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Black Reign > Legion > Reviews

Multiple Personality (Dis)Order, Take 100… - 91%

bayern, December 18th, 2019

Yeah, it’s the correct number cause one invariably gets disoriented following John Cyriis’ numerous transformations, both music and personality-wise, through the years, the man changing bands and names like his clothes pretty much, creating the impression that he is searching for something… something that always seems elusive and most likely not really within reach.

Or maybe not? Maybe the man simply wants to create this mystery around his persona… who knows? But if that’s the case, how can we explain the long periods of inactivity during which he never even remotely hinted at himself or any work he might be doing? Complete silence… the way of the adept. The way of the man who has found inner peace, and isn’t looking for any earthly temptations… sure thing, but why the friction with his former colleagues for the Agent Steel trademark rights from a few years back then? Nah, Cyriis is far from having achieved inner peace… he has quite a few more demons to purge.

This purging process started in the distant 1988, right after the dissolution of Agent Steel the latter caused by Cyriis himself who moved to sunny Florida from even sunnier California together with the drummer Chuck Profus (also Agent Steel). His initial interest in conspiracies, aliens, and the Bermuda Triangle was apparently satiated as shortly after the relocation he was parading as Father Damien, an occult satanic figure and the proclaimed head of an underground cult named Pontius Prophet. Music-wise the cultists had set their minds and souls on the good old speed metal, looking for inspiration at Agent Steel’s first outing, above all. Deeper aberrations of the minds of all involved led to two other, even more obscure, also more diabolical formations (Malfeitor, Lemegeton) but further dabblings with the forces of darkness prevented these two assemblies from creating anything tangible… on the music front that is.

The gathering darkness in Cyriis’ both private and career life is only slightly dissipated on the product here, a 3-track demo. Well, to begin with, the sinister shadow of Father Damien is gone replaced by the more commercially-appealing alias of Max Kobol, a secret agent gone missing during a secret joint operation of CIA and MI6 somewhere in the Balkans, supposedly Bulgaria, in 1980… kidding here, but with the arrival of this Cobol guy Cyriis has brought back his inordinately dramatic wailing falcetto, with King Diamond himself a very close reference point the entire time. In fact, he produces a spell-binding over-the-top performance which constantly stays within the very high registers, often to the point of screeching. It will take some time for one to adjust to this shrill, openly emotional singing especially those who had managed to hear the Pontius Prophet demo on which the man was plain semi-reciting in a curt spat-out fashion… please, make sure all glasses in your house are well grounded.

Music-wise, however, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about as this is a really fine way to recapture the best from the 80’s US power/speed metal scene. The guys proceed as a trio, Profus behind the drum kit, the third ace being the complete unknown at the time guitarist Rolo Macias who later had a short spell with Attacker early in the new millennium. The Attacker lads must have chosen him based on the impetuous gallops the man unleashes on the short bursting marvel “Blackstream Winter”, a sure candidate for “Second Coming” (Attacker again), its contagious speedy flair picked by “Aphrodite's Throne”, a superb progressive saga with an atmospheric twist and a breath-taking balladic epitaph. With this last cut a sheer “Unstoppable Force” material, the band shift from the challenging formula with the dark brooding Sanctuary-sque title-track, a hypnotic mid-pacer which pessimistic aura is carved by Cyriis’ overdramatic vocal exploits.

Yes, the man was definitely going somewhere with this second more concrete gathering after the Agent Steel dissolution, a really nice package that still sounded relevant in this early transformational period. The sound quality, however, remains on a just-above pristine level which leads me to believe that Cyriis was intentionally immersing his musical feats in murkiness… I mean, you surely have the means to secure a nice studio with all the necessary gimmicks; with your sophomore alone having sold over 300, 000 copies you’re by no means living in squalor on the streets of Miami, wrapped in covers of old alien conspiracy novels… besides, there’s this seeping passion that can be detected behind the musical proceedings… the guys wanted their endeavours to matter… only that this black reign, like the previous collaboration, didn’t last long at all… the brotherhood of Satan… sorry, Cyriis disassembled again… energetically.

Has the man ever thought of collecting both the Pontius Prophet and Black Reign material, and releasing them as a full-length at some stage, plus another couple of tracks? Nah, I doubt it; homogeneity would be lacking… not severely but still; the Pontius Prophet is evil vicious, near-spontaneous speed metal whereas the compositions here “reek” of premeditation and careful arrangements, both sides fairly attractive and all, but not exactly very compatible. And, hats off to Cyriis for keeping things fresh and unstoppable... sorry, unpredictable with each step, with the element of surprise high, the mystery retained all over… the way of the secret agent (of steel).

Another plunge into the deep underground followed suit, no surprises this time although I’d gladly give an arm (the right one), and perhaps half a leg (the left one) to find out what on outer space the man has been doing from the time of plunging (sometime around 1990) to the very dawn of the new millennium when he resurfaced in Amsterdam, Holland, of all hallucinogenic places, and produced one single Stellar Seed (one track (“The Godz of Man”) released as a single)… working secretly under cover somewhere in the East be it Far or Middle? Possible. Spending time in transcendental meditation on some high inaccessible mountain? Also possible. Trying to locate the epicentre of the mythical Bermuda Triangle and cross over into other dimensions? Also possible, my dears. Regardless of what he was doing during this lengthy period, one thing is for sure: he has managed to come to his senses and has put the effort to win the rights for the Agent Steel brand.

