15 years ago, Tulsa based metallers The Agony Scene began making waves within a rapidly evolving metalcore scene, bringing a refreshing slice of dark misery to the party with their eponymous debut record in 2003. With some of the heaviest guitars and drums in the scene at the time, the only thing heavier tended to be the subject matter with the lyrical content of 2005’s album ‘The Darkest Red’, being less ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ and more ‘wear your radial artery on your sleeve’. Being a teenager at the time I remember it making a massive impression on me and was certainly a gateway from some of the more radio friendly metalcore to some very unfriendly death metal. The band unfortunately seemed to fade into obscurity following 2007’s ‘Get Damned’ and announced their split shortly after.
Having completely coincidently ‘bumped into’ the band on a playlist earlier this year and, following a massive nostalgia trip, remembered just how good they were, I was delighted to see they had
plans for a new release later this year which brings so many questions with it. It’s been 10 years since they split up, has the line-up changed? Have they decided to completely switch genres? Are
they short on cash and looking to release a radio-friendly album just to make a quick quid? I really hope this picks up where they left off…
The intro track ‘Awakening’ genuinely makes me nervous. I’m listening to this album with trepidation as it is, desperate for it to be good. What if it’s not? What if they’ve completely changed their sound? It’s been a decade! All these questions and the second ‘Hand of the Divine’ kicks in, I chill out. The familiarity of the rhythm in the guitar riffs, heavy palm muted gallops thrown in amongst the shredding and blast beats which follow along side. This is compounded as soon as that vocal kicks in. That, for me, is so unmistakeable, almost haunting. That scream resonates with me in such a way, it takes me straight back to the first time I listened to The Agony Scene over all those years ago. None of the band have lost any of their edge, their trademark sound still blaring through and I’m so pleased. I love the lead parts that reverberate over the chorus which adds another gothic dimension to the music. Half way through the song it completely turns on a hair pin with a pit-inducing groove heavy riff completely changing the feel of the song and it’s executed so, so well.
‘Like the Weeds in the Field’ starts off with pure shredding and blast beats and more reverb-heavy lead lines soaring over the punishing rhythm section. There’s no letting up on this album, the vocals just get heavier and the breaks just become more menacing as the songs go on. You can almost hear the strobe lighting during the tremolo heavy riff half way through the second track. ‘The Ascent and Decline’ features more dissonant, almost jarring riffs adding to the gothic feel of this record. It’s also good to see they’ve stuck to the really heavily palm-muted riffs which sit comfortably on the various flicks and grooves from the double kick on the drums – something which set them apart from other bands on their earlier releases. Whilst all these songs fit really well together on the album with the same sound running through each of them, it never gets boring. ‘The Submissive’ and ‘The Apostate’ are both so busy my fingers hurt just thinking about those guitar riffs.
The track ‘Serpent’s Tongue’ features in the brilliant artwork also – a severed black arm wrapped in a blood red snake with a foreboding black cloud in the background. The song itself features a simple but brilliant solo towards the end, the sound of which is synonymous with the newest wave of American Death Metal. ‘Mechanical Breath’ brings the album to a close with a very black metal feel to it, the ambience of which nicely ends things on a feeling of suspension and apprehension – never really letting go.
Whilst, at first listen, none of these tracks really grabs you like some of the older material, it’s great to see that this album really does pick-up from where the last release left off. Similarly to Bleeding Through, The Agony Scene have taken a lot of time off and come back without even so much as a hesitation in this album – they too come across as having come back for the love of the music, not because they see it as a job. Whilst many of the bands who are still going from that 00s metalcore scene seem to have lightened up a bit, The Agony Scene have done the opposite. With no clean vocals at all, not only have they completely ignored any chance to make their music more radio friendly, this album feels like instead of taking their foot off the accelerator they’ve decided to slam their foot on it, shut their eyes and see how much chaos they can cause.
Hand of the Divine
Like the Weeds in the Field
The Ascent and Decline
The Agony Scene are:
Mike Williams – Lead vocals
Chris Emmons – Guitar
Brian Hodges – Guitar
Jay White – Bass