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No aliens in sight - 62%

Felix 1666, June 15th, 2017

Agent Steel's racy debut was, is and will always be an early masterpiece at the interface of speed and thrash metal. Moreover, it sounded like the promise for a golden future. John Cyriis was slightly mad, but a great singer and the band had a fantastic understanding of musicality. Then came "Unstoppable Force" and the album revealed, slowly but surely, a new compositional direction of the formation. While travelling through endless galaxies in order to find unknown forms of life, the guys had expanded their musical horizon. The new broadened approach of the gang did not match my narrow-mindedness and therefore I cannot say that "Unstoppable Force" belongs to the essential albums of the eighties. However, Agent Steel had written a few killer tracks as well.

Abrasive guitars kick off the mid-paced neckbreaker "Indestructive". The tight verses embrace the listener with their iron grip and the dynamic up-tempo chorus works like an opened valve that allows the energy to flow freely. The title track relies on a more or less similar configuration, but its average speed is higher. This first number of the album seems to look for a place near to the songs of "Skeptics Apocalypse". It harkens back to the generally vehement approach of the debut, but it delivers only one facet of the "new" Agent Steel. On the other hand, one finds overly melodic and yes, really soft tunes at the end of both sides of the vinyl. Back in the eighties, two ballads on one speed metal album appeared to me like a serious violation of the genre rules, especially when considering the fact that "Still Searchin'" is nothing but an oily piece of kitsch, unbeatable in its harmlessness. Cyriis delivers siren-like, acceptable vocals and the rest of the band does not seem to exist anymore. Okay, the solo proves the opposite, but it is one of these let-the-guitar-do-the-talking masturbations that did not find a cuddly place in the repertoire of the guitarists of Testament. In a nutshell, a gruesome piece of music. "The Traveler" is better, because it does not deliver another portion of schmaltz, but this does not mean that it is truly well invested time to listen to it.

The few powerful tracks ("The Rager" bares its teeth) need species protection, because an overlong instrumental, a semi-ballad like "Chosen to Stay" (not bad, but its calm intro is too long) and the aforementioned throwaway tracks "Still Searchin'" endanger their refuge. More or less the same goes for the pretty traditional "Nothin' Left". It sounds like a mediocre leftover from Hexx' first album.

The proper yet polished production also does not improve the harshness of the album and all in all I hate to say it, but "Unstoppable Force" signified a step backwards. The wild, untameable element of the debut was missing. I do not know why Agent Steel changed their style so drastically, but time has told us that it was no good idea at all. The mix of speed metal, traditional metal and namby-pamby sections delivers mature compositions, but maturity has never been a value in itself. Seen retrospectively, it was no surprise that the band got into serious trouble after the release of "Unstoppable Force", to put it mildly. I am not surprised that Cyriis did not find any alien while singing these songs. Just in time, they had run for cover.

A less frenetic interstellar road. - 93%

hells_unicorn, April 7th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Century Media Records (Reissue)

A change in the musical winds is, unto itself, an unstoppable force of sorts, particularly in the context of the 80s when label support made the difference between being heard and just jamming in the garage. Even Agent Steel, occupying the outer fringe of uniqueness within the metal paradigm with their alternative take on lyrical content and musical execution, were not fully immune to taking notice of the success and growing ascendancy of both thrash metal and USPM, and thus their former ways of breaking the sound barrier at every possible opportunity would have seemed a bit dated, at least in the minds of the creative minds behind the band's sound. Consequently, the band's 1987 sophomore LP Unstoppable Force comes into being aptly named, for it is an album that gets its point across with a greater degree of power, punch and polish, forsaking the berserk frenzies that typified their 1984-86 sound for something that places a greater degree of the power and thrash points in their triangle of metal sub-styles.

Though this album takes a fairly different approach to things, it is still recognizably the same band that blasted forth at warp speed on Skeptics Apocalypse and Mad Locust Rising. Juan Garcia and his recently recruited foil Bernie Versailles are very much still up to their old antics of blistering technical guitar solo duels, and with this album's adaptation with the changing character of thrash metal, have essentially become more of what they were the year prior, churning out a higher concentration of flashy leads and consonant harmony breaks that climax in a spellbinding six minutes plus instrumental display on "The Day At Guyana", taking a concept somewhat comparable to Metallica's "Orion" but expressing it in a faster and exclusively guitar oriented way. But most importantly, the eccentric propagandist of all things conspiratorial John Cyriis, is still shattering glass with an array of gender-defying shrieks, hitting a pinnacle on one of their more driving and upper mid-paced thrashers "Indestructive" that would make Warrel Dane's work on the Refuge Denied and Mike Sanders' on World Circus seem tame by comparison.

