When an album lands in my inbox accompanied by an apology from Angry Metal Guy himself, you know it’s gonna be a rough listen. And on the surface, The Agonist’s new record Prisoners didn’t look promising: A so-called metalcore band from Canada, fronted by Alyssa White-Gluz, a former Canadian Idol contestant and one of Revolver Magazine’s “Hottest Chicks in Metal.” And as if that wasn’t discouraging enough, White-Gluz is also an animal-rights activist who has been heavily involved with PETA. That means this is the second review I’ve done this month of bands that want me to stop eating veal. Not off to a good start here, guys.
Stylistically, metalcore is a pretty apt description of The Agonist, although they’re very progressive and diverse for that genre. Still, they’re pretty representative of the entire inner conflict with metalcore, which is this: no matter how hard these bands want to sound like ‘true’ metal, they’re still part of a style dependent on melodic, mall-ready choruses and ridiculous overproduction. Even if the guitarists and drummer in the band want you to know how much they love Testament/Emperor/Suffocation/whoever, the catchy parts of the song inevitably sound like they belong on…well, Canadian Idol or something.
“You’re Coming With Me,” the first track on Prisoners, sums up the musical tug-of-war perfectly. After a short acoustic intro, the song kicks into some pseudo-black metal riffage, complete with White-Gluz turning in some rasps that would make Abbath proud. It’s actually pretty kickass, but just when you start thinking “hey, maybe these guys aren’t poseurs after all,” the chorus shows up, straight from Hot Topic. The exact lyric is “I’m going straight to hell/and you’re coming with me.” Bleh. Besides the fact that only King Diamond could pull off that line with dignity intact, the real problem is that this has just turned into a radio-ready pop song, polished and produced to perfection. Whatever intensity existed until this point has just been completely undone. The rest of the album has the same effect to varying degrees – you’re headbanging to the riffs, then wincing when the chorus comes.
The band itself is rock-solid though, and they do their best to keep the album interesting. The band manages to incorporate Opeth-style acoustics (“Dead Ocean”), latter-day Strapping Young Lad rants (“Predator and Prayer”) and a general black metal influence throughout. As musicians, these guys fucking rip. Guitarist Danny Marino is capable of some classy lead work (he better be, his uncle is the legendary Frank Marino), and I was impressed with bassist Chris Kells as well. The vocals might not be for everybody, but I can confidently say that the music here is actually pretty solid.
The truth is that regardless of how heavy the band wants to be, White-Gluz is from the same high school drama club as Maria Brink from In This Moment, or even Amy Lee from Evanescence. She may be able to do some screaming, but her clean vocals are so pop that she makes Adele sound like Darkthrone. I guess the male equivalent would be that guy who used to sing for Scar Symmetry. Yes, he’s talented – extremely so. But the guy’s clean vocals were so slick, so overdone, that it actually made everything else about the band sound cheesy and considerably less heavy. And The Agonist is guilty of this same sin.
Still, still band deserves credit for doing some interesting things here, and White-Gluz’s vocals are admirable for their versatility, if nothing else (I honestly thought there was a second vocalist at first). And for whatever it’s worth, the songs actually get weirder and more progressive towards the end, which is a good thing. But overall, if you’re not a fan of slick, overproduced pop-metal, this is probably not your
cup o’ tea bag o’ meat. Now for fuck’s sake, where are all the bands that are pro-meat eating? Carnivore, maybe?