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Hearing sounds of steel even in outer space - 94%

Gutterscream, June 8th, 2005
Written based on this version: 1985, 12" vinyl, Combat Records

“…as the bleak of dusk ordains the eve…”

Do whatever you have to do - click over/drop the needle/fast-forward - to get past the eternally useless intro and to “Agents of Steel”, not because the opening is all that terrible, but because why waste precious time when you could be enveloped by a purebred example of speed/thrash metal. Since the two words together became an actual style, people have described speed metal as everything from Judas Priest to Motorhead to Artillery to Slayer to Running Wild to the latest band playing something fast, and in some cases arguments can be made, but only the last three bands can claim any substantial moments in its sun. Agent Steel, one in the explosion of bands coming out of CA in early/mid-'80s, bask in it with their asses planted on lawn chairs with cold ones in hand. I mean, guitarists Juan Garcia and Kurt Colfelt were probably getting palm cramps from breaking land-speed records in three-inch arcs.

In truth, every facet of this debut isn’t pinned with a speed badge, yet Skeptics Apocalypse can't be called anything but a thrash/speed record. Why conjoin the thrash and speed styles? Well, there is a difference between the two, but they're more alike than anything, like brothers sharing the same bedroom. The former just has a hairier hair trigger that'll make it to the door first when the dinner bell rings.

“The Calling” and its radio-controlled narration doesn’t introduce the album per say, but more over ham-handedly acquaints the listener with John Cyriis’ 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 undone by a mere undertone.

Aggressive percussion and a lone guitar lick kicks “Agents of Steel” loose from the intro’s boredom and as soon as the second guitar roars to life, the album’s spirit awakens. Thrash solidifies into a temporal form. Within seconds it's living and breathing 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 the Metal Massacre IV compilation under the band moniker Scepter, showcases a more obscure thrash metal trait that helps define the style. The drums amble along with a more methodical and subtle pace, yet notice that despite this, the riffing underscore is still played frantically, 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 most 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 to a slightly more ambitious songwriting crop, and there’re these off-kilter notes Cyriis hits like someone is tweaking his taint with a stick, like 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 liked using 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’ feet and sails off into the stratosphere, meanwhile “Back to Reign”, like “”Taken by Force”, simmers with a slow burn, yet is still jeopardous with quick, flammable guitar work, and when Kurt Colfelt and Holy Terror revamped its lyrics, gave it the momentum akin to the wind velocity on Jupiter, and retitled it “Debt of Pain”, it became a true adrenal barbarian.

The band's nifty 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 . This is just one of those releases that pinpoints the thrash/speed metal style.

Fun Fact 87!0): 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.

"...drifting through night air, life's so insane..."