Album Review – The Agonist / Five (2016)

An average album by a band that has the potential to offer a lot more than this, full of highs and lows and quite confusing at times.

Rating6

the-agonist_fiveI might be absolutely wrong in what I’m about to say and many of you won’t probably agree with me but, after the remarkable success achieved by the fantastic Eye of Providence last year, I believe Canadian Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore band The Agonist rushed things a bit in the release of Five, their fifth installment and by far the album containing some of the weakest tracks ever recorded by this iconic Montreal-based band. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good moments in Five, but the album as a whole lacks more creativity and punch, being full of highs and lows that end up making listening to it quite confusing at times.

Featuring an eccentric artwork by Brazilian artist Gustavo Sazes, and with all song names beginning with “THE” (in case you’re a person obsessed with minor details), Five doesn’t sound as fresh and inspiring as their previous albums, feeling at times as if they were “forced” by some contractual clause to release a new album in 2016, which kind of explains why you’ll find amazing compositions like “The Anchor and the Sail” mixed with forgettable songs such as “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. For instance, the album is unimaginatively called Five, a pedestrian name not even close to the beauty of Lullabies for the Dormant Mind or Eye of Providence. However, if there’s one thing that’s absolutely awesome from start to finish is the performance by the stunning blonde banshee Vicky Psarakis, who saved several parts of the album from being a disaster.

Despite its promising ominous intro, The Moment doesn’t live up to its hype, quickly turning into generic Melodic Metal with lazy guitars and drumming. As aforementioned, although Vicky continues to impress on vocals as she did in Eye of Providence (and she had a lot of fun recording the official video for this song which you can see at the end of this review, by the way), this is certainly one of the most unexciting songs the band has ever written. The Chain is a billion times faster and heavier, just the way it’s supposed to be, with Danny Marino and Pascal “Paco” Jobin doing an awesome job on guitars, and despite its backing vocals sounding a bit out of place the overall result is pretty good, with highlights to its interesting lyrics (“Can I have the attention of the class? / Open up your text / The city of Seven Hills / Another illustration of the autophagy / Put down your fiddle, Lady Liberty / And take a good long look”).

My favorite of all tracks, The Anchor and The Sail, is the good old The Agonist we got used to but with a more contemporary touch, perfectly representing the evolution in music every artist always search for. Its rhythmic and potent riffs and beats, together with Vicky kicking fuckin’ ass on both clean vocals and harsh screams (especially during the song’s enraged chorus), accredit this to become one of their biggest hits in a near future as soon as fans have time to absorb all the music in Five properly, which is not the case in The Game, another song with a promising intro that unfortunately fades into genericism, feeling more like filler than like an honest composition by the band. Then Vicky and drummer Simon McKay lead the musicality in the solid The Ocean through their beautiful vocal lines and harmonious and powerful beats, displaying the right amount of classic The Agonist blended with some interesting experimentations that could easily become a radio hit; followed by The Hunt, which albeit not a masterpiece in terms of creativity, at least it maintains a good flow of energy with Vicky once again stealing the show. And if you say I’m being too picky and that I only enjoy their old classics, let me tell you one of my favorite compositions in Five hands down is the devilish Blues-inspired semi-acoustic ballad The Raven Eyes, completely different from anything the band has ever done before and something I would love to see The Agonist replicating live. The stunning performance by Vicky, declaiming the song’s venomous lyrics embraced by a deliciously dark atmosphere and complemented by smooth piano notes and acoustic guitar lines, is the epitome of awesomeness.

the-agonist_2016I have absolutely no idea why the Nightwish-like instrumental track The Wake was included in Five. It’s not a bad composition, not at all, but it doesn’t add anything remarkable to the album except for almost three minutes to its total duration. I’m not even sure if I can consider this one of the worst songs of the album so out of place it is. Anyway, The Resurrection, one of the heaviest of all songs in Five, brings forward another promising start and excellent lyrics (“Take these coins off my eyes / I’m not ready to be put down / If only you could hear the screaming in my mind / Take these coins off my eyes”), with my only complaint being that it could have kept the same wrath from its first few seconds during the whole song. The Villain follows a similar pattern, losing a little of its punch halfway through it, but nothing that harms its overall electricity. Moreover, the amazing low-tuned sounds by bassist Chris Kells and the furious drumming by Simon provide all the necessary support for Vicky to keep firing her potent growls.

