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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.