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Shields gleaming bright in the sky - 85%

Xyrth, August 3rd, 2017
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Century Media Records (Reissue)

1985 is among the most amazing years in metal history, a time in which subgenres like power, speed, thrash and progressive metal were still developing from their formative first years, with a great deal of releases by so many bands of that golden age that kept on adding something exciting, new and downright awesome, competing against one another and trying to reach the top of theirs, or the genre's, potential. Without disregarding the excellent doom that surfaced then, nor the transcendental classic metal that was all the rage, the innovative mid-eighties were a time for relentless speed. LA quintet Agent Steel arrived from another planet just in time to partake in that feast of the fastest in the third rock from the Sun. After a couple of demos, Skeptics Apocalypse finally was placed on the surface of the Earth, to the fulfilment of its metal-craving dwellers. Mixing all the rabid and rapid elements from power, thrash and speed (the genres weren't that defined back then), this is a vehicle made for headbanging at the speed of light!

After the short ambient intro, “The Calling”, track no. 2 “Agents the Steel” explodes with unbridled energy, propelled by the terrific guitar attack of Juan García and Kurt Colfelt, both amazing at fast or mid-paced crushing rhythms as well as dual harmonies and enticing soloing, as well as the relentless percussive blitzkrieg of Chuck Profus and George Robb, a duo that had played together already with signature frontman John Cyriis in his previous band. The metallurgic chemistry of the band is evident, as all instruments contribute to this outstanding piece of speed metal, while Cyriis, capable of passing the atmosphere and reaching outer space with his high falsetto, is without a doubt one of the best aspects of this release. The production is suitable for this inaugural Agent Steel invasion, not too clear but not too rough, middle ground between clearer sounding heavy metal bands of the time, or the dirtier thrash/speed of American occult thrashers Slayer or the Canadian breed of Razor, Exciter and Voivod.

There are, however, shifts in quality from tune to tune, even if all share the same metallic aesthetics and are well above average to all similar material of that time. The aforementioned “Agents of Steel” is indeed a classic of American speed metal, serving as the band's iconic anthem, while songs like “Bleed for the Godz”, “Guilty as Charged” or “144,000 Gone” not only have amazing titles, but also memorable riffs, melodies and choruses, as well as interesting lyrics by the UFO-obsessed Cyriis. However, the riffs are not all stellar in the whole release, with parts of some compositions becoming a bit predictable on a few occasions, like the mid-section of “Children of the Sun”, a more laid back tune (in comparison to its peers) that hints at the evolution the band would take for their outstanding sophomore two years later, only not as greatly composed. The short “Taken by Force”, in which Cyriis impersonates King Diamond during the wailing chorus, would be a little bit too straightforward without the frontman's charismatic presence. It's fast and potent, mind you, but just not on the same level as other tracks. The same applies to “Back to Reign”, which has a nice headbangable drive, but a very run of the mill structure.

However solid and influential this debut, their exquisite 1987 sophomore Unstoppable Force, remains their masterpiece to my ears, with impeccable production values and a much stronger, interesting, challenging, and dare I say, flawless set of compositions and performance by all members. I think of their first couple of works as part of an invading alien fleet; this one being the agile scout and interceptor, a destructive and swift combat ship, but it only heralds the coming of the much meaner and bigger commanding mothership, arriving two years later, built with a stronger alloy and featuring more powerful capabilities. It might not be the general consensus regarding this seminal speed metal outfit's 80s discography, as most people considers Skeptics Apocalypse their more thrilling release, and with good reason, for this is faster and more aggressive, but to me the finesse of the follow-up can't be matched by this one. However your preferences, Agent Steel's first LP is a must-listen for any classic metal fan or speed enthusiast. Remember… they don't come in peace!