The last part of the album is just downhill in terms of quality and adrenaline, starting with The Pursuit of Emptiness, which is not heavy enough to be Melodic Death Metal nor light enough to be Hard Rock, getting lost in trying to incorporate too many different genres at the same time; whereas the worst of all songs, The Man Who Fell to Earth, would have been a complete disaster if it wasn’t for Vicky’s passionate vocals. Exhibiting the blandest instrumental parts of all tracks, you’ll forget this song exists as soon as it’s over. And the regular version of the album ends with a not-so-bad composition entitled The Trial, nothing truly remarkable but at least it adds some fire to an album below my expectations. And if you grab the limited edition of Five you’ll be treated to their cover version for Hozier’s Take Me to Church, a solid tribute to a contemporary classic, albeit I still prefer Vicky’s old cover songs available on her YouTube channel like her sensational version for “Stricken” by Disturbed.

One day Five might grow on me, but so far after tons of listens at different times and places I still don’t feel this is the best The Agonist could have done as the next step in their amazing career and I don’t believe what I wrote in this review will change much. You can listen to a preview of each track HERE and take your own conclusions (or you can obviously buy the full album), and although I’ll add a few of the songs from Five to my playlist together with all their previous classics, I think it will be hard for me to go and pick Five in its entirety to be part of the soundtrack for my commute, at the gym, at home or anywhere else. I don’t believe the band sold out like I read many people saying in the past week, but the fact that they released a new album when the previous one was still very fresh and vibrant doesn’t make a lot of sense. Well, let’s see what they will offer us next, and as long as it’s not called “Six” it will already be an advancement compared to Five.

Best moments of the album: The Anchor and the Sail, The Ocean and The Raven Eyes.

Worst moments of the album: The Moment, The Pursuit of Emptiness and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Released in 2016 Napalm Records

Track listing  
1. The Moment 4:14
2. The Chain 3:12
3. The Anchor and the Sail 3:49
4. The Game 2:50
5. The Ocean 4:27
6. The Hunt 3:35
7. The Raven Eyes 5:34
8. The Wake 2:44
9. The Resurrection 5:22
10. The Villain 5:00
11. The Pursuit of Emptiness 4:03
12. The Man Who Fell to Earth 3:53
13. The Trial 4:33

Limited Edition Digipack bonus tracks
14. Take Me to Church (Hozier cover) 5:52
15. The Raven Eyes (acoustic version) 5:36

Band members
Vicky Psarakis – vocals
Danny Marino – guitar
Pascal “Paco” Jobin – guitar
Chris Kells – bass
Simon McKay – drums

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Album Review – The Agonist / Eye of Providence (2015)

Veni, Vidi, Vicky.

Rating3

the agonist_eye of providenceAfter a really long and disquieting wait, and obviously after one of the most impactful changes in their entire career, Canadian Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore icons The Agonist finally return with a brand new album, the highly anticipated Eye of Providence, their fourth full-length studio album and, more important than that, the first with the stunning Vicky Psarakis on vocals. But were they able to deliver something as remarkable as their previous releases? Well, not only they nailed it, but Vicky also proves why she was the perfect choice to be the new frontwoman of one of the most influential bands in the recent history of Canadian metal.

With songs revolving around technology and how it affects modern society, as well as some other intimate topics, the whole album has a pleasant and smooth flow that allows the listener to thoroughly sense an interesting interconnection between all songs and, even more important than that, focusing less on melodic metal music and more on raw contemporary Heavy Metal and Rock N’ Roll than their previous albums. In addition, maybe due to the release of the album being delayed for a few months (it was originally scheduled to be released mid-2014), the band added a few extra songs to it, resulting in expressive 13 songs and over 58 minutes of music, around ten seconds longer than Prisoners, from 2012.