Be all of this as it may, while the heaviness factor is greater and the more prominent characters in congress have upped their game substantially, there is an overall sense of moderation that permeates this entire album. Much of this is accredit to backing up the tempo a bit, reserving only one point of sheer speed thrashing insanity for the opening cruiser of a title song "Unstoppable Force", but otherwise sticking to more of a moderately fast crunch and making frequent stops to ballad territory. In something of a curious twist, the incorporation of haunting acoustic sections as heard at the beginning of "Chosen To Stay" and the one that becomes a full song on the dreary closer "Traveler" tilts Agent Steel a bit closer to where a band would tend to be at this time with a vocalist like Cyriis, namely that of Crimson Glory and Queensryche. To his credit, he manages to offer up a more crooning and restrained version of his exaggerated vocal persona on these songs, thus fitting the mood all but flawlessly. The only point where things get somewhat muddled and anticlimactic is the plodding mid-paced center of this cosmic affair "Still Searching", which mimics the haunting demeanor of Crimson Glory and comes with a couple of impressive guitar solos, but doesn't see things gelling together quite as effectively and morphs into a song that feels a tad bit too longer for its own good, though it is thankfully answered with a fun-filled, galloping monster in "Rager", also sounding a tad bit like a Crimson Glory number.

It would be a massive stretch to refer to Agent Steel, particularly their 80s incarnation, as being in any way typical or by the numbers. Then again, there is an air of time appropriate evolution apparent in Unstoppable Force that mirrors a healthy array of prominent bands in both the power and thrash metal styles in the USA, thus it tends to be the most accessible of their early offerings for anyone coming to this band from any point following the 80s, including those who've heard this band's albums following their 1998 reformation. Some of its heavier and more rugged demeanor could be partially explained by the involvement of Scott Burns in the engineering department, a name that would later become heavily associated with more aggressive strains of thrash metal and the later death metal scene, and its a curious piece of history given that it was one of his earliest gigs as a metal recording technician. Preferring this album to the one that came before largely comes down to a preference between speed and aggression, and while they are fairly different from each other, both of Agent Steel's 80s LPs present a near equally powerful display of ingenuity and originality at a time where the boundaries for what constituted one style vs. another were not as clearly defined.

Not quite unstoppable, but pushy nonetheless - 85%

Gutterscream, April 21st, 2015
Written based on this version: 1987, 12" vinyl, Combat Records

“…raging about us, the signs of war are coming…”

Agent Steel is one of those bands that awakens warm fuzzies that lived within my then-rotund gut of the ‘80s, toastily fluttering as they often had whenever an awesome (or just pretty good) new band stumbled into my ear canals. More closely, this quintet represents the narrower mid-years of the decade, when a more furious lifeform of metal erupted from the genre’s workshop and unleashed its contagion upon a traditionally-dominated countryside, a countryside which was still pretty awkward with adolescence.

With all the speed-warped intensity in the world seemingly at their disposal and an eccentric, siren-like set o’ custom pipes that bordered on outlandish calling the shots, Agent Steel was choiceless when they became one of my most memorable discoveries; born of that initial thrash infection to survive the metallic Petri dish and bare a pair of ’84 demos that’d aggressively evolve into full-length Skeptics Apocalypse i.e. adulthood with one of the more belligerently high-impact thrash records of ’85 that’d prove strong enough keep the previous year’s torch burning. It isn’t merely quintessentially-underground mid-‘80s thrash, but damned miraculous underground mid-‘80s thrash. So even when confronted by the 674 millionth replay of “Agents of Steel”, I can’t help but turn fifteen again and enjoy the new car smell of nostalgia this CA act brings with it.

By ’87, the scene was naturally closer to using thrash as a household term, yet newborn bands and their releases continued blasting away at the first hints of any boundaries erecting within the style. Agent Steel, having already obliterated its share of possible thrash limitations in previous years, took advantage of their veteran status to buy more ignition time to perfect their follow-up to the style-cementing Mad Locust Rising ep.