"Masters of Metal, Agents of Steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaal"

Where skepticism is sent to oblivion. - 97%

hells_unicorn, April 7th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Fono Ltd. (Reissue)

Long before FBI special agent Mulder was teaching special agent Scully the dangers of misplaced skepticism, metal's own Agent Steel was forming his own manifesto against those whom dismiss the otherworldly. His beginnings are shrouded in mystery, but there is a growing consensus that his exploits somewhat post-date the initial rise of speed/thrash as typified in Metallica's seminal nod to the world of shadows known as Kill Em' All and the pre-LP work of Overkill, and a similar set of tools that were employed by said established outfits is put to use in order to reveal a fairly different world, one that is tangible and even based in scientific thought to some extent, but still well beyond acceptable parameters of established thought. Perhaps the chief reason for this is that Agent Steel's propensity to speak of alien encounters and conspiracy theory in a prophetic template, leaving them at a disadvantage to those who might fancy themselves refined thinkers, but be one a doubting Thomas or simply an apathetic Anthony, the Skeptics Apocalypse is very real, and its wake leaves no asses left to be kicked.

Like a number of seminal albums in the early days of thrash metal (1983-85), this is an album that tends to rest in an ambiguous middle ground between several metal sub-styles that wouldn't become more distinct from one another until several years later. However, in contrast to many, this is an album and a band that is worthy of carrying all three labels in speed/thrash/power metal, as there is a heavy concentration of all of them at work here. Compared to subsequent works, this is by far the most speed metal oriented, carrying a familiar mixture of Judas Priest and Motorhead trappings between the tempo and attitude department, and coming off in similar territory to what became a staple of German speed metal in the mid 80s. Nevertheless, thrashing elements are about as equally prominent as they were on Slayer's Show No Mercy, and several principle riffs such as that of "Evil Eye/Evil Minds", "Bleed For The Godz" and the classic sing-along thrasher "Agents Of Steel" have a straightforward yet biting riffing approach that is about as intense as anything heard by 1985.

Perhaps the most reserved part of the stylistic trio, yet clearly one of note, is the power metal trappings that adorn much of this album, particularly the latter half/second side. Though the use of extremely high pitched wails and rapid paced dueling guitar harmonies was not unique to power metal, there is something overtly Iron Maiden-like in character to the way ax men Garcia and Colfelt approach the various lead breaks and harmonized sections heard on "144,000 Gone" and "Taken By Force" that's more tuneful and less mechanical than thrash's employment of such devices, pointing to a similar spot where Helloween would land on Walls Of Jericho while avoiding the classical cliches. But more than anything else, the power metal deal is completely sealed by John Cyriis' outlandish vocal approach, which can be best described as an occasionally gritty, but mostly theatrical display in banshee mimicry. The intensity level is at least equal to that of Geoff Tate's, but even more exaggerated and perhaps landing more along the lines of where Midnight ended up on Crimson Glory's debut and with a slight bit of a ghostly, King Diamond character at times (particularly on "Taken By Force").

When it comes to any classic band, even those with more of a cult following, there is always a handful of fans who annoyingly insist that the first album is always the best one, but Skeptics Apocalypse is one of those instances where said crowd gets it right. Despite becoming far more polished on the sophomore effort and achieving a more equal balance between the trifecta of styles at play, not to mention reforming ten years later and putting together an equally competent and artful display of musicianship on a couple subsequent releases, the level of sheer magic would never be repeated under the alias of Agent Steel. Chalk it up to an alien conspiracy to make the stars align on a fateful recording session in late 1984 to early 1985, but every single second of this raw, high octane journey into the interstellar is utterly unforgettable, and rivals every important album to come out of the early days of speed/thrash metal. Perhaps on the next episode of the recently resurrected X-Files agents Mulder and Scully can explain how this Los Angeles outfit managed to warp space and time with traditional analog audio recording equipment? One can only hope.

Apocalyptic Enjoyment - 90%

LiveNLetThrash, October 14th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Century Media Records (Reissue)

'A Sceptic is one whom when confronted with the writing on the wall, claims that it is a forgery... Your apocalypse has begun!'

