Agent Steel - Alienigma 4/5

Reviewed: 2-29-08





Tracklist:

1. Fashioned from dust
2. Wash the planet clean
3. Hail to the chief
4. Wormwod
5. Liberty lying bleeding
6. Hybridized
7. Tiamats fall
8. WPD
9. Lamb to the slaughter
10. Extinct


The 3rd CD from Agent Steel after their reformation (5th overall) fulfills all the promise of a combat band 20 years matured that one could hope for. It maintains its speed metal soul and bite, and avoids possible modern pitfalls of downtuning, filters, and bludgeoning boredom, but applies a solid level of polish, instrumental skill, and intricate and varied songwriting into a dazzling escapade of aggressive power balanced with precision.

Agent Steel in their original incarnation with John Cyriis on vocals ('Skeptics apocalypse', 'Unstoppable force') was an example to me, along with bands like Flotsam and Jetsam, Heathen and Intruder, of what I termed “speed metal”, more outright aggressive and constantly fast than traditional metal, but with more of its melody and precision intact than the thrash metal of Slayer and Exodus. The original Agent Steel recordings quickly became obscure treasures, and when they returned after a 12-year sabbatical with Bruce Hall on vocals, 'Omega conspiracy' was a worthy if imperfect return, but 'Order of the illuminati' took things to a whole new level, with “Avenger” reaching a pinnacle of piercing, steel tearing vocals in its chorus.

Despite some reports to the contrary, 'Alienigma' does not disappoint in any way, but is a tremendously enjoyable and engaging CD. The worst accusation I could levy is there isn’t a moment as incendiary and memorable as that chorus from “Avenger”, but other than that, it is great. The guitar work is stellar, combining aggression with sophistication, and there are some leads with all the delicacy of a razor-sharp scalpel, mixed up with riffs of carving chainsaw power. Hall’s vocals are strong, and while he avoids that utter piercing magnificence, for the most part it is still a very solid performance. The rhythm section of bass and drums pounds out the same mixture of power and intricacy, and it’s simply a metallic treat to listen to.

The lyrics continue the exotic exploration of conspiracies and aliens, disasters and political issues that the band is known for. As I’ve read at least one of the band members' say in interviews, they’re kind of like the X-files of heavy metal lyricists. Specifically, a lot of the lyrics cover Zecharia Sitchin’s 'Earth chronicles' series (that deal with ancient gods, pyramids, sumerian texts and other ancient mysteries and their origins) as well as general topics of global destruction and some political polemics in tracks like “Hail to the chief”.

For fans of the genre that I call speed metal, who want a polished and thoroughly amazing iteration of it, this is a great CD to pick up.



CRAIG




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