Album Review: The Agonist – FIVE

Matt Albers

Followers of Damnation Magazine will notice our affinity and interest in the roles of women loud rock music. This concept is nothing new, but everyone seems to have their own opinion on the idea of female members across the board within the heavy metal spectrum. One of our personal favorites – and my all-time personal favorite – is Montreal, Quebec-based The Agonist.

The Agonist - FIVE album cover art (image courtesy of Napalm Records)
The Agonist – FIVE album cover art (image courtesy of Napalm Records)

After obtaining a new vocalist for their fourth full-length album, the group had a lot to prove. Especially after founding vocalist Alissa White-Gluz left to become the vocalist for the hugely popular and successful Arch Enemy in 2014. Chicago vocalist Vicky Psarakis turned out to be a more perfect fit for The Agonist than even skeptics could anticipate, as their 2015 album Eye Of Providence continued the band’s musical progression and experimentation left off from 2012’s nearly equally strong Prisoners.

Upon recently fulfilling their contract with Century Media, The Agonist were then signed to current label Napalm Records. Their first release through their new home, simply entitled Five, comes out a mere year and a half since their previous effort. Fortunately, the album does not sound rushed or forced… Unfortunately, however, it also is not perfect.

The first three singles on the album are perfectly solid for the average metal audience. “The Chain” is fast-tempo and aggressive, “The Moment” is slower and more ominous, and “The Hunt” is somewhere in the middle. The album’s best songs range from epic rippers like “The Game,” “The Ocean,” and “The Resurrection,” to further expounding The Agonist’s progress and atypical metal songwriting – particularly into the jazz range – such as “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” and the almost acoustic lounge-styled “The Raven Eyes.”

In nearly every facet, Five essentially amplifies its predecessor, Eye Of Providence, for both better or for worse. This includes some things that just rub the wrong way, and seem out of place. Psarakis’ vocals have always been catered more toward clean singing than harsh growling or screaming. She was clearly pushing herself on Eye Of Providence, but not too far out of her range. The opposite is the case with Five. On songs like “The Anchor and The Sail” and “The Villain,” both her high-end singing and harsh screeching seem to reach a breaking point that doesn’t fit the tone and distract from the rest of the song (I have the same problem with Jill Janus of Huntress).

The musicianship is still tight, and also continues The Agonist’s path of instrumental and songwriting prowess. The tones and approach to writing slower, more somber songs as opposed to “the faster the better,” makes for a more interesting album and listening experience. Although, this perhaps also makes it less engaging as well. Simon McKay’s drumming and Pascal “Paco” Jobin’s guitar work are both still a strong foundation. You can hear guitarist Danny Marino and bassist Chris Kells both doing new things on Five, but the focus still seems to be on the vocals; not so much in production, but in writing, which weakens the metal appeal. For all of the impressive instrumentation, none of it seems to stand out like you would hope or expect. Also, concept album or not, the fact that every song title begins with, “The…” can come off as pretentious to some.

The Agonist lineup (left to right): Pascal “Paco” Jobin [rhythm guitar], Danny Marino [lead guitar], Vicky Psarakis [lead vocals], Chris Kells [bass, backing vocals], Simon McKay [drums] - image courtesy of Napalm Records
The Agonist lineup (left to right): Pascal “Paco” Jobin [rhythm guitar], Danny Marino [lead guitar], Vicky Psarakis [lead vocals], Chris Kells [bass, backing vocals], Simon McKay [drums] – image courtesy of Napalm Records
At this point, it may sound like I’ve officially lost interest in my favorite female-fronted metal band. But believe it or not, this could not be further from the truth. Five is a perfectlyfine album, and a natural step in the right direction for their second album with a new vocalist. The spirit of the band had already remained intact, and it’s clear that they are both ready and comfortable with finding their own creative and professional path.

The one area in which Five has the complete opposite appeal as Eye Of Providence, is in listenability. With Eye Of Providence, I had to listen to the album start to finish; couldn’t really remember or pick out a song on its own. After repeated listens, while the appreciation of Five does grow, the best songs stand out, and can become favorites both easily and quickly. This makes the individual songs have more appeal for both private listening, and in a live setting.

Regardless of the nitpicks, Five works just like it should for any band, but especially one as underappreciated as The Agonist. The band’s continual musical growth gives something for both long-term fans to hear from them that is new, while also allowing the potential to be discovered by new listeners that may have not even bothered with their previous albums. There’s a lot more going on with The Agonist than they’re given credit for within the metal blogosphere, so check them out for yourself; you may just find your new heavy earworm…

Final Score: 3.5/5 (B)

Recommended If You Like: System Divide, Eths, Deadlock, Light This City, Unleash The Archers

Five is available on September 30 via Napalm Records. Catch The Agonist live on tour this fall in North America with Epica, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Arkona.

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