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It would be safe to say that this past decade, we've been force-fed an unbelievable amount of neo-trash, hardcore, breakdown-heavy, bottom-of-the-barrel rubbish from major labels like Century Media and Nuclear Blast. If we count all the indie labels too, things get even murkier. Then comes The Agonist, with their first release on Century Media. Does the trend continue? Not really, but...
The first thing you notice when you play this album is the overall lack of heaviness. I can't pinpoint it to one specific thing; whether it's Danny Marino's guitar tone (weak is the only word that comes to mind), the very basic drum lines, or just the fact that there's only 2 or 3 heavy riffs (not breakdowns here) on the album. The opening riff to "Born Dead, Buried Alive" sounds savage. But somewhere along the execution of it, it feels like it lost its potency. The same can be said of "Business Suits & Combat Boots" as well as "Rise and Fall".
The breakdowns are obviously heavy-ish, but are so omnipresent that you almost have a hard time distinguishing what song you're listening to. You also have a thousand bands out there who can do the same thing, with a meaner sound. The overuse of the breakdowns leads to this: Chugga-chugga riff, followed by x-amount of pull-offs and hammer-ons. Repeat 45 times too often. It makes for a bland overall experience.
Their first single "Business Suits & Combat Boots" is clearly the front-runner in terms of quality on the album. Which, is great to get name recognition and improve sales. However the down-side to this is that there's no real hidden gem on this album. The closest thing to that would be "Born Dead, Buried Alive" which suffers from the criticisms mentionned above.
Now, there isn't only negative things to be said of this album. Alissa's screams on this record are at times fantastic, other times unbelievable! You can tell the lyrical content is something she holds to heart, and she wants all to hear about it. The clean vocals need more practising, but are passable. The song ideas are also fresh, but sadly get tied down with the over-presence of the breakdowns. And despite the fact that I find it lacks a heavy sound (especially considering its genre), a selection of these songs could make for an absolutely brutal live set.
In the end, it's an album that shows the flaws and strengths of a new band trying to make its name. I look forward to the sophomore album, as this band has obvious talent. Now they just need to focus it in the right direction - whichever that be for them.