If you’re a longtime fan of this Montreal-based band and keep updated with everything they do you already know the opening track, Gates of Horn and Ivory, and you also know how awesome Vicky sounds. Besides, this song has extremely catchy lyrics that will stick deep in your mind for a long time (“With fire at my back / I will tame the waters / I will learn to swim / Fear is not my master”). Would that be a message from Vicky to the world, telling how she’s dauntlessly braving the rough waters of The Agonist? In My Witness, Your Victim, which by the way has a really entertaining and kind of disturbing official video, Vicky’s clean vocals are very solid and match perfectly with the music while her growls give it a fair dose of violence, with the final result sounding robust and gripping.

the agonistHow did they manage to blend Swedish Melodic Death Metal with North American Metalcore so beautifully like in the awesome Danse Macabre? Danny Marino and Pascal “Paco” Jobin deliver some thrilling guitar lines while Simon McKay keeps his beats totally in sync with them, and of course, Vicky’s vocals full of passion and feeling are outstanding in this song. I Endeavor reminds me a little of their classic song “Business Suits and Combat Boots”, especially its drumming and vocal lines, with highlights to the soulful guitar solo at the end of it; while Faceless Messenger is maybe one of their most “European” songs in terms of melody, and I would love to see them playing this song live. Vicky does such an amazing job during this track, ranging from light and smooth vocals to the harsh screams of an evil entity, it doesn’t even sound it’s the same person singing.

Although Perpetual Notion has a promising start, where an acoustic intro suddenly turns into melancholic and violent metal, the rest of it is nothing special, lacking more creativity and depth; while A Necessary Evil is an incredible display of “old school” The Agonist (well, not that old) with a very intense and solid sounding. The whole band is on fire during the entire song, with Simon and Vicky being the sergeants leading the squad. Then we have Architects Hallucinate, which sounds like filler compared to the others despite not being a bad song, and the mighty Disconnect Me, one of the fastest and heaviest of all tracks. It’s Metalcore at its finest, boosted by its futuristic lyrics (“Initiate the procedure to transform my body / Into a greater form to serve your gain / Access the brain to eliminate / The source that constrains us to be humane”) and some great riffs provided by Danny and Paco, while Vicky delivers the goods once again with a brilliant vocal performance.

But The Agonist are not finished yet, as there’s a lot more to come in Eye of Providence:  in The Perfect Embodiment we can see how wide Vicky’s vocal range is, convincing me (and probably all listeners) she can sing pretty much anything she wants to. In addition, it’s interesting to notice how the guitar lines seem to mimic Vicky’s vocals and vice-versa so connected they are. If A Gentle Disease gives us all a chance to see the band in an acoustic version, with Vicky using all the finesse in her clean vocals to help it become a true love ballad, the fiery Follow the Crossed Line, a song full of melody, rhythmic breaks and effective guitar solos, showcases some Black Metal-ish growls by Vicky, adding even more obscurity to it. And lastly, we can savour almost eight minutes of pure professionalism and emotion in As Above, So Below, with highlights to the passionate performance by Vicky who relies almost 100% on her clean vocals to give more life to the song.

I believe you’ll agree with me when I say the album art expresses everything the music in Eye of Providence is: futuristic, aggressive, organic and distressing, which is exactly what we all want to hear from a band so captivating as The Agonist. In regards to the length of the album, I’m more than happy with the fact there’s a lot of The Agonist in all shapes and sizes for us to absorb and enjoy in the following months and years in Eye of Providence until they release a new album again. And at long last, Danny might still be the one to lead the band’s musicality with his passionate guitar lines, but as already mentioned we must admit Vicky is the breath of fresh air the band needed so much. If I was asked to summarize her overall performance in just a couple of words, I would adapt the famous phrase used by Roman general Julius Caesar to inform the Senate of his victory in his war against Pharnaces II of Pontus at the Battle of Zela around 46 BC: “Veni, Vidi, Vicky”.

Best moments of the album: Gates of Horn and Ivory, Danse Macabre, A Necessary Evil and Disconnect Me.

Worst moments of the album: Perpetual Notion and Architects Hallucinate.

