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“…as the bleak of dusk ordains the eve…”
Just do what you have to do…click over/drop the needle/fast-forward…(to get) past the eternally useless intro and into “Agents of Steel”, not because the opening is that terrible, but because why waste precious time when instead you could be enveloped by a purebred example of speed/thrash metal. People have described speed metal as everything from Judas Priest to Motorhead to Artillery to Slayer to Running Wild to the latest band that’s playing something fast, but only the last three bands can claim any moments in the its sun. Agent Steel, one in the explosion of bands coming out of CA, bask in it, asses planted on lawn chairs with cold ones in hand. Actually, guitarists Juan Garcia and Kurt Colfelt were probably getting palm cramps from breaking land-speed records in a three-inch arc. In truth, every facet of this debut isn’t pinned with the speed badge, but Skeptics Apocalypse is one of the few that can actively be called a speed album without me resting my head in despair. Without any alarms blaring, it can just as easily be called a thrash album as well; two styles that are close like cousins sharing the same bedroom. One just has more of a hair trigger and will make it to the door first when the dinner bell rings.
“The Calling” doesn’t introduce the album per say, but moreover ham handedly acquaints the listener with John Cyriis’s fascination with space, science fiction, alien communication and other stuff really no other thrash band was touching. Original? Yeah, sure, why not? Does it take away from the album? Nah. The music’s much too powerful to be overcome by a mere undertone. Aggressive percussion and a lone guitar lick kicks “Agents of Steel” loose from the intro’s boring, radio-controlled narration, and as soon as the second guitar roars to life, the album’s concealed spirit awakens. Thrash strokes solidify into a temporal form. Within seconds it lives and breathes with the intensity of a newly oiled combine. John Cyriis, already a former member of Abattoir, possesses one of those voices you don’t need cutting loose in the pickle jar section of the supermarket and with one note transforms a fairly ordinary chorus into one not quickly forgotten. “Taken by Force”, originally recorded for Metal Massacre IV under the band moniker Scepter, showcases a more obscure speed metal trait that helps define the style. The drums amble along with a more methodical and subtle pace, yet you should notice that despite this, the riffing underscore is still played with a frantic verve, noticeable more in the unforgettable, keened backing vocal chorus that is the song’s centerpiece. With thousands of bands in a half dozen styles playing with a velocity that is the grim reaper for drum kits, it’s only natural that speed metal center around guitars. There’s no arcane mystery behind “Evil Eye/Evil Minds” and “Bleed for the Godz”, two tracks whose combined obsessive power and speed-wracked intensity can reduce a mountain range into a transparent wisp of smoke and aren’t to be missed.
Side two’s “Children of the Sun” is more provisional with its structuring, plowing a few rhythmic fields as well as tending a slightly more ambitious songwriting crop, and there’re these off-kilter notes Cyriis hits like someone is tweaking his taint with a stick, the verse “…a hole in the SKY and a tear in the eye of the god of the GATE of the sun…” to be more precise, but the chorus saves some face. The uncharacteristic “144,000 Gone” starts with an ancy, semi-rhythm technique that transforms into a coinciding, full-on riff Maiden likes to use to some extent on their first three lps with tandem soloing not at all out of place. There’s no denying the dawning riff of “Guilty as Charged” is revving up for something, and low and behold is met with one of those quintessential heavy/power metal screams that starts from the bottom of Cyriis’s feet and sails off into the stratosphere, meanwhile “Back To Reign”, like “”Taken By Force”, simmers on a slow burn but is still jeopardous with quick, flammable guitar work, and when Kurt Colfelt and Holy Terror retitled it “Debt of Pain”, revamped its lyrics, and gave it a momentum akin to the wind velocity on Jupiter, it became a true adrenal barbarian.
The bands following ep, Mad Locust Rising, continues the otherworldly and contemporary themes and is probably one of the only metal releases with locust in the title, especially an angry one. As for SA, you’ll find few releases that not only pinpoint the scarce speed metal style, but to fuel nearly an entire album with.
Fun Fact: In 1985, readers of Metal Forces voted Cyriis one of the best vocalists of that year, toppled only by Joey Belladonna, Tom Araya, and Ronnie James Dio. Bringing up his rear were Geoff Tate, Eric Adams, and Bruce Dickinson.