Agent Steel – Unstoppable Force Review

Unstoppable Force is the classification-defying Speed/Thrash/Heavy/US Power Metal band Agent Steel’s second full-length album, following up the exciting 1985 debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse and the 1986 stop-gap EP Mad Locust Rising.

The previous record was a blistering Priest, Maiden and NWOBHM influenced explosion of energy, that was reminiscent of a lot of the best early Thrash albums of the time and with a few Queensryche influences sprinkled on top.

This 1987 sophomore effort carries on that sound (and UFO obsessed lyrical bent), but sees the LA band lean even more heavily on the early Queensryche sound. Singer John Cryiss definitely has been listening to more Geoff Tate since the last record, and even on the speedier tracks, like the appropriately named opener “Unstoppable Force,” and the catchy “Nothin Left” you can still pick up hints of Tate in his performance. However sometimes the whole band just goes for it and full-on writes a Queensryche song, such as on the moody mid-temp “Still Searching” which comes across as the missing link between The Warning and Rage For Order, or the atmospheric album closer “Traveller” which has some delicious Metallica Fade To Black sounding lead guitar to start off with, but quickly ends up being their equivalent of Roads To Madness; derivative – maybe, delightful – unarguably!

The real album highlight however is the six-and-a-half minute instrumental workout “The Day At Guyana” (which is not a Manowar cover, in case you were wondering, but obviously named for the same Jonestown Cool Aid massacre).

Like the previous album, clocking in at just over half an hour, this record is filler-free, to the point and great from start to finish. The playing, performance and production are all tighter and more professional than the debut, and this is a damn fine follow up and must have addition to your collection. If you like your Thrash and are also a big fan of Crimson Glory, Metal Church or especially early Queensryche, then this is essential listening.  

Exumer – Possessed By Fire Review

When you think of German Thrash Metal, chance are you think of Kreator, Sodom, Destruction or Tankard. Rightly so. One band who shouldn’t be overlooked however are Wiesbaden’s underrated Exumer.

I guess line-up troubles and label issues stopped them getting the same exposure and opportunity as some of their peers, because their sound and formula is perfect for this style of music. Its not blackened or crossover, not progressive or technical, not funky or avant guard, its by the book Thrash, done simply, but effectively. Imagine the missing link between Bonded By Blood and Hell Awaits. Exumer’s cult classic 1986 debut album Possessed By Fire is the closest thing to that missing link. Eschewing the darker, more extreme style most Teutonic thrashers usually opt for, Exumer are Germany’s answer to Californian music (kind of like how Xentrix are for Britain).

The vocals are not the most memorable in the world, but serve the songs. They’re mostly in the mid-range but with occasional high screams. Not too cheesy, not too extreme. The guitar and drums are solid. Not flashy, not virtuoso, but get the job done nicely.

The warm analogue production courtesy of Harris Johns (Voivod, Coroner, Kreator, Sodom) is decent for a Thrash debut (certainly better than Destruction’s early work, less tinny and thin for example).

Highlights include the scream-along Title Track, the more adventurous ‘Xiron Darkstar’ and album closer ‘Silent Death.’

If there was a criticism to be made, I guess lack of originality may be the one to level at this band/album. (They do seem to steal a few sections from other songs **cough** Black Magic *cough* Riot Of Violence** cough). However, no more so than any other C-Tier bands of the era.

A good rule of thumb is that if you take a look at the Jason Vorhees meets Attila The Hun looking artwork and get a nice warm feeling in your tummy, then you will kind of already know what this album sounds like. Does it exceed your expectations, probably not, no, but it does meet them. If you dig albums like Terror Squad by Artillery or Malicious Intent by Razor then you’ll know what sort of level to expect.

Agent Steel – Skeptic’s Apocalypse Review

Call it Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, US Power Metal or just plain old Heavy Metal; Agent Steel’s 1985 combat records debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse is a frentic, buzzsaw of an album that pounds along with an almighty force.