And so has this review of Agent Steel's very catchy and enjoyable 'Skeptics Apocalypse' debut album.

If you require speed, high octave vocals and pounding drums then don't turn away. This album released in 1985 has a very unique sound. Somewhat dark as well. I remember buying the album and putting it in the CD player for a spin. The album opens up with an introduction which kind of reminded me of Spock from star trek speaking undefined words in space. Quite eerie. Then all of a sudden the anthem 'Agents of Steel' bursts out through the speakers and I found myself captivated instantly. It's not the first time I had heard this song. In fact it is a song I had heard before and really enjoyed (hence why I decided to purchase the album in the first place). However, this song is fast, loud and relentless. Actually come to think about it this description kind of sums up the whole album (it just doesn't stop or slow down for a single second).

But that's not all either. Taking a huge influence which is very evident from Iron Maiden, you can hear a lot of Maiden-esque harmonies and riffs. Take the song 'Children of the Sun,' it actually sounds very familiar to Maiden's 'Children of the Damned'. By name and music, especially the melody of the vocals and chords used. The songs average between three to four minutes long and in total there are nine songs so the album ends at around the thirty minute mark which I think is too short. Maybe they could have extended a few songs or even added a couple more songs to the list. The songs are short but they are also very effective which is key. I also noticed the mixing of the production varies between different songs. If you take 'Evil Eye / Evil Minds' and 'Children of the Sun' the production is slacking compared to the other songs. But this is 1985! You get what you can and Agent Steel were working on a very low budget at the time so I don't mark down points on this aspect however it is something I definitely noticed.

Regarding the musicians on the album, no one really stands out apart from maybe the vocalist John Cyriis who must of had an aching ball sack after recording sessions because he sounds like someone's squeezing his manhood just so he can reach those high octaves, which hardly no other metal vocalist was doing at that time. He actually topped Bruce Dickinson coming in as number fourth best vocalist of 1985 in a metal forces readers' poll. Only being beaten by Joey Belladonna (Anthrax), Tom Araya (Slayer) and Ronnie James Dio. That's not bad! There is also the legendary Juan Garcia manning the guitar front in which he delivers beautifully. This guitarist also played with EvilDead - A very great band. The drummer and bassist (Chuck Profus and George Robb) are good but that's it. They're standard thrash metal musicians but deliver well.

To sign-off this review I will tell you that this album is incredibly catchy and fun to listen to. No other band sounds like Agent Steel and for this I respect them. They are very unique in how they compose and approach their music (maybe they are Aliens!). If you like melodic thrash with touches of punk and NWOBHM all thrown in one tasty metal wrap then you are in for a treat.

Standout tracks:

Agents of Steel
144,000 Gone
Guilty As Charged
Back to Reign

Aliens, everywhere aliens - 86%

Felix 1666, July 6th, 2015

"Masters of metal, agents of steel" - once you have listened to the chorus of "Agents of Steel", you will never forget again this prime example of metallic catchiness. In addition, the high velocity and the extremely effective guitars of the first track of "Skeptics Apocalypse" came like a bolt from the blue. No doubt, we were listening to an outstanding album with fantastic songs that did not lack of a very important feature - the full-length did not lack of charisma. This is the small but fine difference to some speed / thrash albums of the later generations. Usually, these products of the second, third or twelfth wave are technically flawless, but they do not possess an individual aura. I admit that charisma might be a very subjective criterion. Anyway, there must be a reason why the debuts of Exodus, Agent Steel or Possessed, to name but a few, have become classics, while the first albums of later speed and thrash bands are mostly "only" very good records. (And as always, no rule is without exception.)

