In March 2014, metal fans across the world were shocked to hear that after thirteen years, Angela Gossow was stepping down from her role as vocalist of Swedish-based melodic death metal heavyweights Arch Enemy. While she kept her role as manager of the band, the powerhouse metal front woman officially passed the baton on to Alissa White-Gluz, vocalist of Montreal, Quebec’s The Agonist. She would make her recording debut with Arch Enemy when the band’s tenth album, War Eternal, was released later that year. The new found success of the White-Gluz / Arch Enemy pairing led to their Century Media label mates The Agonist recruiting Chicago, IL singer Vicky Psarakis. Known for her YouTube vocal covers including Iron Maiden, Nightwish, and Nevermore, Psarakis was slated to write and record vocals for The Agonist’s fourth album, Eye Of Providence.
After releasing two new songs with Psarakis during 2014, Eye Of Providence was scheduled for a release in November of that year. Not long before the anticipated date however, the band announced on their Facebook page that they would be delaying the release of the album to February 24, 2015. Whenever a release date is pushed back, the first reaction from fans is that it does not bode well. From a production perspective though, this usually means that more time is needed to perfect the product to the standards of the creator(s) before it can be witnessed and judged by an audience. In the case of Eye Of Providence, would The Agonist’s decision for a later release date yield a positive result? The short answer is, yes.
The album opens with the respectable hard-hitter “Gates of Horn and Ivory.” Right off the bat, it’s honestly hard to distinguish if The Agonist even has a new vocalist. Throughout the first listen of the album, it’s clear that the four remaining members did not just pick out some random woman or the first singer they found reaching out to them for an audition. The rest of the band clearly did the right amount of research and/or trial-and-error until they found the perfect fit to fill White-Gluz’s shoes. While her clean vocals go unused in her new gig – can you imagine the uproar if clean singing ever appeared in an Arch Enemy song? – White-Gluz’s already extensive and impressive style, range, and talent only grew with each album from The Agonist. After hearing those same abilities and range from Psarakis on Eye Of Providence, any shred of doubt or worry from fans as to whether or not she could perform songs from the band’s back catalogue should be quickly stomped out.
This is not to say that Psarakis lacks her own tone and style, quite the contrary. After repeated listens, her vocal identity becomes more and more apparent. Her range is slightly lower than White-Gluz, whose pitch allowed her to reach more into the operatic scale. While White-Gluz played with lower range jazz vocalization on The Agonist’s last album, 2012’s Prisoners, Psarakis utilizes this more throughout Eye Of Providence. Her light, euphoric crooning juxtaposed over The Agonist’s signature metal style continues to expand the band’s dynamic atmosphere. However, White-Gluz’s higher range also allowed her to have more control over her harsh screaming and growling. While it sounded more pushed through the nasal cavity, White-Gluz was still able to maintain the harshness of her extreme metal vocals. Psarakis seems to lack the same growling experience in tone, but is still able to generate the style in a deeper, more throat or chest voice range. This actually works in her favor though, as it gives an honest and almost theatrical sense of desperation in the extremes of both her clean and harsh vocals that get under your skin and give you chills, maybe even better than White-Gluz was able to during her time with The Agonist. That being said, bassist Chris Kells lends more backing vocals to compensate and support Psarakis, even more than his most notable contributions on The Agonist’s 2007 debut, Once Only Imagined.
Musically, Eye Of Providence picks up right where Prisoners left off. Each album saw The Agonist experiment and progress with new styles, techniques, and influences stemming from the roots of their melodeath/metalcore original blueprint. Their 2009 sophomore effort Lullabies for the Dormant Mind saw the extremes of black and grind metal combined with symphonic and opera. Prisoners refined their talents into their biggest and most impressive songwriting to date. Now, Eye Of Providence shows the band’s strengths and abilities in directing each song to its own unique style, still with derivatives of many different influences and ideas, only streamlined so as not to sound uncoordinated and thrown together.
All of the best known and appreciated qualities of The Agonist are still there. Some things haven’t changed at all, particularly the guitar solos from Danny Marino and Pascal “Paco” Jobin. But there are some noticeable differences in the style and structure of songwriting, again continuing the band’s already standing tradition and direction. Not only is the jazz influence from Prisoners both still apparent and pushed further on Eye Of Providence, but new levels of progressive and classic rock are now present. “Faceless Messenger,” “The Perfect Embodiment,” and “As Above, So Below” (The Agonist’s longest song to date, clocking in at just under eight minutes) are not afraid to pull back the aggression to a steady drive of riffs and intricate percussion from Simon McKay. The presence of acoustic guitars appears to have increased as well on Eye Of Providence, but are still used when appropriate and only add to a song’s composition and identity without sacrificing heaviness. Even Chris Kells seems to be utilizing the most neck finger tapping that he ever has on recording.
There’s so much progression going on in Eye Of Providence, that it’s almost as if The Agonist is a new band. That doesn’t mean that they have completely abandoned their past in order to adopt a new identity, far from it. But there are so many new things going on, so much successful calculated risk-taking, that it really feels and sounds like the four musicians took advantage of the opportunity of new blood in their collective brain trust to add this new creative chapter in their career. The album sounds like all five members worked really hard at sharing, teaching, and trading their own individual passions until they hashed out a working idea, song by song. Hell, guitarist “Paco” Jobin recorded some of his parts with his hand in a cast after an injury; now THAT’S dedication! The most unique and different tracks are the most interesting, which leaves any “filler” on the album to be straight thrashers. This truly leaves something for everyone to get out of Eye Of Providence. As an added bonus, if Alissa White-Gluz’s lyrics stemming from her straightedge, vegan lifestyle bothered you, Psarakis has replaced them with inspiration from feelings, events, and narratives.
Two and a half years ago, I reviewed The Agonist’s last album, Prisoners. I said it was easily the band’s best album yet, and I meant it. However, I think they may have officially outdone themselves with Eye Of Providence. That’s hard for me to say, because I loved Prisoners and still do. I think that album is a fun listen all the way through with few to no forgettable tracks. There may be a few songs on Eye Of Providence that fans may end up skipping depending on their own personal music preferences. But ultimately, there is the least amount of items of which to nitpick on Eye Of Providence than with any other album that the band has released. Even after repeated listens, the album’s biggest flaw is that it’s hard to pick out songs to listen to by themselves. That is by no means an insult! For the same reason, this flaw also happens to be its strongest point: When you start this album, you want to listen to it all the way through until you finish it. And nearly every time you do, it’s almost like you’re listening to it for the first time again. If you were ever unsure about how you felt about The Agonist, Eye Of Providence may just win you over once and for all.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5 (A)
Recommended If You Like: Arch Enemy, System Divide, Eths, Deadlock, Light This City
Eye Of Providence by The Agonist will be released on February 24, 2015 via Century Media. Be sure to catch them on their upcoming North American “Get Rekt Tour” with Allegaeon and Product Of Hate.