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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...”