This album is the pure flawless distillation on Metal at the time. No wonder it caused a stir back then. It rocks all the way through, from the (excluding a brief intro) meaty opening track; “Agents Of Steel,” which sounds like if someone took an early Venom song, produced it well, and then inserted insane falsetto shrieks and impressive virtuoso lead guitar work, to the catchy album closer “Back To Reign” – that mixes Iron Maiden’s gallop with some of that Show No Mercy-era Slayer tinny bounce and Feel The Fire-era Overkill vocal power,

Singer John Cryiis is incredibly diverse; sounding by turns like Katon W. De Pena of Hirax, Bobby Blitz Ellsworth of Overkill, Geoff Tate of Queensryche and strangely Philly Byrne of Gama Bomb (check out “Evil Eye/Evil Minds”). His ultra-high moments even give King Diamond a run for his money at times.

In terms of the instrumentalists; Guitarists Juan Garcia (also of Evildead) and Kurt Kilfelt are both an absolute master of the instrument, coming up with lots of memorable lead lines and solos. Drummer Chuck Profus puts in a really solid performance behind the drum kit. The production really leans into the ride cymbal and toms (almost as if the fills were recorded separately afterwards) and makes the drumming really stand out. The bass guitar, courtesy of George Robb can unfortunately be a little inaudible on some songs (or conversely almost too audible in other songs, for example the Queen Of The Reich copyist “Guilty As Charged” has quite loud bass).  

Highlights include the speedy/thrashy “Bleed For The Gods” and the more dynamic and versatile “Children Of The Sun” which has a sort of Warning-Era Queensryche feel meets the vibe of Metal Church’s debut (a Seattle-sound if you will – but not in the flannel shirt meaning of that phrase!) and the slightly darker “144,000 Gone” which sounds like a mixture of Anvil and Iron Maiden but more depressing.  

If you like Iron Saviour or Gamma Ray’s sci-fi lyrics with Judas Priest influences this is worth checking out, or if you like the production, music and vocals on debut albums by Anthrax, Exciter or Armoured Saint this is really worth checking out. If you want something Thrashy but clean, familiar but distinct, well-produced for the time but still charming and unmistakably 80s, then this is the perfect meeting point. It also helps that its just 30 minutes with absolutely no filler, so it doesn’t get old or outstay its welcome. Don’t overlook it for too long, I can’t believe I never tried this when I was younger.

Sacred Reich – The American Way Review (2)

(I wrote this review several years ago, but noticed it was missing from the reviews menu, and it was quicker to post it again here than scroll through years of post to find the origional to fix the menu)

Sacred Reich are a brilliant thrash metal band from Phoenix, Arizona. They play groove centered breakdowns mixed with chunky speed metal segments and have an awesome singer called Phil Rind, who belongs more to the Phil Anselmo School of singing than to the Death Metal or Iron Maiden-copycat styles that were common among many non-Bay Area Thrash bands.

The American Way, is a bona fide metal classic, containing many of the band’s greatest songs, for example ‘Who’s to Blame,’ and the famous Title Track (which you may remember from the early 90’s Brendan Frasier Cave man Movie ‘California Man.’)

The American Way is possibly Sacred Reich’s career highlight; capitalizing on the success of their previous EP and signature tune ‘Surf Nicaragua,’ the band further mix Hardcore Punk and a little taste of Groove Metal into their classic Thrash sound to create the perhaps ultimate Sacred Reich album. Don’t get me wrong, its still classic Thrash, but with enough variety to make every song distinct, memorable and catchy.

This album contains everything you want from a metal album; complex drumming, speedy riffs, groovy breakdowns, flashy guitar solos and interesting lyrics. The lyrics are socially conscious and political like many of their peers, but less ham-fisted than some of the worse thrash lyricists of the time were. Topics of discussion include everything from backwards messages and politics to metal elitism.

The production is punchy and chunky, with a clarity between the instruments and overall it is generally one of the better produced albums of the era.

The remastered edition comes in a beautiful digipak, and contains raw demos of 6 of the album’s songs along with the music video for ‘The American Way.’

In summary; This is a highly recommended album to any fan of thrash metal. If you like Nuclear Assault or Anthrax in particular then you’re going to love ‘The American Way.

Sacred Reich – Still Ignorant Live 1987-1997 Review (2)

(I wrote this review several years ago, but noticed it was missing from the reviews menu, and it was quicker to post it again here than scroll through years of post to find the origional to fix the menu)

Sacred Reich deliver the goods on this live effort, with a career spanning track listing, energetic performance and a great sound. The live album, recorded before the group disbanded sounds awesome, with a really chunky guitar sound and a good mix altogether.

