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.  

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.