Now it’s only natural to identify these Cali-freaks with blazing speed. Shit, it was the element championed by the band that laser-focused mere interest into mega-appreciation (along with, of course, my inexplicable enchantment with the zanily-sharp, mountaintop-shearing yelp-fest of a Cyriis kind). Unstoppable Force, however, is a more carefully crafted album than either the debut or ep, in so far that seven of its nine tracks hit only a mid-paced top speed, whereas a little over half of Skeptics Apocalypse busts land-speed records with a smile. Perhaps Steel simply wanted their new output to acquaint itself with more instrumentally-serious tone, for here’s where they seem to playtest their gadgetry of articulate arrangements and discernible pulse that formerly careened across the top of yer skull at 137mph. Then there’s always the chance the thrash/speed badge awarded to them a short while ago had failed to keep their heads high any longer. I mean, ya never know. Meanwhile in related news, bassist Mike Zaputil, already a vet of Malice, Armored Saint, and Sexist/Letchen Grey, steps in to replace George Robb who left after recording the Mad Locust Rising ep.

Of the tame choices, the most docile are solo-spirited “Still Searchin’” and misty-eyed ballad “Traveler”. The former’s structure has too wary and unchanging a plod to be all that interesting, meanwhile the Crimson Glory/Helstar/Queensryche-esque ballad is a departure vehicle for impassioned, conversant solos by Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles (Versye) as well as environment for a short, softly-spoken yarn lonely with depression (chalk this up to Cyriis hearing Queensryche’s Rage For Order during the album’s recording sessions, which was a nightmare for the rest of the guys).

Stronger tunes of varying overall force - all mid-paced yet secure in purpose - are “Indestructive”, “Never Surrender”, the surprisingly name-timid “Rager”, “Nothin’ Left”, and the second half of “Chosen to Stay”, yet the bones of these songs show a noticeable lack of meat for which to gnaw and naturally find difficulty appeasing the hotter hunger pains of aggression.

The prior year’s ep showed us a way more compact “The Day at Guyana”; basically the final thirty-something seconds of speed broker “Let it be Done”. However, this very minimal rear bumper finds itself ballooned to nearly seven wordless minutes for a rhythmically-proven, traditionally-adept, and progressively-rippling hunk of Steel, yet there’s still no sign of the album’s high-density pace car that passed everything except fueling stations on the debut. In fact, you’ll only find anything near this full-tilt speed-of-old skidding across the title cut’s plot ‘o land, a stellar furnace-stoker with some dual solos and skilled switches in momentum and timing which shows me these guys didn’t have to slow down for their musicality to catch up, and it’s what makes Unstoppable Force a bit of a disappointment.

Last we saw human fire alarm John Cyriis he was clinging to the ledge of a sorta unmedicated loopiness that fascinated some, mystified more, and horrified the rest, and this mélange of mindsets hasn’t witnessed many changes of hearts even today. Good news for his personal fans is they’ll find themselves a captive audience under Unstoppable Force; his enviably broad freedom of style, wildly unpredictable release, high-arching soprano where nosebleeds flow, and world-of-his-own ideas await the straitjacket still.

Hey, ya can’t leave without some sorta summation of the surprises, now can ya? While all but one of the mid-striders shouldn’t be called meandering by most means, they do seem to suffer unfortunately from a slight malady of sameness, meanwhile these steel agents have bravely blossomed a more tender side not only with the emotively-serene “Traveler”, but with the first half of the otherwise excitable “Chosen to Stay”. This fan peeked inside the record sleeve for the missing speed.

Later in ’87, one of the many aliases of Mr. Cyriis moves to Florida under the assumption the remaining agents will follow, however only drummer Profus gets in his car. The duo forms Pontius Pilot and record a two-song demo. Zaputil joins The Mofo Homeboys for a pair of demos. Garcia raises multi-album Evildead. Not sure about Bernie, though. And that, for the time being, is the end of that.

Fun fact 0: Nasty Savage’s Nasty Ronnie and Ben Meyer lend backing vocals to “Indestructive” and “Rager”.

“…a black rose he gives you if you’re a betrayer...”

