this makes it a bit difficult to describe the music in general. On the other hand, this was nothing new - just remember "Unstoppable Force" and compare, for example, its title track with "The Day at Guyana" or "Traveler". However, let´s dive into the songs while focusing first on "Awaken the Swarm".
Its beginning and the verses appeared as a lost track of "Mourning Has Broken", the underrated last album of the British Sabbat. Its accusing vocals met melodies that shined with an almost tragic attraction. The slow moving rhythm turned into a speed metal foundation and the chorus lent the song an unpredictable dynamic. While culminating in a furious end, this epic and mighty piece showed that Agent Steel was still interested in a varied approach. Nevertheless, speed was the order of the day, at least during the first half of the album. The double strike at the beginning clarified the situation. "Destroy the Hush" did not only destroy the hush. While utilising synergy effects, it destroyed any kind of sluggishness at the same time. This request for destruction marked an aggressive and very strong opener. But it was surpassed by the following "Illuminati Is Machine" that fell under the category "Gift of the Gods". Its threatening aura intertwined with straightforward riffs and directly assaulting drums in order to become the soundtrack of the most dangerous world conspiracy. The merciless verse as well as the slightly desperate bridge were brilliant, but the pillorying and melodic chorus took the cake. Hall´s voluminous voice appeared, sorry for that moronic pun, as an unstoppable force that was striking the right notes in an impressive manner. This explosive track marked the undisputed highlight of the ten pieces. Even 16 years after the publication of "Omega Conspiracy", it does not need to shy away from comparisons with the classics of the band.
It was a pleasure to hear that Agent Steel´s creativity was not yet exhausted. 14 years after their groundbreaking debut, the band was still full of courage and musical energy. The heavyweight "Fighting Backwards" confirmed once more this statement. It shined with successful tempo changes and a vivid chorus. Unfortunately, the remaining songs (with the exception of "Awaken the Swarm") were not on an equal footing with the first three tunes. To add insult to injury, a few pieces sounded terrible, for example the gruesome ballad ("Bleed Forever", it really made my usually not very sensitive ears bleed) and the middling "Into the Nowhere" whose melody lines seemed to be stolen from Steve Harris. Do not think that the weak appearance of these songs was caused by any faults of the production. With regard to the mix, I could not identify any disturbing weaknesses. These compositions were just unworthy of the proud name of Agent Steel. Due to this substandard ending, the full-length failed to work as a whole. But some of its songs deserve to be heard again and again.
The 80s exploits of early speed/thrash mainstays Agent Steel have become something of a legend, albeit something of a cult one that has a fairly limited range of adherents. They were an up and coming outfit molded somewhat along the lines of a faster, fancier, heavier and more sci-fi leaning answer to Helstar and even Florida’s own Crimson Glory (oddly enough, vocalist John Cyriis got a little into his band’s subject matter and moved Agent Steel to Florida due to its proximity to the Bermuda Triangle), and were likewise victims of the 90s. Be this as it may, unlike their aforementioned rivals, they managed to pick up the pieces in the late 90s without changing their name (Helstar essentially became Destiny’s End give or take a few members) or putting out a confused reunion album with a less competent and very different sounding vocalist (Crimson Glory’s often derided return in “Astronomica”).
A different vocalist in Bruce Hall has been tapped for this particular endeavor, but otherwise the band has returned fully intact in the lineup department. While Hall’s voice sounds a bit closer to a hybrid of Geoff Tate and Blitz Ellsworth, it fits quite nicely into what turns out to be a rather faithful successor to “Unstoppable Force”. Indeed, “Omega Conspiracy” sounds much closer to a late 80s thrash album with only a couple modern twists, literally to the point of preempting most of the so-called revivalist movement that wouldn’t pop up for another 5 years or so. Just a single listen to blistering thrashers like “Illuminati Is Machine” and “Know Your Master” will remind of those magical moments out of Heathen where the percussive pummeling of riffs was tempered with a soaring melodic wail that could be brutal yet also spacey and otherworldly at the same time. Add to this a tasteful mixture of gang shouts and layered lead guitar themes that coincide with the few and fleeting breakdowns, not to mention some impressive technical lead work, and this mixture of mainline and semi-extreme metal starts looking like a certified modern masterpiece.