John Cyriis, lead singer and science fiction lunatic, played a major role in the concept of this debut. The unreal atmosphere of the cover matched perfectly with the spoken intro that seemingly came directly from outer space. Agent Steel and in particular Cyriis took the listener on a journey to ominous places. The fantasy lyrics of songs like "Bleed for the Godz" or "Children of the Sun" had an inspiring effect while fascinating with a crude religiousness. Cyriis sang like a God that was worth bleeding for, a child of the sun and a master of metal simultaneously. Extreme high-pitched screaming met expressive, fairly aggressive, but also sometimes woeful singing while he always kept an eye on melodic lines. His precise approach merged with the accurate riffing and guitar lines. Some of the riffs sounded almost fragile, for example at the beginning of their inexorable demo classic "144,000 Gone". Yet this did not mean that Agent Steel shied away from fanatic guitar attacks. "Evil Eye / Evil Minds", for instance, was faster than the speed of light. The same could be said about "Agents of Steel". I am still unsure about its most outstanding detail, the effervescent main riff, the virtuoso performance of the guitarists during the instrumental parts or the elongated screams ("steeeeeel") of Cyriis at the end of each and every chorus. His fervent performance culminated in this word so that it sent a shiver down my spine.

Agent Steel did not play speed metal for the sake of stupid aggression. Their technical possibilities opened many doors and the band made good use of this situation. The musicians fought with very well sharpened blades and the clear production fitted the bill. Any kind of dirt or rawness would had hurt the appearance of the songs. To avoid misunderstandings, the album was nonetheless able to generate a high degree of power. "Guilty as Charged" proved this statement while combining elements of spirited speed and sombre power metal. However, "Skeptics Apocalypse" was no perfect album. We had to bite the bullet that two pieces could not compete with the overwhelming remaining songs. Do me a favour and neglect this fact, because one thing is certain: this album has stood the test of time with great ease. Its charisma is unbroken. I guess every alien has a copy of "Skeptics Apocalypse".

A timeless gem from another world! - 95%

Xeogred, November 16th, 2007

Agent Steel is typically the one band that many metal fans can agree with in being pure and true speed metal, nothing else. Diving deeper into the pits of metal it becomes quite clear they are far from being alone in this controversial genre of all things, but these guys were hands down one of the finest. With themes and lyrics totally out of the ordinary for its time this alien force was one not be messed with.

I've been an Agent Steel fan for several years now and I still don't think I can honestly decide which album I prefer more (from the Cyriis era). This, or Unstoppable Force. Both are incredibly different but still absolutely nothing but "Agent Steel", there's hardly anything you can truly compare both these albums too. The apparent issue and argument over this album is that it was simplistic and too straightforward. Riffs and rhythm's seem to get repeated from time to time, but no matter how many times I see an Agent Steel discussion spark up it seems like everyone and their best buds come up with more classic picks from this album than anything else they have ever done. From Agents of Steel, to Bleed for the Godz, to Children of the Son and so forth, this album is practically made up of nothing but insanely memorable tracks. I don't think anyone can deny this fact.

As its been stated all throughout the world, Cyriis is a vocalist in a realm of his own. Admittedly he hasn't perfected his craft on this release just yet, with a few raspy slip ups here and there (144,000 Gone has some odd vocals, etc), his performance still delivers beyond word and even far surpasses many of the finest vocalists out there. None can dish out such overpowering and clear choruses as Cyriis does on this album. If you somehow don't know the man but are a fan of the wailing and shriekiest vocalists in the business, you have no idea what you've been missing out on. He's a "clear" shrieker, one that'll make your jaw drop with his over the top vocals rather than pierce your ears, so his pitch isn't painfully high. Its probably worth mentioning he sounds just as good live as he does out of the studio also. Like everyone always begs to question, maybe he's an alien himself!

The material here is extremely consistent with no slow songs in sight. The production has aged but I can't find a way to pick it apart or anything, there's no other way I'd prefer it. Drums are fast and always in the clear, the guitars are constantly shredding things into pieces and even the bass seems to come out of nowhere every once and awhile and impresses with its insane speed. Speed was the main driving force behind Agent Steel at the time and its easy to say they are even faster than some of the earlier thrash acts from the mid-80's. Its mainly about the catchy nonstop rhythm's over melodic leads and so forth, which they would later go on to focus and develop upon with Unstoppable Force. Here they just wanted to get straight to the point, to blow your face off.

