Album Review – The Agonist / Orphans (2019)

Montreal, Quebec-based juggernauts of Melodic Death Metal return with a brand new album that’s more extreme, more melodic and more exciting than ever.

I guess one of the most important details in Orphans, the sixth full-length album in the career of Montreal, Quebec-based Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore juggernauts The Agonist, is the fact that the band took their time to write and record it without rushing things up, and the final result is truly breathtaking. Featuring a minimalist but captivating artwork by Canadian artist Mikio Murakami (Silent Q Design), Orphans is a huge step forward in the band’s musical path compared to their previous album Five, released in 2016, a bland and uninspired album that seemed to have been released way too fast as if their record label was trying to capitalize on the huge success of their 2015 opus Eye of Providence. Fortunately for all of us, the band comprised of the stunning Vicky Psarakis on vocals, Danny Marino and Pascal “Paco” Jobin on the guitars, Chris Kells on bass and Simon McKay on drums learned their lesson, putting a lot of effort, focus and time on the creation of the amazing Orphans and, consequently, getting back on track for our total delectation.

Vicky’s mesmerizing vocalizations ignite the furious and wicked opening track In Vertigo, my favorite song in Orphans showcasing lyrics clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland (“A little too big and a little too small / The thing is that life isn’t one size fits all / So take a sip and a couple of bites / And lay back to feast with your own eyes / Down down down the rabbit hole!”). Danny and Pascal are on fire with their riffs and solos, not to mention the brutal, guttural growls blasted by Vicky during the last part of the song, resulting in a full-bodied anthem that represents what The Agonist are all about to perfection. They continue their journey to the past without sounding outdated in As One We Survive, a modern and fresh version of their classic sonority where Melodic Death Metal meets Progressive Metal, with Simon crushing our heads mercilessly with his intricate beats; and get ready to slam into the pit with Vicky and the boys in The Gift of Silence, another frantic creation by the band overflowing rage and madness where Chris and Simon generate a rumbling ambience with their bass lines and beats, also presenting very melodic pieces led by Vicky and her piercing clean vocals.

Then it’s time for the band to head into the battlefield in Blood as My Guide, a fantastic composition showcasing thrilling vocal lines, powerful drums and an absolutely inspiring vibe, resulting in what’s by far one of the best creations of the Vicky era. Moreover, it’s impressive how Danny and Pascal can sound so violent and at the same time so harmonious on the guitars, with Vicky’s gorgeous Greek words bringing an extra touch of epicness to the overall result. After such imposing tune, let’s meet Mr. Cold together with The Agonist in another solid tune where all band members deliver some of the most progressive lines of the whole album, in special the stringed trio Danny, Pascal and Chris, whereas in Dust to Dust they venture through the lands of classic Rock N’ Roll and even Soul, but always loyal to their Metalcore essence, of course. Needless to say, Vicky is flawless with both her clean and harsh vocals, enhancing even more the song’s headbanging rhythm led by Simon’s beats. And back to a more aggressive and infuriated sonority we have A Devil Made Me Do It with its straightforward, in-your-face lyrics roared by our she-wolf Vicky (“Catch me if you can / I am faster than your mind can fathom / Armed with the element of surprise / I slither through the corners of your eyes”), while the band’s guitar duo keeps blasting flammable riffs and solos from start to finish.

The Agonist Orphans Limited Deluxe Box Set

Those talented metallers continue to hammer our heads in The Killing I, bringing to our ears groovy bass punches delivered by Chris while Simon goes berserk on drums, or in other words, this song should work beautifully if played live, and I have no words to describe Vicky’s demented performance on vocals where she proves once again she can easily and seeminglessly fluctuate between gorgeous clean vocals and deep, enraged roars. The title-track Orphans is perhaps the darkest of all songs, a voyage through the realms of Melodic Death Metal and Metalcore infused with Progressive Metal, with Vicky effectively telling the story behind the music with tons of emotion while the rest of the band offers an avalanche of groovy and thunderous sounds nonstop. Then closing the album The Agonist smashes our senses one final time in Burn It All Down, where Vicky sounds as insane and violent as she can be while Simon and Chris build a solid stage perfect for Danny and Pascal to slash their stringed axes, leaving us all disoriented and eager for more of this version of the band in a not-so-distant future.