Vocalist Phil Rind can really perform live, and doesn’t fall short live like some other singers. Highlights include a storming rendition of ‘Who’s To Blame,’ a surprisingly bouncy version of ‘Independent,’ as well as all the classics like ‘Surf Nicaragua,’ and ‘Death Squad.’

The Crowd are mix low enough to still be heard but not ruin the sound, and the whole sound gives off a really good concert vibe, it seems like it would’ve been amazing to have been there like all the best live albums do.

The concert mixes in a few numbers from the band’s underrated final album ‘Heal,’ and the songs sound amazing and are welcome next to the classic material.

Good grooves, melodic solos, chunky riffs and a solid production. What more could you ask for ? If you like Sacred Reich you really owe it to yourself to buy this, if you’re new to the band this is a great place to start.

Sacred Reich – Heal Review

The 1990s were not kind to a lot of Thrash Metal bands. Some broke up. Some went soft or tried new styles. Some went too progressive or too extreme. Some just ran out of good ideas.

There are of course, always exceptions to every trend. Heal by Sacred Reich is one such exception. This album is an underrated gem. Now; They may have moved into a Pantera-influenced Groove Metal style for half the album, which could be off-putting to die hard Thrashers, but half the record is still aggressive speedy Thrash and the songs that aren’t are way better than you’d expect from anything in 1996 anyway.

Part of what makes it work so well is Phil Rind’s vocals are perhaps the best of his career. He really developed over the years since Ignorance. Another thing that makes it work so well are that the songs are just so damn catchy and memorable. Finally; The slower moments really help the band’s trademark political and socially aware lyrical content easier to get across. When its not constantly all 1,000mph then you get to take it on board a bit more.

As described above, its an album of two halves. Highlights from the faster stuff includes “Break Through” and “Don’t” which are punchy and energetic, and perhaps best of all the furious album closer “The Power Of The Written Word” which is perhaps the band’s most pissed off song since their debut. (Talk about going out with a bang).

Highlights from the slower stuff include the Sabbathy grooving Title Track, the memorable anti-racist “Blue Suit, Brown Shirt” and the very fun “I Don’t Care.”

Even the Oingo Boingo cover works. The only thing that doesn’t quite do it for me is “Low” which is a bit too Alice In Chains for even my tastes. People who thought that tracks like “A Question” from the previous EP or “Crawling” from the last album weren’t Thrashy enough may want to avoid that one track in particular. (Don’t let it put you off trying the whole record though).

After this album, drummer Dave McClain would go on to join Machine Head for around two decades and Sacred Reich would break up and only play intermittently over the years. (Although things have come full circle now, with the band back full steam ahead with their superb new album, Awakening, and guess who’s behind the kit?).

Although their comeback record is superb, for the last two decades this was a fine ending to the Sacred Reich story. It may not be all fast, all the time, but it is all entertaining, all the time.

Toxik – World Circus Review

Toxik’s 1987 Roadrunner Records debut, World Circus is a lot less technical or progressive than their sophomore album, Think This, and much more in keeping with a traditional Thrash sound. That being said they are rather adventurous, dynamic and technically proficient a that sound.  

Some bands sound raw, rough and nasty, but this is utter professionalism, precise and dynamic from start to finish. More for fans of Heathen than Hirax if you know what I mean. The production is clean and the playing is flashy in an effortless sounding way. I also has one of my all time favourite Thrash tunes on it. There’s some nice melodic falsetto (almost Power Metal) vocals, some very impressive virtuosic lead guitar wizardry with all sorts of fancy sweeping and trickery, and of course, oodles and oodles of speed.

Why isn’t it a bigger album then? If I had  to guess, the two biggest flaws with the album, are firstly that some of the material can be a bit forgettable after the record has stopped playing, and secondly that the opening track, “Heart Attack” is an absolutely brilliant, catchy, unbelievably fun gem and nothing on the rest of the album can live up to that level or entertainment. If someone asked me “what is Thrash Metal?” its one of the first songs I would play them. Its just a shame the rest of the record doesn’t live up to that unfairly high standard.

That being said, it is not a one hit wonder situation. Anti-drug track “Pain And Misery” has a memorable staccato opening and is one of the most rhythmic Thrash songs released before the 90s. I guess the album is probably most famous for the Title Track having a Thrash recreation of the circus theme tune (do-do, doodoo do do, doo doo) but make no mistake, this is not gimmick band. They are deadly serious, with excellent musicianship and thoughtful lyrics (Eg. “Count Your Blessings” covers the topic of homelessness and not taking what you have for granted).

