The Agonist is a five-piece melodic death metal band from Canada. Three albums in, Prisoners marks a turning point in their career, because it finally centers on a signature sound that will come to define them. With their socially aware lyrical messages, the underground artists are a rare example of a metal outfit achieving crossover appeal outside of the metal scene.
The group - commonly lumped in with artistically vacant metalcore bands or accused of being "trendy" by the uninitiated - have actually taken bold steps to disprove that notion. The music speaks for itself - especially on the new album. Their lyrics offer reflections on animal rights, environmentalism, sociopolitical history, and modern societal dilemmas.
Frontman Alissa White-Gluz, known for her alternating screaming and singing, is herself something of an animal rights activist outside of music. Soon after The Agonist established a reputation, PETA pricked up its ears and interviewed White-Gluz on an important subject in Canada - the ongoing cruel practice of seal killing. Since then, the singer has continuously made an effort to discuss problems that affect Canadians and people worldwide - both within the lyrical landscape of The Agonist and outside of it.
A clever blend of melody and sonic brutality, Prisoners maintains the artfully schizophrenic nature of The Agonist's socially conscious brand of metal. Unorthodox chords with wide intervals and octave displacements are ever-present, backed this time by a second guitar, which serves to strengthen the intersecting melodies that have become part of the band's signature.
Meanwhile, each song is marked by its own attractive eccentricity: The first half of "Ideomotor" fades out with bittersweet acoustic guitar, while "Revenge of the Dadaists" contains French spoken word.
This time, The Agonist mostly does away with the keyboards and brief injections of symphonic metal in which their prior album was frequently absorbed. And yet, bridging the stylistic gap between the first two albums, Prisoners combines the best aspects of both those works. It also draws from elements of various metal subgenres. The result is that this release sounds refreshing, but will not alienate its fanbase.
Those unfamiliar with metal will most likely need the lyric booklet in hand to follow the words - a frenzied hybrid of screamed vocals and beautiful singing that only serves to underline the dichotomy of heaviness/serenity for which the band is known. Those who come to appreciate its manic, textured wall of sound, and willing to delve into it, will admire the artistic diversity hidden within.
The Agonist could have been more experimental on this album - because when they choose to do so, it really pays off. Instead, they opted to stay in comfortable territory, dancing past the fringes of traditional melodic metal only briefly. But within those moments are splashes of innovation. Should the band choose to keep building on that, it will only help them.
This band proves to be remarkable because, in a music scene that has, as of late, become inundated with repetition and redundancy, The Agonist offers music that says something. Animal rights and environmental activists are suddenly snapping to attention in the face of this once-misunderstood music.
In conclusion, building solidarity between musicians and advocates of real-world issues can only be seen as a huge leap forward. Prisoners is perhaps the first phase of that process.
Photo: The Agonist Official Facebook page