The Agonist - Orphans - (9.5/10)
Published on September 24, 2019
How did we let the sound slip away?
For the last 2 years it may have seemed a bit like The Agonist was hiding under a rock. I actively followed the band throughout this time and even I had slightly forgotten about them. Especially considering the deluge of two albums in 2 years, and the fucktons of videos that followed right after Vicky Psarakis joined the band in 2014, this hiatus may have created the impression that the band was going to slowly disappear. I don’t think anybody would have expected to see them return this strong. It is the utter shock that came with the first single and album opener “In Vertigo” that shattered the slumber!
As it always was, The Agonist’s music is riff driven extreme metal, with strong progressive tinges and truckloads of badassery. But “Orphans” is more. It’s eclectic, refined and cohesive beyond expectation. I heard touches of black metal, theatrical tendencies, anthemic epic choruses, and the cherry on top of the cake… BREAKDOWNS! And above all, it benefits from some of the best production I’ve ever heard. Especially the deep echoing sound of the drums hit me in the stomach and cut my breath short when I first heard it. Creatively, the band is on a whole new level and I think they are at that point in their career where they have found true balance in their sound. It’s not too much and not too little of anything and it’s genuine and believable all the way through. Mega props to Danny Marino, the main songwriter of the band for this massive improvement.
While we’re speaking of improvement, it’s actually universal in the band. The one you can’t miss is of course Vicky’s vocals. Her range has expanded massively especially in the growling department (her bellows in the end of “In Vertigo” are already infamous amongst die-hard fans), and on the clean side she now has more control and sustain than ever before. Furthermore, the vocals are now worked up and layered with backing tracks, often overlapping clean and harsh into a seriously juicy cocktail. Going past the spotlight, the dual guitar work of Danny and his partner in crime axeman Paco Jobin is stellar. Paco has always been the shredder in The Agonist but his solos now have so much more ebb and flow, and help the songs sound plenty more mature. My favorite solos are in “The Gift of Silence” and “The Killing”. The riff department is off course the central skeleton of the album, and that’s not just because of heavy epic guitars but also because of Simon Mckay’s drumming. The man is an absolute beast and a total master of grooves, breakdowns and unending buildups of energy. I still gave a hard time processing all the brilliant transitions and fills as well as the occasional blast beats. Throw in the chugged up fantastic bass lines (with some short but shocking stand-out moments) and all that’s left is to start spinning hair like crazy.
With so much raw skill and potential channeled through borderless creativity, The Agonist have crafted a masterful album that is not short in surprises. Special moments definitely include the epic build-up at the end of “As One We Survive” or the theatrical style of “Mr. Cold”, a song about the ghost sightings of the Mothman and the evolution of ghost stories in our lives. The one greatest surprise is definitely the war themed “Blood as My Guide” with its battle hymn chorus and the fantastic bridge sung in Greek, that almost has a traditional vibe. Probably a less popular choice of favorites is “The Killing I” but I must give it a shout-out for being probably the most extreme and fast piece, but also because it progs on a different level (riffs right after the first chorus). However what really wraps up this multidimensional package is the album closer “Burn It All Down” like coming back to roots with a pure badass short’n punchy metal track. I think I’ve made my case. It’s incredibly hard to find fault with this album. Instead, I think it’s better to urge you fellow reader to check it out in all its glory! “Orphans” is out now through Napalm Records, and it just might rip your face off!