If there is any noticeable contrast between the older Agent Steel that many old times grew up with and this current incarnation, it’s a tendency towards a thrash sound that differs a bit with the more galloping, Iron Maiden inspired speed/power metal that was more commonplace with the 80s. It’s still noticeably present in a subtle sense on “Into The Nowhere” and the opener “Destroy The Hush”, but even on these songs the riff work is a bit more raucous and only partially reminiscent of some of the work heard on “Somewhere In Time” and “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”. The guitar sound fairly similar to the processed and mechanical fuzz that dominated their magnum opus “Unstoppable Force”, but is about twice as thick and pervasive. Bruce Hall also has slightly less of a growl character to his clean vocals, as his mid-ranged performance on “Bleed Forever” is a far cry from the creepy homage to Midnight that John Cyriis would resort to on the band’s few and far between ballads amid a sea of speed.
Most who are loyal to the past version of this band shouldn’t have too much trouble accepting this album in as part of the grand tradition of alien abductions and government conspiracies that first crept its way out of Los Angelos back in 1984 (even the band’s year of origin plays into their very nature). This is all but the exact opposite of the so-called modern thrash alternative that has been floated by a number of old guard bands who still want to creep a bit of groove into their sound. Nevertheless, one cannot help but notice that the louder, modern sound that comes with the expansion of studio technology over the 12 years between this album and the last makes a difference in the character of this album, and that even a fairly standard chugging riff like the one that introduces “It’s Not What You Think” can correlate to a recent Fear Factory album. But rest assured that the comparison between this album and most of what passed for thrash metal at around this time pretty well ends there.
Back in the eighties, Agent Steel was seen by a lot of people as "the next big thing", which they might have just become if it wasn't for some strange decisions made by their strange singer John Cyriis. However, "Iron Maiden on speed", a term which I believe UK's Metal Forces introduced for these guys, made two stellar Metal albums and a good EP in the eighties, but after the second one ('Unstoppable Force', 1986), John Cyriis moved to Florida with the band (according to himself because he wanted to live closer to the Bermuda Triangle), where the band died away silently.
The year is 1998, drummer and founding member Chuck Profus and long time guitarist Juan Garcia are playing in a band together and suddenly come up with the idea to start up Agent Steel again. Guitar god Bernie Versailles was contacted and wanted to do it, as was bassist Mike Zaputil, but John Cyriis was unfindable at the time. A replacement was found in Bruce Hall, who played in Sybil with Bernie Versailles. In that lineup, the band played Wacken Open Air in 1999. Mike Zaputil left the band shortly after that, but a replacement was soon found in Karlos Medina, who played in Evildead and Terror with Juan Garcia.
Now, the year is 1999 and 'Omega Conspiracy', the first album of the reunited Agent Steel is released and my god...what an album it became! From the first notes of the awesome opener 'Destroy The Hush' until the last notes of 'It's Not What You Think' fade away, the album seems to be one of the most complete Metal albums ever to be released. Most old school fans probably miss the wailing vocals of John Cyriis (Bruce Hall does the vocals a little lower), but I personally think Bruce's vocals fit this new style of Agent Steel, where songs are more important than actual speed, perfectly!
Why is this album so complete then? Well, in songs like 'Destroy The Hush', 'Illuminati Is Machine' and 'Know Your Master', the band comes out surprisingly thrashy, while there are also typical Speed/Power Metal songs ('Infinity', 'New Godz') and epic songs ('Awaken The Swarm', 'It's Not What You Think'), while the ballad 'Bleed Forever' is in every aspect as good as 'Traveller' from 'Unstoppable Force'.
Basically, the entire album is one big highlight, but there is one song I'd like to point out especially and that is the breath taking Heavy Metal song 'Into The Nowhere'...this is how whoever created Heavy Metal meant it! The intense riffing, the powerful vocals, the beautiful solos...not to forget the incredibly deep lyrics. The structure of the song is beautiful and even though I am probably going to face a lot of resistance stating this: I think 'Into The Nowhere' is the best Heavy Metal song ever written.