Bravo! So what happens now? Good question; a wait for the Agent Steel sixth full-length instalment is going on at present, the working title “No Others Godz Before Me”, plus an anticipation of an eventual appearance of the perennially elusive Y.E.T.I…. sorry, S.E.T.I., descending right from the highest Himalayan mounts just for you, Cyriis’ other project for which some stellar seeds were planted earlier… but that’s another story. In other words, a mad locust rising will be the least of your worries, ladies and gentlemen; our favourite Mr. Mysterio will be hitting from several fronts, either surrendering our beloved planet to his extraterrestrial associates, or turning the Bermudas into a recreational area for retired spies… well, you can’t blame him; the Cold War is long since over.

To surpass the Masters of Metal? - Cyriis Pt. 2 - 90%

Xeogred, January 18th, 2017

After the Cyriis era of Agent Steel folded, John Cyriis would transform into Father Damien and with drummer Chuck Profus immediately in 1988 constructed Pontius Prophet releasing only a short two track demo that carried on Agent Steel's sound from the Skeptics era. Nothing more would come out of Pontius Prophet and credits show they folded in that same year. The alien overlord wasn't going to disappear just yet though and in 1990 he transforms into his final form, Max Kobol! Enter Black Reign.

I suspect that Cyriis put a lot more into writing this material across 1988 and 1990 as it's about as creative as it gets and far more complex than Pontius Prophet. To be completely obnoxious about genre labeling, I want to say this is perhaps a single ultra rare case of something I would call speed/power. It's usually just power/thrash that blends together, or speed/thrash that's more melodic and less bay area, or you can always expect different branches of power metal to incorporate a lot of speed. But something about this feels different, still having that iconic speed metal DNA that flowed into everything Cyriis ever touched, while these songs are utterly dense with virtuous skills from the three man team. All topped off with that obscure 80's power metal dungeon atmosphere. Maybe it's just the mix of the demo, but I don't really get the dungeon vibes from Pontius Prophet and certainly not Agent Steel. So those are why this feels like an interesting blend of speed/power and sets itself apart from anything else Cyriis had done.

The other differing highlight is Cyriis' vocals here. Cyriis goes bonkers constantly hovering in the higher registers and injects these songs with a ton of his own backing vocals and multi-tracking. This is John Cyriis completely unleashed and unchained and feels like further evidence that a lot more work was put into this than his Pontius Prophet project. Chuck Profus returns for drums and handles the new style effortlessly, breaking into a stampede of speed whenever necessary. The obscure third man Rolo Macias covering guitars and bass is no pushover whatsoever, making this one of the most technically impressive releases Cyriis was involved with. Imagine a darker take on Unstoppable Force with guitars just as obtuse as Bernie Versailles' style while Rolo makes it his own. The production leaves a bit to be desired as usual with an obscure demo and there are apparently several rips at different speeds, so dig around for all of them to compare. All three songs are completely off the chain with dozens of cool ideas and interesting hooks, there's just nothing quite like this one. Frankly this demo is so damn awesome and impressive that I think a Black Reign full length would have had all the potential to surpass Agent Steel's classics. Insanely creative music here, if you're fan of Cyriis and want a taste of speed/power, this is a gem.

John Cyriis, Post-Agent Steel, Take 2 - 91%

Jophelerx, June 23rd, 2016

I really, really wanted to title this review 'Are you Cyriis?' but ultimately I decided to stick with my 'John Cyriis, Post-Agent Steel' series theme, so there you go. I had to stick that pun in somewhere, though.

Anyway, Black Reign. As with all things John Cyriis, this is weird, weird stuff. This is weirder than Pontius Prophet but not quite as weird as Stellar Seed, supporting a theory that Cyriis's material just got weirder and weirder as time went on (which makes me even more eager to see Cyriis release something new!). I'd say this is ultimately the best of Cyriis's post-Agent Steel projects, though it's pretty hard to judge it against the one song released under Stellar Seed. This is really ambitious power/speed metal with weird, frantic, washed-out riffs, not dissimilar from those on Stellar Seed. Cyriis uses a lot of multi-tracking and his voice is even more full of helium than usual. The production is murky and distant, but if anything this adds to the epic alien atmosphere. The riffs are probably the best we've heard from a Cyriis project since Agent Steel's Skeptics Apocalypse, which is a great feat indeed. What we've got here is just nonstop speed metal wizardry, a dark, oppressive atmosphere, and Cyriis wailing with such insanity and pitch that it seems as though perhaps helium were injected directly into his veins and he's struggling to exhale it out. If you like anything Cyriis has done, listen to this, it's utterly overlooked stuff that deserves more attention from USPM and speed metal fans, standing strong against almost any speed metal release you'd care to raise. Long live Cyriis!