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Another conspiracy for the ages. - 87%

hells_unicorn, February 29th, 2012

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.