Released in 2015 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Gates of Horn and Ivory 3:25
2. My Witness, Your Victim 4:47
3. Danse Macabre 4:01
4. I Endeavor 4:08
5. Faceless Messenger 5:00
6. Perpetual Notion 4:34
7. A Necessary Evil 3:44
8. Architects Hallucinate 4:30
9. Disconnect Me 3:32
10. The Perfect Embodiment 5:13
11. A Gentle Disease 3:45
12. Follow the Crossed Line 4:11
13. As Above, So Below 7:57

Band members
Vicky Psarakis – vocals
Danny Marino – guitar
Pascal “Paco” Jobin – guitar
Chris Kells – bass
Simon McKay – drums

Metal Chick of the Month – Alissa White-Gluz

alissa01

This is War Eternal, Alissa!

In order to properly celebrate the first awesome year of The Headbanging Moose, no one would have been a better choice for our Metal Chick of the Month than this Canadian girl. She’s at the same time the Beauty AND the Beast, an inspiration to many women all around the world, and her convictions and talent are truly taking her to stardom. From the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec, here comes Alissa White-Gluz, founder and former lead singer of Canadian Metalcore band The Agonist, and currently the frontwoman of Swedish Melodic Death Metal icons Arch Enemy.

This vegan straight-edge kick-ass Québécois was born on July 31, 1985, and although she claims she has never taken any singing lessons her voice has become really powerful and versatile throughout the years, elevating her status as one of the most influential Heavy Metal female singers of the past decade, even leading to some comparisons with the one and only Angela Gossow. Well, those comparisons don’t seem to have been in vain, because on March 17, 2014, she was chosen to be the replacement for Angela herself and became the voice of Arch Enemy. In Alissa’s own words, “I am very honored and happy to announce a new chapter in my life and musical career beginning now; I have joined forces with one of my all-time favorite and globally respected bands, ARCH ENEMY. ‘Wages of Sin’ was the first metal album I ever bought, and it was love at first listen. It is not often that you get a phone call from your favorite band asking you to join! I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such amazingly talented musicians whom I also consider great friends. I look forward to being able to write and perform at a whole new level now with ARCH ENEMY! Music is forever, metal is limitless and this is only the beginning!”

Arch Enemy have recently released their first album with Alissa on vocals, entitled War Eternal, but there was a lot more of our Heavy Metal diva prior to that. She founded The Agonist back in 2004 with guitarist Danny Marino and bassist Chris Kells (when the band was still known as The Tempest), and recorded three excellent full-length albums and one EP with them: Once Only Imagined (2007), Lullabies for the Dormant Mind (2009), The Escape EP (2011), and Prisoners (2012), with Lullabies for the Dormant Mind being in my opinion their best album in terms of musicality, lyrics and creativity. In regards to Alissa’s performance in all The Agonist albums, she was always so electrifying and full of energy that it’s impossible to not get completely mesmerized by her voice and moves, as you can easily see in their official videos for Thank You, Pain, …And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep, and Panophobia. By the way, I consider the video for Thank You, Pain, with its outstanding production, good storyline and, of course, Alissa kickin’ ass, one of the most professional and beautiful videos I’ve seen in a long time.

Besides her work with The Agonist, Alissa has also been featured as a guest musician in the following albums: Canadian Folk/Melodic Death Metal band Blackguard’s Profugus Mortis,  Canadian Melodic Black/Death Metal band Erimha’s Irkalla, Canadian Industrial Death Metal band Synastry’s Blind Eyes Bleed, American Melodic Power Metal band Kamelot’s Silverthorn and also in the single Sacrimony (which the amazing official video can be seen here), and more recently in Dutch Symphonic Metal band Delain’s The Human Contradiction. She was also a live guest singer during Kamelot’s recent 2011/2012 tours, as well as, along with Swedish singer Elize Ryd (Amaranth), replaced Anette Olzon while she was sick for a one-time Nightwish concert in Denver on September 28, 2012. An interview with both artists talking about that experience can be seen here and on Nightwish’s Showtime, Storytime (DVD), on the documentary footage section.

