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Occasionally there are these coincidental moments of prophecy (for lack of a better word) wherein a band will predict the rise of another. This isn't your typical case of an iconic band inspiring a number of emulators a couple decades later who intentionally take a song or album title from the source of inspiration as their own brand, but more an example of how the limited vocabulary of specialized metal genres can yield these odd little connections, namely a lonely 80s thrash band from Sweden (where few bands of note came into play at that time) named Agony, sporting a lone LP release dubbed "The First Defiance" that listens almost exactly like the Bay Area band by the same name as the last word in the title, and does so a full year before said band put out their own debut. This could almost be likened to one of those quibbles between franchises that resulted in "Ghostbusters" vs. "The Real Ghostbusters" with the former show preceding the latter despite not achieving the same success, or the famed Bill Hicks vs. Denis Leary rivalry for a more extreme and current example.
Musically speaking, Agony definitely takes their cues from the more musically adventurous side of the Bay Area thrash metal scene, forsaking the all fast, all aggressive, red character of Dark Angel and Slayer for something that definitely resembles the progressing, technical character that was being explored by Testament and Forbidden, though it doesn't go quite as far as the latter and definitely resembles the former a bit more in character of sound. The riffing character and frequent employment of consonant lead guitar lines is definitely a dead ringer for a "what would Eric Peterson do?" approach, though whoever is handling the solos isn't quite as flashy as Skolnick. The drumming is the one area where the band definitely reminds more of the Defiance path than the Testament one, as the amount of full speed carnage typical of "The Legacy" and much of "The New Order" is considerably less, and the frequent riff change ups do add a bit of a Dave Mustaine flavor to the mix.
For a band that originally fancied itself as being more of a punk styled outfit, Agony definitely went through some heavy progressing to end up where they were by the time this album hit the streets. The neck-splitting goodness heard on "Mass Manipulation" and "Storm Of The Apocalypse" definitely take an elaborate route, but have a surprisingly catchy air to them, as if a little bit of a mainline Metallica influence courtesy of "Ride The Lightning" managed to sneak its way into the chorus work on here, whereas the riffs crush and shift in a manner that almost seems to predict what would happen on "Rust In Peace", though in a far less overt way. But the real catch on here hits the speakers at the album's conclusion in "Deadly Legacy", which has all the melodic trappings of an early 80s Iron Maiden anthem played about 50% faster and with a Chuck Billy gruff vocal approach. The only place where this album wants for anything is that Pete Lundström's vocals are a bit derivative and are generally one-dimensional, but they get the job done.
What makes "The First Defiance" work so well is the same thing that made all the other iconic late 80s Bay Area albums such as "Eternal Nightmare" and "Forbidden Evil" obligatory classics, which is a solid base and a megaton of energy to boot. In many respects, it represents a slightly transitional movement away from the relentless assaults heard out of the mid 80s German bands which were to eventually pave the way for Sweden's death metal scene, much as Slayer and Possessed did for Florida's respective scene, but without the heavily repetitious and long-winded epic writing that was ushered in with "Master Of Puppets". If "The Legacy" and "Product Of Society" are on the radar, than this album is clustered in right with them, begging for younger listeners who've been brought in by the likes of Tantara and HeXen to give it a go. Thrash in good health young metallic Montague.
To me it sounds like a fairly hodge-podge mix of the big 4; there’s some of those Slayer style harmonies, a bit of Megadeth in the stop start riffing, a pinch of Metallica in the catchy melodies, and, er, probably some Anthrax in most of the bad parts of the album. It’s not the greatest thing ever but some of the songs are pretty cool. "Mass Manipulation" is a cool song with lots of Megadeth worship in the fast, crunching riffs, "Deadly Legacy" with it’s speed metal intro and simple, fast and enjoyable riffing- all with a rather cool chorus tacked on in there, while "Storm of the Apocalypse" has a good time ripping off "Creeping Death"’s intro before kicking into some rather cool thrashing verses. It’s all supported by a decent enough vocalist and a competent rhythm section. You could say it ticks all the boxes for a competent if not outstanding band; decent guitarists, fairly faceless drummer and bassist, vocalist that doesn’t really get in the way of the songs.
I dunno, I doubt these guys were going for some super complex, avant-garde thrash. I imagine they just wanted to write stuff that was catchy, heavy and had some cool riffs, so it’s hard to really downrate them for not pulling out something strange or trying really hard to distinguish themselves. They knew what their goal was, they went for it and they did a decent enough job at it. Yeah, this album isn’t a Dark Angel style riff fest and it’s not as catchy as Ride the Lightning, but it’s fairly fast and fairly catchy, full of energy and enjoyable enough. I guess the worst thing about this album is that like most other smaller tier thrash bands the lead guitarist is rather terrible; succumbing to the usual temptations of whammy bar and pinch harmonic abuse. It’s some seriously forgettable stuff, which is a shame as the rhythm guitarist is pretty tight, even mixing up the fairly simple riffing with some surprising odd time riffs here and there ("Shadow of Fear").
Overall this is a simple and decent enough thrash record which doesn’t really distinguish itself from the pack but is still an enjoyable record that goes well with beer and some good times. Not worth paying $200 for on ebay or anything, but if you happen to see it cheap anywhere then picking it up wouldn’t be a bad idea.
It was only a matter of time before fiery 'ol thrash would evolve into an advanced lifeform that didn't stray too far from its primordial rust, something for the thinker's musical union to sink bicuspids into. That meal came prepared somewhere around '87 even though Mustaine and the energizer bunnies in Watchtower had seen through the style's tangled mess about two years earlier, and instead of burdening it with a handle that already had a heated love/hate relationship with rock fans, someone came up with the pretentiously clinical caption of technical thrash. It stuck, bands like Testament, Forbidden, and a hundred others strove to climb above and beyond what Agent Steel, Razor and the German alliance had built with blood and grime, and thus a new breed finds its foothold. Some still called it progressive anyway.
Silence Studios does a capital job washing the muck from the score and bringing this sub-style's focal point into view: instrumentation. Like a lot of tech thrash, the orphan release from this Swedish five-piece has circumvented the bulwark of fuzz earlier thrash framed its sound around, being pretty scrubbed and sterile, something like what Metallica had just done and Xentrix will do in about a year. Unfortunately, down the drainpipe along with the dirt went a few layers of intensity and some of the style's primal spirit, and is a valid reason why bands treading this new ground of magnitude failed to thrill the crap out of me.
But even without a production with bristles, Agony have the ability to scorch.
Side openers "Storm of the Apocalypse" and "Night of the Emperor" are fraught with anxiety, the former shifting motion a bit more than the brawnier latter, meanwhile gas-powered album closer "Deadly Legacy" gloms the best of both, hitching a ride on a bullet train that pulls in chugging one minute, then corkscrews dramatically the next, and it's apparent why they reserved this for the kicker. Remaining songs like "Mass Manipulation" and "Shadow of Fear" aren't bad though, a little more characterless to accompany their less frothy visage, and catchy, stuck-in-head riffs apparently aren't growing on trees in the band's area. Solos are better than average while the vox is mill-runner ordinary, lightly gruff and a tad lower to squeeze onto the same stalled escalator with so many others.
Never mentioned like Phantom, Acrophet, and Powersurge, but worth a handful of listens. At the very least you could find one or two songs that may tickle your pickle.