I love the Ed Repka cover art too. Soooooo Thrash. This is the kinds of thing modern bands like Haydes, Municipal Waste and Havok worship.

Overall; Not the most even record in the world, but definitely worth a look for Thrash fans.

Hirax – Raging Violence Review

Half an hour of straight-ahead ass kicking, Hirax’s debut Raging Violence is certainly appropriately named. The Californian speedsters’ 1985 album is an underrated gem.

After opening with a silly Monty Python-esque spoken word intro (called ‘Demons’), the album speeds ahead with 14 slabs of snarling, rabid, nasty Thrash. Brevity is the order of the day, with most of the songs under 2 minutes and absolutely none longer than 3 and a half.

There’s a really intriguing mixture of NWOBHM sounding moments, colliding with crossover sounding moments, and a sort of intermittent red-hot streak that clearly influenced Napalm Death (who would later go on to cover the band on their Leader’s Not Followers 2 album).

Its full of brief messy shrieking guitar solos, blunt aggressive drumming and singer Katon W. De Pena’s trademark vocals, that sound a bit like Overkill’s Bobby Blitz Ellsworth being squeezed too hard.

Sometimes they sound a bit like Pleasure To Kill-era Kreator, such as on the furious “Bombs Of Death,” sometimes they have a bit of Holy Terror’s runaway train barely-in-time charm, such as on  “Warlord’s Command,” sometimes, such as on the one minute long “Destroy” they would channel Nuclear Assault. Sometimes they would even foreshadow where Dark Angel would go (only without all the changes and technicality).

The production job is a bit low-budget sounding; but considering this was still only 1985, it was still in the opening days of the Thrash movement, before bands were making real money and getting the big name producers. Not that it needs a bigger production; this isn’t a sweeping progressive epic, it’s a punky blast of naked aggression designed to blow the cobwebs off the listener.

Some minor points of interest: The band’s logo was designed by Celtic Frost’s Tom G. Warior. Future Metallica Merch Maestro Pushhead designed the odd psychedelic humpty dumpty artwork. It was released on Metal Blade.

In summary; its raw, is rough, its over in a flash but it’ll kick your teeth out. This is a record worth checking out.  Their next album was half as long and twice as fast again.

Acid Reign – Obnoxious Review

UK thrashers Acid Reign aren’t the biggest band or the most cult-classic band in their scene. But after you get past Onlaught, Xentrix and Sabbat they are one of the first names that come to mind. They perhaps best known for their initial EP and debut album Moshkinstein and The Fear. Their initial run also featured some singles and compilations, but the most substantial thing for Thrash fans to check out after the two aforementioned releases would be their 1990 sophomore studio album, Obnoxious.

This pink-covered record is very much a continuation and refinement of the style established on the debut. It is no radical departure, bold evolution, or ‘90s Groove experiment. The songs are mostly on the longer side; but not necessarily progressive, like a lot of 1988-1992 Thrash had become (bar one or two songs). This is just heads down, straight ahead, no-nonsense Thrash through and through.

Well, I say no-nonsense, more like almost-no nonsense. The final track; the ironically titled “This Is Serious,” is a joke track, which is actual nonsense (but on purpose).

This isn’t the sort of album to pick up if you are brand new to Metal or even Thrash, but if you just can’t get enough and want to explore more. The bass tone on the album reminds me of Anthrax, the vocals remind me a bit of D.R.I and the guitar reminds me a tiny bit like a slower version of Hirax. It’s a nice combination. The song writing isn’t breath-taking and won’t knock the likes of Forbidden Evil or Fabulous Disaster from the top stops in my favourite Thrash albums, but it is solid and professional.

Highlights include “Thoughtful Sleep” which has a nice acoustic guitar intro with electric lead, as well as the more direct “My Open Mind” and the dynamic opener “Creative Restraint.”

Overall; not earth-shattering but it’s a solidly produced and performed effort of decent material that is well worth your time if you’re into this sort of thing.

Bring Me The Horizon – Post Human: Survival Horror EP Review

Bring Me The Horizon have had an interesting career. They started off as a very uncommercial, noisy, sloppy Deathcore band with screams, screeches and murderous lyrics. People covering that sort of music at the time basically laughed them out of the room though. It wasn’t pretty.