Also, in 2006 Alissa appeared on Canadian Idol singing a cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and in January 2012 she was featured as a coach on an episode of MTV’s Made. I don’t know if these can be considered part of her music career, as those TV shows are useless and do not bring any real benefits to real musicians, but anyway she was there and it was an alternative way for her to be exposed to different audiences that are not really into Heavy Metal.

While Alissa was with The Agonist, she toured the world with many different famous bands such as Epica, Kamelot, Sonata Arctica and Danzig, which is very demanding and time consuming, and now with Arch Enemy the frequency and intensity of world tours have just increased, making her eating habits and exercising more than essential for a professional and powerful onstage performance. That’s one of the reasons why she maintains a strong exercise routine, working out between 5 and 6 times a week, especially to strengthen her muscles. Alissa mentioned she loves working out, which is in her opinion the best remedy for anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues etc., and it’s one of the things that make her feel a happier and healthier person. I agree with her 100%, as I also love working out and feel the same results as she does, and also because The Agonist and Arch Enemy are always in my workout playlist.

Another important part of her life is her veganism, which according to Alissa herself is her most powerful source of energy and health. Although she was a vegetarian all her life, she decided to become a vegan when she was a teenager and carry that flag forever more, always mentioning that her family has been a huge inspiration for her. “My parents, along with my brother and sister, are vegetarians. I wasn’t raised in any way where I was forced to be a vegetarian too. I always had the choice. My mom would say, ‘I don’t eat the stuff, so I won’t cook it, but if you want to eat it, you can. Let me tell you why I don’t eat it.’ So she was open about it.”, she said. “From a young age, I learned what a non-vegetarian diet entails. I made the decision early on that I was going to stick to the lifestyle. It’s easier to stick with something like that than change it, if you’ve always done it. I’m grateful that my parents were open-minded with me.”

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In regards to her personal life, Alissa has mentioned during some interviews that among her favorite bands and musicians are Devin Townsend, Gwen Stefani, Muse, and, of course, Arch Enemy. Hence, it’s always interesting to see non-Metal bands or artists among the playlists of Heavy Metal icons (see other examples here and here), which makes us feel less “guilty” when singing any songs that are currently part of the top 40 list. Among her favorite places she has already traveled to, we have Japan, Peru and Austria, and in terms of movies she said her favorite one is still The Little Mermaid, which is by the way the reason why she started singing. I just don’t remember Ariel or Sebastian doing any guttural during the movie, but that’s just a minor detail, right? Moreover, our Heavy Metal goddess has been selected multiple times as one of “the hottest chicks in metal” by Revolver Magazine. Why am I not surprised at all with that?

Last but not least, Alissa is not only an animal lover (I believe she has two rescued kitties at home), but beyond that she’s an important animal rights activist just as her idol Angela Gossow, having already received an award from peta2 for her work in an international campaign advocating against the hunting of Canadian seals. Honestly, that’s for me her biggest achievement in life, even more important than her contribution to heavy music, and something she’s probably very proud of.

She mentioned in some interviews that she’s been active with a lot of different organizations helping kids, third world countries and animals, but that her true passion is in animal rights. She also said she started doing fundraising for peta2 and WWF when she was still in high school, and that the partnership between peta2 and her started when they used some stock footage in The Agonist’s first music video, Business Suits and Combat Boots. Since then the organization and Alissa have been working together to promote veganism and fight against animal cruelty as much as possible through different campaigns, protests, lectures, and many other activities. So don’t waste your time, go support peta2, get involved, do something good for this fuckin’ world, and you might end up meeting Alissa somewhere, an amazing person and one of the best frontwoman of the recent history of Heavy Metal. How about that?

Alissa White-Gluz’s Official Facebook page
Alissa White-Gluz’s Official Twitter

““The biggest thing for me is animal rights. That’s the number one factor that sort of means everything in my life, more than music or anything else. I think it’s a huge problem, and I think it’s refreshing to meet people, now and then, that actually do care about their impact on the planet, and not just care about themselves.” – Alissa White-Gluz