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If there's one thing that I hate, it's when people judge a book by its cover. When you look at The Agonist you might see a road map to musical disaster: A hot chick as the lead singer, and a bunch of guys trying to look really hard but not doing a very good job in all the promotional photos of the band. But there is so much more to The Agonist than that image would lead you to believe, and this album is perfect proof of that. With the exception of the vocal stylings of Gluz the band really doesn't do anything great individually, but is fantastic as a sum of their parts.
Once Only Imagined is a very melodic metalcore album. It has a lot of clean singing interspersed with the screams of the very talented Alissa-White Gluz, plenty of breakdowns, and riffs that don't rely on crushing brutality ala Hatebreed. Guitarist Danny Marino (no relation to the Dolphins QB) lays down a couple of solid solos throughout the album, most notably on the first complete song, Rise and Fall. The drumming of Simon McKay is fantastic in a pretty simple way. Pure, driving, powerful metal drumming. The bass work from Chris Kells is perfectly serviceable, but nothing spectacular. The overall production is very solid with my only complaint being that you can't really hear the basslines all the time, but hey, it's metal, you'll have just as much trouble hearing the bass on a Slayer album as you will here.
The album starts off with a nice intro track in Synopsis that leads into Rise and Fall which absolutely kicks ass. The second Synopsis ends, the crushing opening riff from Rise and Fall kicks in and blows you away. It's one of the few truly heavy riffs on the album, but it is definitely a winner. Rise and Fall introduces you to the dynamic and powerful vocals of Alissa-White Gluz. These go perfectly with the politically and personally charged lyrics she writes for the band. Very reminiscent of the master of this for the female gender Otep Shamaya. Rise and Fall gives way to Born Dead; Buried Alive which has a booming chorus built on amazing vocals and furious guitar work. The album goes along with Take a Bow and Trophy Kill before it heads into the bands signature song: Business Suits and Combat Boots.
"Does history guide you, or do you set out to change it?"
The lyrics to this song are just perfect. Super charged with vegan and far left wing awareness, her screams truly live up to the passion that is within the lyrics. The song has a soaring chorus and an absolutely epic breakdown with fierce screaming and staccato riffing. Easily the best track on the album, and one of the best when performed live, this is not only one of the best of 2007 but also one of my favorites of all time.
Unfortunately, right after the high point of the album it goes a little bit downhill. The songs (Serendipity, Memento Mori, Void of Sympathy, and Chiaroscuro) are good, but just lack the spark that the first half of the album had. There are some nice moments but they just never explode like a Business Suits and Combat Boots does. Luckily, Forget Tomorrow ends the album off with a bang. Some awesome riffs and good lyrics drive you to the finish and leave you wanting more. Exactly how a metal album should end.
Once Only Imagined has some flaws. Mostly a somewhat dull period for the first part of the second half of the album. Overall it shows you a band with tons of talent and a clear purpose to make some really awesome music. Other than Alissa-White Gluz, no one in the band really shines through on this album, but they work together beautifully. You may really want to just look over these guys because of the waves of female fronted metal bands nowadays, but The Agonist is going to be around for a long time if they can keep it up like this.