Then they evolved into one of the best British Metalcore bands in the scene for several years, releasing well crafted and memorable albums like Suicide Season, There Is A Hell’ and Sempiternal. Their audiences got bigger and bigger, but so did the backlash, the internet and magazines were awash with anti-BMTH sentiment. All the negativity, critical bashing and internet comment-section abuse eventually alienated the band from the Metal community, and they seemed to decided if they’re going to be called sell-outs or “not metal” anyway, they may as well go with it and seek a more mainstream radio audience.

Their next two albums, That’s The Spirit and Amo were much more commercial, pop-music-infused, modern, melodic, and autotuned. It definitely turned off some of their early audience, but it gained them a whole new audience and mainstream approval, allowing them to go on TV shows Metal fans scoff at, play festivals Metal fans scoff at, get play on radio stations Metal bands can only dream of and get covered in magazines Metal fans scoff at (or in reality allow them not to have to speak to Metal Journalists who rudely dismiss them and focus on more mainstream publications. Some fans call this selling-out too, but if I got that much abuse from the Metal community, I’d do the same thing!).  

Even if the music slowly moved away from what I liked about the band on their 2nd and 3rd albums, they always put out great sounding and interesting albums that were objectively quite good and I’ve enjoyed their musical evolution.

Their last release, last year’s Music To Listen To‘ EP was their bigest departure yet; an experimental, chill out affair and not really what I’d consider a canonical release. Now in late 2020, they’ve released another EP, but this time of proper Rock/Metal songs. Its 9 tracks and about half an hour long, but it does feel like a canonical release and you can imagine these songs being included in future live sets and best-ofs unlike material from the previous EP.

Some of the tracks have been released already, such as ‘Parasite Eve’ and ‘Ludens’ on various soundtracks, and ‘Obey’ (featuring a colab with the singer Yungblud) was dropped as a single earlier this year, with a music video reminiscent of ‘Intergalactic’ by The Beastie Boys. All these (at the time) non-album singles were fairly well received and got people’s hopes up that the band were “going heavy again” as there was a lot more guitar and bigger grooves than the last two albums, and got several lapsed fans excited for the next effort.   

Post Human: Surival Horror opens strongly with the heaviest song in years. It would have been a good bridge between Sempiternal and That’s The Spirit. That’s not to say the whole EP is a return to old formulas. There’s still a lot of the pop/electronic focus of the last few albums, there’s vocal lines that would’ve never fit on older albums, but it does have a crunch and bounce that was in short supply on Amo. In fact that had a song called “Heavy Metal” basically calling out Metal fans for all the comment-section hate.

On the other side of the coin; the collaboration with Babymetal ‘Kingslayer’ is a colourful neon explosion that sounds exactly like what you’d imagine when you hear “BMTH collaboration with Babymetal 2020.” That’s also preceded by one and a half minute intro of the same nature. New single (is it the lead single when they released the other 3 singles separately before the EP was even announced?) ‘Teardrops’ is a nice melodic modern radio-rock single and the natural evolution of what they’ve been doing on the last two albums.

There’s also 1×1 which is a very faithful recreation of the style of Linkin Park’s first two albums. The band have never made any secret of their appreciation for Nu Metal’s biggest selling band, but this is their most influence-on-sleeve track to date.  The EP closes with the annoyingly titled “One Day The Only Butterflies Left Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Your Death” which is a slow electronic half-ballad, with a guest appearance from Evanescence’s Amy Lee, that will suit fans of material like “And The Snakes Start To Sing” or “Memorial” from previous efforts.

Overall, stylistically this EP is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s no easy tag. Its not the band going heavy again. Its not their poppiest album to date. It is a mish mash of their past 3 records, plus new ideas, and multiple collaborations as usual. You’ll probably never find an objective review of this highly controversial and much discussed band, but throwing my biased two cents in, I think this is a worthwhile EP and fans of the band who haven’t jumped ship yet have nothing to fear, fans of the band who’ve only been here a short time have nothing to fear, save maybe the opener. All in all, I think they’re going for a best-of-both-world’s thing here and they’ve almost nailed it. If they ever release a new full-length album (which is uncertain as they’ve talked about giving up on that format in today’s modern Spotify world) then I imagine further practice at this compromise will yield even better results and hopefully their most well rounded album in years.