There is only one right advice about this album: go out and buy it damnit! Everything is right about this album; the guitar duo Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles is most likely the most amazing you will ever hear in Heavy Metal, the songs are intense and powerful, as are the vocals...'Omega Conspiracy' was the first proof that Agent Steel knows how to represent Heavy Metal in the 21st century. Oh and hey, while you're at it...get the follow-up 'Order Of The Illuminati' as well!
First let me say that this is indeed Agent Steel's crowning achievement. If you have the time and the funds, I would definately recommend buying their whole discography, but if you are relatively new to this band and are looking for the best place to start, this is it!
This albums kicks off with possibly my favorite track off the disc, 'Destroy The Hush'. The vocals during the chorus are a bit power metal-esque, but they definately aren't as annoying and obnoxious as most of the high pitched singers that you'll come across in most of the power metal albums being released these days. The next track 'Illuminati Is Machine' has a great amount of galloping style riffs (courtesy of Juan Garcia) that put Schaffer from Iced Earth to shame. It also is easily one of the most catchiest and memorable tracks on here. The next track 'Fighting Backwards' has a lot of Sci-Fi samples throughout and overall gives the most feeling as to what Agent Steel are trying to deliver through the concept in this release. I've tried to figure it out myself, but I've still yet to come up with a definitive answer as to what they're trying to say lyrically and musically here. The best thing to do is to get it and judge for yourself. What is obvious is that this release is based around a lot of Sci-Fi subjects and visions. The music, lyrical content and art associated with this album all go together perfect. I would almost go as far to say that Agent Steel have created with one album what Voivod have been trying to do unsuccessfully since the beginning of their career. No, I'm not saying that Agent Steel completey wipe Voivod off the map with this, but as far as my eyes and ears go, this album is the epitome of Sci-Fi thrash metal.
The rest of the album stands up right along with the first few tracks on here. I can't really think of one thing wrong on this album or a track that doesn't fit in. Everything sounds perfect to me - everything from the samples to the clean guitar and piano intros. It all works together like magic to create one of the most perfect thrash metal albums I've heard in my lifetime. I can guarantee that this album will appeal to fans of any type of metal. There isn't really anything to have to digest or let sink in here. Every song hits hard and doesn't let go. If it goes to show you how much I love and recommend this album, my copy of this is scratched to Hell and needs replacing. I've listened to it so much that I've practically worn the disc out.
Anyway, if you're a huge fan of power, speed or thrash metal, check this monster out! If you're a fan of these genres, but have been turned off lately by a lot of the current bands of the said genres that tend to be cheesier than a plate of nachos, scope this out. You'll be headbanging to this for many, many years to come!
This is the best Agent Steel yet. There is a definite sense of coherence on this album that wasn't there on the previous two. Also, new singer Bruce Hall adds an extra dimension to the band. John Cyriis was very good, but pretty much his thing was shrieking. Bruce Hall can shriek and he actually has a singing voice that's different and complementary to the shrieking.
This is for the most part speed metal, though there are a few power-metal and thrash moments here, including some well-placed ballads, like "Bleed Forever". For the most part, the faster songs tend to define the album, like "Destroy the Hush", and "Know Your Master". The riffs are absolutely top-notch here: while the past two derived influence from Defenders of the Faith, this one is all out Painkiller at times! The best song here is the (non-bonus-track) album closer, "It's Not What You Think" which nicely sums up the atmosphere of the entire album, and completes what they were going for with the previous few tracks. That's what is great about this album - the dynamic content. The old Agent Steel somehow didn't get this one right: "Still Searching" was their attempt at a ballad, and it just wasn't up to par with "Agents of Steel" or "The Rager", etc etc... this time, they get everything right on this album. It's tough to accomplish, so some bands should never try it, but if you succeed, more power to you.
Oh yes, the US version comes with a very nicely done cover of "Beyond the Realms of Death". The guitar tone and Bruce Hall's vocals make this one fit in with the rest quite nicely. A highly recommended album, the best Steel!