I have to say that I've been looking forward to this album possibly more than any other this year. I was absolutely blown away by the debut Agent Steel album, Skeptics Apocalypse, in 1985 and I've never let it drift too far from my playlist ever since. They were a speed metal band based in Los Angeles and the album was blisteringly fast with no end of glorious riffs and the unusually high vocals of John Cyriis, a man who may have been batshit insane, given everything I've read about him and what he wrote in his lyrics, which are all about alien conspiracy theories, but was undeniably talented. His first album with Agent Steel in thirty-four years is something I want to hear! So what's it like?
Half of me loves it, though it's not Skeptics Apocalypse or even Unstoppable Force. The band are tight and forty minutes of their speed metal is glorious. Nikolay Atanasov and Vinicius Carvalho provide a glorious twin guitar assault and the rhythm section is solid as a rock, even if Rasmus Kjær galloping along like there's no tomorrow is a lot more obvious than Shuichi Oni, who's a bit low in the mix, though he does get some moments on Outer Space Connection. The riffs are great. The solos are great. The urgency of the drumming is great. This is why I love speed metal so much.
The other half of me realises that there are some major problems here and Cyriis is most of them. His voice has always been high but he used to sing at a lower pitch and go up when needed. His screams on songs like 144,000 Gone or Bleed for the Godz are legendary and they still sound amazing today, but he spends most of this album in the stratosphere, leading us to wonder if he's actually singing on helium. What's more, there are so many points where he adds more flourishes behind his voice, so effectively duetting with himself, that he ends up all over this album like a rash and with much the same effect.
So how do I quantify this? This could have been great stuff and it still is in many ways, but it needed to have John Cyriis singing on it. And I mean the John Cyriis from 1985 not this Stepford Wife pod person John Cyriis from 2021. This John Cyriis is too much and too often. Quite honestly, he spoils much of this album and he does it quickly enough that I got tired of him even during my first listen. That feels odd to admit, given that it's Cyriis's presence here that makes this Agent Steel and it's his return I was so looking forward to. Now I find myself hoping for an instrumental version.
The musicians joined up over a couple of years, after Cyriis put the band back together in 2018, and I'd be remiss in pointing out that they're from all over the globe. Guitarist Nikolay Atsanov is Bulgarian, though he lives in Denmark, where he also plays with Prophecy. He duels with Vinicius Carvalho, who's Brazilian and also has other bands down there, like A Red Nightmare. Bassist Shuichi Ono is Japanese, though he performed in a Dutch band called Stellar Seed with one Max A. Havlock, who turns out to be John Cyriis, who I believe is actually Brazilian himself, even if his origins are weirdly obscured; we still can't be sure of his real name. That leaves Rasmus Kjær on drums, who's from Denmark and also plays with Disintegrated. Oddly, that means that this pioneering American band doesn't actually contain a single American any more.
So where am I at? Frankly, I could listen to this just as background music and be happier at the end of a day than when I started it. Songs like Carousel of Vagrant Souls and the title track kick in with so much glorious style and power that I found myself in speed metal heaven. These are the best instrumental intros I've heard since the last Gama Bomb album. However, I'm really disappointed in Cyriis. I think I have to go with an 8/10 for the music but then drop not one but two points for what he does on top of it. That saddens me.