I loved the debut record from The Agonist, Once Only Imagined and then went apesh*t when they released their follow-up Lullabies of the Dormant Mind. Starting off from a bed of metalcore, the band incorporates a host of other elements / influences, never afraid to throw in some melodic flavoring that really separate them from the pack.
Talented individuals all, the band is made up of guitarists Danny Marino and Paco Jobin, bassist Chris Kells and drummer Simon McKay. Unarguably (in my opinion anyway), their greatest asset is vocalist Alissa White-Gluz who can shift between growling and clean vocals with ease and be extremely effective with each.
I literally played Lullabies every day for the last year and was a bit intoxicated with each and every brilliant song. So I've been chomping at the bit for Prisoners, the new record by The Agonist. And several months ago, there it was. I slapped it into my system and waited for its magic to wash over me
..and then nothing.
All the songs seemed to converge into one giant soup. Granted all of them were executed with finesse and care with all the intrinsic Agonist twists and turns we've come to expect. However, there was no magic contained within to these ears. Not one bad song. No great ones either.
So I let it sit for a bit. I've come back to it recently and perhaps I was unfair the first time out. Prisoners was bogged down by the weight of the expectations I had placed upon it based on the previous record. Let's be clear. It's surely not Lullabies of the Dormant Mind. Neither is it as faceless as I had initially surveyed however.
The addition to Paco Jobin to the guitar ranks (on record) has made the six-string sound a bit more muscular and set up a nice contrast of styles with his more unrestrained style versus Danny Marino's more classic structures (or at least I am led to believe this is the distinction). Simon McKay still drums with the manic urgency of a guy chasing the beer truck with the last case of brew in town. He combines with Chris Kells to secure the bottom end effectively. Alissa combs the depths of Beelzebub-land with her guttural utterings and sounds angelic as ever during the clean vocal parts.
"Dead Ocean" stands outs among the tracks as a slightly slower and meaner vehicle, separating itself from the pack simply due to pacing. "Mass of the Earth" is a bit closer to something off of Once Only Imagined with an engaging opening vocal line. The first single, "Ideomotor", contains a pretty cool segment towards the end (it's an eight-minute song) that lets the boys jam it out with great results. "Revenge of the Dadaist" is more along the lines of what I was hoping for, with some acoustic guitar thrown into the mix as well as some jazzy vocal lines.
I'm not sure I can remain impartial about this record as I had been building up impossible heights for the band to live up to. Prisoners is a solid release and I would think most fans of The Agonist will welcome this with open arms. Meanwhile I'll keep spinning it looking for the magic that I'm sure is contained within. I just have to get my head around it first.