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Aliens are coming! Quick, blame the Republicans!!! - 35%

hells_unicorn, September 14th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2007, CD, Mascot Records

The television set, that grand prognosticator of propaganda that continually leads the sheeple to the slaughter, has in recent years alleged that there are 1,000 Ways To Die. Being a refined skeptic of the day, the author of this little screed is always dubious of such claims as do not comport with his preset sensibilities and presuppositions. Call it empiricism if you wish, but he just can't imagine such a large number of ways to terminate one's existence without it either all happening before his eyes or if he already finds the idea agreeable. Nevertheless, he is keenly aware of the fact that there are a fair number of ways to screw up a metal album, and is even willing to use inductive reasoning to better understand such eventualities. In the puzzling case of Agent Steel's third LP since reforming with a new vocalist and fifth overall Alienigma, his inductive faculties had to work a bit harder to fully comprehend the diabolical master plan behind how a competent fold of musicians can go from glory to the modern scrapyard.

To dispense with the obvious, this album is a collective failure on multiple fronts, and it can all be summed up as a misguided attempt at modernization and playing to the sentiment of the day. In much the same fashion as Elvenking's sudden and revolting interest in My Chemical Romance a year prior that resulted in the horrid powercore abortion The Scythe, Agent Steel took a rather jarring fascination in Nevermore some time between the release of Order Of The Illuminati and the songwriting sessions that yielded these disjointed semi-speed/thrash anthems, and the results are a mixture of styles that tastes about as good as Islam's miracle cure of camel milk and piss might. The riff work is an uneven mixture of heavier thrashing ideas that are somewhat comparable to the previous album, but cut with muddy grooves and random-sounding detailing that sabotages any sense of symmetry in the arrangement.

This sense of confuted mixing of ideas crosses over into both lyrical and vocal territory, as the subjects of the songs veer into unsubtle bitching about politics in a manner about as boorish as Warrel Dane would, and Bruce Hall's vocals have likewise abandoned its signature upper-ranged gymnastics, largely sticking in mid-ranged territory and mixing in some extremely poor sounding grunts and barks that were largely abandoned by Dane a couple years prior. There are points particularly on "Wash The Planet Clean" and "Hybridized" where Hall actually attempts what sounds almost like Anal Cunt styled shouts, which are so woefully out of place and sloppily executed that it conjures up disturbing images of Phil Anselmo being circumcised with a belt-sander. Likewise, the incessant verbal whining about American politics in a manner about as awkward as a Green Day album from said time period often finds itself expressed in a stomach-ache induced bellow that's a dead-ringer of Warrel Dane's Dead Heart In A Dead World voice, particularly on "Liberty Lying Bleeding" and "Hail To The Chief".

Pausing for maybe a brief moment to remind everyone that he is not a fan of the regime holding sway during the year of this album's release, this review's author is content to limit his criticisms to execution rather than messaging, though it should be noted that several of these songs fit in with the Agent Steel discography about as well as aliens did into the last Indiana Jones film. Speaking of alien stuff invading our space, there is also the matter of some of these truly cringeworthy Pantera moments such as the opening groove on "W.P.D.". Since when does a riff that sounds like it was lifted off of a song about rednecks breaking bottles over each other's heads belong on an Agent Steel album? And what shall we do with the Machine Head steeped "melodic" intro found on "Liberty Lying Bleeding" or the mess of disjointed chugging at the inception of "Lamb To The Slaughter" followed by a sloppily executed blast beat with death metal vocals? This is the sort of incoherent and jolting shifts in style that some might argue are progressive, but ultimately turn most of these songs into sonic mush.

Naturally there are a few patches of decency to be found on here, be it moderately competent songs like "Fashioned From Dust" and "Tiamats Fall" that are not completely hijacked by modern incongruities, or the generally on point guitar solo interchanges between Versailles and Garcia (funny how even that part is a bit like Nevermore's sound as well), but overall this album is a stylistic train-wreck by a group of musicians who have proven themselves far more capable than this. The only way to explain what has happened here is commercial pandering, and as usual, the results are an album that is poorly defended by a sizable number of fans of the band when it first came out, but has been largely disowned by the band, which went so far as to wait eight years to put out another album under a different band name that completely repudiates everything that happened on here. In similar fashion, the rest of us ought to rightly disown this album in the manner that this band has, but avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The Bruce Hall era of this band produced two fine albums worthy of every fan of this band's earlier works' consideration, and they prove that this band was better suited to warning of invasions by little green men via CB radio than trying to save the world with material rehashed from network television.