As mentioned in the beginning of this review, I’m glad The Agonist took their time to compose Orphans, which is by the way available in full on Spotify, delivering a beyond dense and potent album of metal music that will certainly please all diehard fans of the band as well as newcomers to their metallic world. You can grab your desired copy of Orphans from several different locations by clicking HERE, like for instance the limited deluxe box set containing a jewel case CD, a flag, a logo pendant, a patch and an autographed card. The investment in this box set is definitely worth it, mainly because Orphans kicks some serious ass, of course, and also due to the fact it’s been three long (but productive) years since their last installment. Orphans is undoubtedly a serious contender to feature among the best metal albums of 2019, proving once and for all great bands like The Agonist don’t need to release album after album just because their labels think it’s a good idea. We, metalheads from all over the world, are more than happy to wait for a while for new material as long as it’s as extreme, melodic and exciting as Orphans.

Best moments of the album: In Vertigo, The Gift of Silence, Blood as My Guide and The Killing I.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2019 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. In Vertigo 5:04
2. As One We Survive 3:40
3. The Gift of Silence 4:38
4. Blood as My Guide 4:27
5. Mr. Cold 4:40
6. Dust to Dust 3:17
7. A Devil Made Me Do It 3:38
8. The Killing I 4:17
9. Orphans 5:39
10. Burn It All Down 3:36

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

Guest musician
Lefteris Germenlis – electronic and string arrangements

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

Metal Chick of the Month – Vicky Psarakis

vicky01

You! Pull me out and plug me in!

As our Metal Chick of the Month beautifully chants in one of her band’s best songs, fear is not her master. Owner of a powerful and wide vocal range that allows her to sing anything from the smoothest Jazz to the most visceral Heavy Metal, she’s the present and future of female singing, with a more-than-promising career ahead of her. I’m talking about the dashing long-haired singer Vicky Psarakis, the frontwoman of one of the most influential contemporary metal bands in Canada, The Agonist, and a woman that represents pure talent in heavy music.

Vicky was born on June 22, 1988 in Chicago, Illinois, United States, but moved to Greece with her family at the age of 10. Her Greek roots were the main reason why she grew up listening to traditional Greek music (as well as Jazz, Blues, Pop and Disco classics), something not very common in the background of most Heavy Metal musicians. Our blonde diva started singing when she was around 5 or 6 years old, when her teachers would make her participate in school plays and musicals. Then when she was 10 she laid her eyes on a piano and fell in love for it, getting her first keyboard and starting playing on her own. When Vicky was attending middle school she started listening to metal and rock music, singing a lot and writing her own songs, later growing an interest towards orchestral arrangements and soundtracks. She mentioned during one of her interviews that the great support she received from people around her was the main reason why she continued to pursue a career in music, leading her to where she is today.

Before joining The Agonist, Vicky had a band named E.V.E., which started off as a Progressive Rock personal project in 2010. Among the bands that influenced the music by E.V.E. there are some very interesting names such as Pain Of Salvation, Ayreon, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd and Fates Warning. In regards to the meaning of E.V.E., according to Vicky herself it stands for “Equations Vanquish Equality”, where the first word is connected with science, math and technology, while the following words refer to humankind and how each person is affected by modern society, giving the idea of how progress, usually a positive term, can affect our lives in a negative way at the same time. You can take a listen at their only release, the 2012 self-titled EP Equations Vanquish Equality, at the band’s BandCamp page or at their official YouTube channel (by the way, on YouTube you can check out their tribute to the renowned diva Anneke Van Giersbergen with a cover version for the song Beautiful One), and witness how Vicky’s vocal performance used to be in the early stages of her career.