I'm not going to go over every track as I have already stressed the consistency but there are a few that stand out more than others. The opener Agents of Steel is undeniably one of their greatest tracks and if you're new to this kind of stuff it will probably destroy you. This song sets you up perfectly for what to expect with the rest of the album, ludacris speeds that are hardly matched (even today) with some downright crazy vocals. The next track Taken By Force is pretty much a stamp that states "Cyriis". His creative vocals that switch from side to side and overlayer each other completely control this one. Bleed for the Godz is by far one of my all time Agent Steel favorites. This one is more drawn out than most of the songs here and Cyriis gives off one of his most aggressive performances on it, with a chorus you will never forget. After this one Guilty as Charged is probably my next favorite pick, its got that classic intro screaming that defines metal and everything gets about 10x heavier when Cyriis unleashes that insane "Chaaaaaaaaarged" scream. Again its another completely unforgettable number. The only worthless tracks here are the two instrumentals at the beginning and the end of the album (comes with the reissue), a little more work probably could have given off that extraterrestrial vibe they were going for but it just doesn't really turn out too well. The Unexpected (Live) is the second bonus track you get with the reissue and I really would have loved to have seen this one on the album. The sound quality is utterly dense and drowned out, but its still listenable and you can tell its awesome. It has probably the best dual harmonies this album could have offered and finally, its proof that Cyriis was awesome live.

If you're new to this kind of stuff you may have to give this one some time to sink in. If not chances are you've probably already heard this album. From the beginning and to the end this is one ultimate headbanger with consistency that never lets up, packed with some of the greatest vocals in metal history. Thanks to the reissue its not impossible to find. So get it and know your Godz while preparing yourself for Unstoppable Force! Two timeless classics.

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..."

144 await the opening, opening of the door! - 92%

cyclone, April 7th, 2005

It's 1985. Five aliens from outer space land in L.A. and decide to make a heavy metal band. They grow some hair, buy some guitars and they name themselves Agent Steel. Out to the studio they go and they make one of the greatest speed metal records to date. They name it Skeptics Apocalypse.

Seriously, this is the debut record from the alienish (god, I love to invent new words) Agent Steel. The first thing you notice here is definitely the total speed attack which kicks you in the nuts right in the first song (excluding the little intro). The basics of Agent Steel are in the true US heavy/power metal in the vein of, let's say Metal Church - they just make it 100 times faster. The production isn't bad for '85.

The first thing you'll notice on Skepticz will probably be the vocal performance of the mad screamer, Cyriis. I think the whole alien idea was also his. He's also known to be very mysterious and a bit erratic. Well nevertheless, he's a great singer. His screams are out of this world and his voice tone fits perfectly into the music of Agent Steel. The guitarist do a good job here. The riffs are catchy, fast and quite varied and the solos are as melodic as they should be. There are also some very good leads to be found here. Bass isn't that audible and drums are just standard speed metal drums, you won't find anything new here.

The album is well balanced, but the best songs are still concentrated in the first half of it. After the intro, The Calling, Agents Of Steel kicks in. A fan favourite and a live staple has everything you would expect from a speed metal anthem. It's fast, catchy and really fun to sing along (especially in the chorus). It goes the same for Evil Eye / Evil Minds. Bleed For The Godz is probably the best song on the record. It starts off with some crazy riffage and then continues into a full out speed attack. The chorus of this song is one of the best things ever made in power/speed metal. 144,000 Gone has a slightly more epic feel to it and it's just a little slower than the previous songs. It's still one of the highlights on here.

So, let's see. Blazing speed - check. Mad riffage - check. Sing along choruses - check. Slightly insane frontman - check. Interesting lyrics - check. Yep, it's definitely speed metal. And yeah, it's Agent Steel. Recommended!