Unstoppable Perfection... - 100%

bayern, December 21st, 2011

"Unstoppable Force" is one of the ten most perfectly executed speed/thrash metal albums ever. Period. Whether the guys were deliberately aiming at such a consummate musicianship, or they threw this masterpiece just like that, effortlessly without too much care, remains a not very necessary afterthought. The truth is that they did manage to produce one of the milestones of the genre, although this led to the band's demise, since anything they would have released as an immediate follow-up would have paled in comparison, including their more recent output after the reformation in 1998.

The guys had already managed to establish a name for themselves with the compulsive collection of high-speed antics which the debut was, but there is no end to perfection, and here they were, two years later, with this monster of an album. Thrash metal was quickly gaining popularity among the metal fraternity, so it was no wonder that many bands, who started as power/speed metal acts, jumped the thrash wagon in the late-80's (Helstar, Liege Lord, Heathen, Laaz Rockit, Overkill, Flotsam & Jetsam, etc.).

Agent Steel made no mistake and joined the thrash legions, but all the individual features they had initially were preserved, including the very characteristic vocalist whose uniquely clean, melodic blend remains a phenomenon on the scene after all these years along with the Flotsams' Eric A.C. John Cyriis, regardless of his cantankerous, controversial persona, remains one of the most distinctive voices in metal, his delivery covering a wide gamut of nuances: emotion, dramatism, aggression, sadness, viciousness, spite, etc., although to some his high-strung wails may come as too much at some point.

Not to worry, though, the latter would have other elements to focus on, like the Bernie Versailles/ Juan Garcia guitar duo, for example, which for many would be the highlight: from the insane speedy shredding on the explosive title-track; to the sorrowful ballad-y beginning of "Chosen to Stay"; to the seismic heavy riffage of "Still Searching"; to the neck-breaking galloping riffs of "Rager"; to the extraordinary pyrotechnics and tempo-changes of "The Day at Guyana": one of the ten best instrumentals in metal history; to the beautifully sad tunes of the closing ballad "The Traveller" (and, do I have to mention that this is one of the finest ballads coming from the metal scene; I know, too many "bests" and "finests" today...). They sound so impeccable that one may only wonder why on earth they had to stick to the prime, direct speed metal barrage for more than half an hour two years ago (well, Versailles wasn't a part of the band at that stage yet); and, even more mysteriously: where are those gorgeous guitar harmonies and riffs now. Ever since the band reformed thirteen years ago they kind of search (and "still searching...") for the lost magical touch which seems to be so elusive to them at this stage, but which was there all along in the good old days, and which made this album such an overwhelming experience.

Hopes were raised high after the news last year that Cyriis was back in the band, and work on a new material has started. Alas, another acrimonious split followed suit, and Cyriis was gone again, presumably for good this time, replaced by the omnipresent Rick Mythiasin (Steel Prophet, New Eden, etc.). No complaints whatsoever, if it wasn't for the fact that "Unstoppable Force", like the good wine, gets better with each subsequent listen, sounding as lustrous and brilliant as it was during the time of release. Apparently those of us, who had left their hearts in the-80's with this album, would always be happy to hear the band's new output, but the truth is that we will always be "searching" for something to relate it to this "unstoppable" piece of art, which remains one of the true gems of metal, with the unique quality to shine brighter with the passing of time.

YOU CAN’T STOP (listening to) IT! - 100%

Xyrth, February 9th, 2011

How’s it that this masterpiece has only one review so far? Well, that’s about to change. Not that I disagree with the former reviewer. Oh no, quite on the contrary, I just feel compelled to echo his opinion and totally recommend this power/speed ouvre d’art. For this is like the american answer to Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II, and surely stands as one of the finest examples of its genre. In a similar manner to said album, we have here quite a collection of excellent riffs, bad-ass solos, a majestic rhythmic section and an outstanding vocal performance, all perfectly mixed and produced.

Agent Steel started with a pretty solid release, the 85’ Skeptics Apocalypse, an awesome record that shook the US metal scene. Not much power metal was being done that side of the Atlantic and certainly not much had that album’s amount of quality and potential. But just like a “message from space” that debut only heralded the greatness that would follow. Two years later, the mothership arrived with Unstoppable Force, aiming to conquer the metal world with its soaring screams, blazing guitar attack and ultra cool UFO-themed lyrics, quite a novelty for the time and genre.