Another key point in Vicky’s career are the cover versions for several different bands and artists available on her official YouTube channel, which are either personal favorites or requests from friends or fans and have nothing to do with E.V.E. or The Agonist. Among all the awesome versions uploaded by our stunning singer, I recommend you go check her performance in Audioslave’s Show Me How To Live, in Nightwish’s Slaying The Dreamer, in Disturbed’s Stricken, and especially in Aerosmith’s Dream On and in one of the biggest Iron Maiden classics of all time, The Clairvoyant. Moreover, what seemed to be just a nice and healthy hobby became in fact the spark that changed her life forever: The Agonist’s guitarist, songwriter and founder Danny Marino sent Vicky a message saying how he was impressed with her covers after watching some of her videos on YouTube, asking her later on if she wanted to try and track some vocal and lyric ideas on a couple of his new songs. Vicky ended up sending him back almost a full song (which is now the incredible Danse Macabre), and after listening to it and sharing it with the rest of the band he asked her if she would be willing to join The Agonist as their new frontwoman.

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Although Vicky’s been with The Agonist for such a short period of time, having recorded only the single Disconnect Me in 2014 and the superb full-length album Eye of Providence in 2015, which showcases all her versatility in songs such as Gates Of Horn And Ivory and A Gentle Disease, she already has a lot of interesting stories and facts to share. When asked what’s easier for her to record, if clean singing or harsh vocals, she said screaming might be faster to track, but it’s something relatively new to her and her clean vocals come out a lot more natural due to her music background. Regarding her live performances with The Agonist, Vicky said she was really nervous before stepping on stage for the first time with the band, but as soon as the adrenaline kicked in all nerves were gone and she enjoyed the moment. She also said the most intense concert with The Agonist so far has been Summer Breeze 2014, where they played for a crowd of over ten thousand people. And it looks like Vicky doesn’t have any issues singing songs she didn’t originally write or record: she just sings them in a way that’s comfortable to her, giving her own personal touch to the music.

Apart from her career with The Agonist, E.V.E. and her cover videos on YouTube, Vicky has featured in some other projects and bands as a guest musician, recording female vocals on the song Siege of Ruad, from the album Nuclear Winter (2008) by Greek Heavy/Power Metal band Orion’s Reign; backing vocals on the album Depressive Icons (2010) by Greek Doom/Gothic Metal band Daylight Misery; female vocals on the album Lasting Forever (2013) by Chinese Power Metal band Barque Of Dante, as you can see in the song The Way to Freedom; additional vocals on the album Anthem to Creation (2013) by Greek Progressive Metal band Until Rain; and female vocals on the 2014 self-titled album by Greek Power Metal band Rage of Romance, as in the song Let Me Breathe Again. Is that enough Vicky for your taste?

Such a multifaceted artist like Vicky couldn’t have a short list of influences, of course. If you thought she would say her favorite singers of all time are Angela Gossow or Phil Anselmo, for example, you’re totally wrong, because as aforementioned screaming is something new to her music career. Although Heavy Metal inspired her to become a musician, her list of influences include names from different genres of music like Anneke Van Giersbergen, Daniel Gildenlow, Mikael Akerfeldt, Mikael Stanne, Devon Graves, Roy Khan, Russel Allen, Tom Englund, Marilyn Manson, Sting, among many others. She also enjoys listening to classics such as Led Zeppelin, and to more modern bands like American Rock group Rival Sons.

Lastly, despite all the growling and jumping on stage, her personal hobbies and interests are similar to what most of us like to do in our free time, including activities such as working out, watching a movie, cooking, hanging out with her friends and going out for a beer or to a good restaurant. In other words, if you’re a fan of Vicky Psarakis keep your eyes open wherever you are: she might be sitting right next to your table, sharing a beer with her friends and having some fun, just like you.

Vicky Psarakis’ Official Facebook page
Vicky Psarakis’ Official Twitter
The Agonist’s Official Facebook page
The Agonist’s Official Twitter

“I believe it’s very important for a vocalist and musician in general to be able to maintain their identity by adding their own stamp instead of copying someone else’s rendition on a song.” – Vicky Psarakis

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