The Agonist - Prisoners - 4/5
I don't exactly listen to a lot of metalcore, yet for some reason this is an artist that I always seem intrigued by. Explaining why I enjoy them seems like an impossible task to which I often end up relying on the 'vocalist is hot' cop out, which whilst true, is at best a reason to google her photo rather than listen to anything she actually has to say. The fact she's a vegan PETA fan doesn't exactly help matters either, the mere fact that knowing she doesn't eat meat making me do little more than have a sudden urge to eat a steak. Telling me I can't do something only makes me want to do it all the more. Fortunately it doesn't seem to make too much of an appearance, taking a more pretentious philosophical approach to her lyrics, with talk of Dadaists and Solipsists, ideas that go straight over my head and suspect would be rather insulting to students of philosophy to see their arguments simplified or worse, misinterpreted and misunderstood, and what I'm hoping is irony in “Anxious Darwinians,” and not actually advocating creationism as a plausible scientific theory. I'm not selling this well am I?
Fortunately as each new release emerges my job of backing up my opinion gets progressively easier, each time showing a significant improvement on the last with 'Prisoners' being no different. The vocals have improved, both in the roar of her rasp and her powerful and distinctive cleans which might now make you wonder if there was a second vocalist contributing. The bassist has a stronger presence (albeit still not enough to make out the actual lines being played), the drumming has stepped up a notch from the already impressive point they were before, but perhaps most significant are the guitars, now given the time to solo and demonstrate just how much he's improved over the years, as opposed to being overly vocals driven as has been the problem in the past. Even the compositions seem to have been taken up a step with the progressive elements only coming further into the foray as the album continues, and the complexity of the music increased as none of the musicians seem happy to sit still and play that same repeated line; they always have the compulsion to throw in a drum roll or guitar fill, the tracks never letting up the pace and never failing to move forward.
The problem is, despite their improvements, there is still that inescapable fact that they play metalcore, and many of the common issues I have with the genre present themselves. It's true they solo more than breakdown, and the tracks - particularly towards the end – display an increasing willing to incorporate new elements and further their progressive leanings, but the whole piece has been produced to a disgusting spit-polished perfection. It's metal with added moisturiser that might as well be singing about the pain of breaking a fingernail (at one point there's a chorus of children singing 'we hear you and we don't care.' Really not helping things on the childish angst front here guys). It also still has a tendency to fall prey to the inherent lack of versatility much of the genre suffers from, relying too strongly on catchy chorus hooks between the more aggressive passages, perhaps the only aspect which hasn't seen any monumental improvement, making much of the album blur together. I guess on reflection I'm waiting for them to go full blown prog. I'll keep saying it until they reach their peak; there is a great album in this band somewhere, but this isn't it. I just hope they'll get to it before the last of us give up.
Highlights: Ideomotor, Dead Ocean, Everybody Wants You (Dead)
EDIT: It would seem as though this release sees a new lead guitarist entering the fold. Good move then, in that case.