Let’s start with the vocals, shall we? John Cyriis reminds me a lot of Kai Hansen, which is a terrific guitarist and a hell of an influent power metal musician and band founder, but vocally he sucks, totally. Cyriis is like a perfected Hansen, as if he was abducted by an advanced race of metal-craving aliens who performed vocal enhancement experiments upon him and returned him to Earth to inhumanly sing in Agent Steel’s 80’s albums. He is just flawless here, his timbre in perfect control, from his soft, almost narrating voice during calm sections, like the beginning of “Chosen to Stay”, to the Michael Kiske-like soars on the title-track (Helloween comparisons continue to emerge) when he goes “UNSTOPABLE FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORCEEE!” nearly at the end of that song. Awesome! At times he also reminds me of a slightly higher Bruce Dickinson.

The dual guitar approach of Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles is another highlight of the album. Both their high-energy riffs and their slick soloing are extremely memorable and catchy as hell. Their thrash-like riffs are so headbangeable and blatantly mighty (like the ones at beginning of the title-track), they make me wonder why current power metal bands don’t (or can’t) do riffs like that anymore. It just puts them in evidence so clearly. The solos are pretty good as well, not too pretentious and over-blown but fairly technical and fast enough to make you shout “HELL YEAH!” in ecstasy.

Drum and bass (unlike that electronic muzak genre) are magnificently done here, with a fair amount of fast double bass and grooving rhythms. Both instruments are clearly listenable, though the drums are slightly low on the mix. The bass has a rich organic tone and Michael Zaputil’s work here is impeccable and highly memorable, and I’d say he almost has the same presence as the guitars. And while drummer Chuck Profus work is not that outstanding, it also provides an excellent performance, from his slow rocking timing to the fast-paced fills and double bass patterns.

Highlights include… well, pretty much all the 39 minutes found here are split into nine timeless jewels of power/speed, starting of course with the opening title-track, perhaps the best track found here. However, others songs don’t stray far, like track number two, “Never Surrender”, with its extremely catchy chorus and propulsive rhythm, or “Chosen to Stay” which evolves from a moody ballad into a bad-ass rocking number. “Still Searchin’” slows the pace a bit and shows the band capability of writing and performing immortal rocking anthems as well. Then of course we have the all balls-out “Rager”, also a strong contester for the best song here (and my personal favorite) with its amazing riffage and a kick-ass gang-shouted chorus:

NOW WE MUST JOIN Forces and rage!
Disturbing the Scoffs,
Neighborhoods fear, THE METAL ATTACK!
He's coming to town, He is ... THE RAGER!
He will hunt you down, He is ... THE RAGER!
He's coming to town, He is ... THE RAGER!

Right after that, we have the amazing instrumental track “The Day at Guyana”, in its 2.0 version, greatly improved over the original, which appeared at the end of the Mad Locust Rising EP. This one here’s on the same level as Metallica’s “Call of Ktulu” or Anvil’s “March of the Crabs” as one of all-time instru-metal’s greatest. Filled with awe-inspiring riffs and lots of tempo changes, all the musicians (minus Cyriis) greatly contribute to its awesome performance, all instruments shining bright like an otherworldly unknown-alloy metal saucer.

After the yet again Helloween-ish (especially in the melodic break at the middle of the song) and still excellent “Nothin’ Left” we’re left with the calm ballad “The Traveler”, which opens up with mellow solos by the guitar team and is carried on by an amazing heart-full performance by Cyriis, which “travels” between near-falsetto singing, some eerie whispering and passages of mesmerizing narration to finally conclude this hell of a USPM masterpiece, right there sharing the same echelons as Jag Panzer’s “Ample Destruction” and Riot’s mighty “Thundersteel” .

Don’t know why this band broke up after reaching this tremendous heights but they’d reform a decade later with renewed strength, a new vocalist and a more thrash-infused sound. They’d produce three more albums, with varying quality fluctuating between OK to pretty good, but to me, they’d never fully regain the force once possessed. Fortunately for us metalheads, last year the word spread about John Cyriis himself returning as the frontman of the Agents of Steel. Meaning no disrispect to Bruce Hall, that’s some awesome news and I’m pretty excited for any new material the guys produce and by the possibility of seeing them live and performing classics from this album and their earlier material. Meanwhile, I just have to keep on recommending this flawless Unstoppable Force to any power/speed metal fan out there. GET IT NOW!!!