It has been 11 long years since Tulsa, Oklahoma Metallers The Agony Scene last released an album. It has been 5 years since they reformed in 2013 with the 2008 incarnation of the band, only for bassist Chris Rye to drop out in 2015. The Agony Scene initially started out in 2000, making a name for themselves playing Metalcore on the Midwest Hardcore scene, taking inspiration from the likes of Zao and Overcome. A host of line-up changes and honing of their sound lead to a 5 year major label run and 3 albums – 2003’s self-titled via Solid State Records, 2005’s “The Darkest Red” via Roadrunner Records and then 2007’s follow up “Get Damned” via Century Media – before disbanding in 2008. The sheer number of line-up and label changes in that time a hint as to what has perhaps occurring within their ranks. The current incarnation of the band features 3 members from the original major label years with Mike Williams on vocals, Chris Emmons and Brian Hodges on guitar, while adding Jay White on bass in 2016. Having previously announced an EP, in November of that year they announced they were going to make an album. Nearly 2 years on – this is that album – and given their presence on Outerloop Records and The Summer Slaughter tour this summer, it looks very much like the band are back as a full time entity.
Introduction “Awakening” is a 55 second piece of eerie build up with whispers and acoustic tones that create an atmosphere of darkness before bursting into the opening riff barrage of “Hand of the Divine”. Taking on a form of the bands sound that is heavier and darker than their previous efforts, they are on fine form. Mike Williams vocals are at their caustic best, the drum work is solid, crisp and clean and the guitars are crossing over in Deathcore and Black Metal territory. Eerie and off kilter leads set the atmosphere around pulverising blast beats and breakdowns. Lyrically, the song takes the tale of the Rubio murders, in which John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho (his common-law wife), slaughter their 3 children, in the belief they are demons. “Like the Weeds in the Field” opens with blast beats over a Black Metal riff before Mike Williams punishing vocals snarl into the whirlwind. Some impressive footwork then sees a constant build of aggression and the bands ability to create tension is simply stunning. Melodic Black Metal tones soak through to the very end with just the occasional drop for a more groove laden Metalcore hook before rising again. “The Ascent and Decline” starts in similar fashion but then brings in tones that may make you think the apocalypse is upon you. There are hints at “Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark)” from Immortal and head banging, violent rhythms throughout.
“The Submissive” starts out up tempo and then launches head long into a full on sonic assault that ups the heavy with bludgeoning riffage and pounding drum work. There is a dramatic urgency and relentlessness to the album that never stops – the band are a beast that chases you down. Even when there is a momentary pause mid-song, you know that it will return to that brutal pace – and it does – with fire and brimstone. “The Apostate” simply refuses to break the albums stride, taking the dark energy and ferociousness of the earlier songs to another level. There is no mention anywhere of who the drummer for the album actually was – though the suspicion is that it Brent Masters – who delivers the full on work out that is on show here – and it is a power house performance that is worthy of compliment and a lesson for aspiring drummers. “Mouthpiece” has a wonderful rise and fall between some Melodic Black Metal passages and the driven pummelling of the post chrous. The bands decision of dispose of the clean vocal harmonies should also be mentioned – there is no space for them within this new, darker sound that The Agony Scene have created. They could have included them during those passages, but they would have been to the detriment of the sound. Album title track “Tormentor” keeps up the blistering pace as each track seems to ask the question “can we go harder?” and then answer it with a resounding “Yes!” Guitarist Chris Emmons said of the album during it’s build up that “There is an underlying theme to much of the record, and that is the idea of an insane, manipulative creator, a ‘Tormentor’ of all mankind, if you will. The lyrics also touch on the idea that an unquestioning belief in such a creator and an infallible doctrine can lead to a more chaotic and dark world in many cases.” and that sums up the title track perfectly.
“Serpent’s Tongue” has an intro that makes us visualise a black metal version of the “Imperial March” and a brutal version of it at that. Coupled with Mike Williams frankly demonic growls, Brent Masters jack-hammering drums (the man is an absolute machine!) and those racing, driven guitars from axe wielding duo Chris Emmons and Brian Hodges and it’s the perfect combination. Only the lead guitar flourish gives any respite from the relentless skull crushing. There is a momentary pause before the slow fade in of guitars that leads to pummelling drums and a blood curdling growl from Mike Williams in the opening phrase of album closer “Mechanical Breath”. If you had expected some form of reprieve or melodic passage, you were sorely mistaken. Instead you are greeted by a beating that includes a familiar breakdown section harking back to “The Darkest Red” in amongst the full on attack that squeezes every last ounce of energy that the band have. There is no mistaking that the claustrophobic nature of the sound The Agony Scene have taken is not for everyone. Some will want the dirty sound of “Get Damned” while others will want the vocal harmonies back. But this is an album from a band that looked to have made their last 11 years ago. It’s an album that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Its so clearly the album that the band wanted to make without any form of compromise what so ever. And it’s is an stunningly good affair [8.5/10]
Hand of the Divine
Like the Weeds in the Field
The Ascent and Decline
“Tormentor” by The Agony Scene is out now via Outerloop Records