(In this latest edition of THE SYNN REPORT, Andy Synn reviews the discography of the late, lamented, and apparently resurgent The Agony Scene from Tulsa, Oklahoma.)
Recommended for fans of: Devildriver, At The Gates, (early) The Black Dahlia Murder
“Metalcore” is such a dirty word these days that bands go to great (sometimes hilarious) lengths to avoid it. But it’s easy to forget that there was a time when it offered something both fresh and new and utterly vital to the metal scene as a whole.
Case in point, The Agony Scene were, in my humble opinion, one of the unsung heroes of early millennial Metalcore, with roots deeply embedded in the Northeast hardcore scene, but possessing a uniquely visceral sound which pulled in a host of influences from across the Death Metal spectrum.
The band specialised in hacking, machete-like riffs, rib-cracking drum work, and throat-ripping, Carcass-esque vocals, occasionally veering into moments of seditious melody or creepy atmosphere, only to shift back into punishment mode at the drop of a hat.
You may have noticed that I’ve been referring to the band in the past tense, as they unfortunately broke up after the release of their third album Get Damned. However, that’s not entirely accurate any more, as it appears the band have a new album in the works (and a visceral new logo to go with it), so I’m hoping to hear more from them very soon!
THE AGONY SCENE – 2003
The band’s self-titled debut is a scrappy, tough-talking, shit-kicker of an album, unafraid of fighting dirty when necessary. It kicks off with the pulse-pounding “We Bury Our Dead At Dawn” — a riot of scraping, chugging riffs, howling screams, and coiled, malevolent melody lines, all welded together into a series of rusty, bone-scraping hooks – followed by the spiteful grooves of “Habeus Corpus”, a throwback to the days when albums like Unhallowed and Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation were freshly exhumed and hungry for blood.
The serrated riffs and neck-snapping breakdowns of “Judas” and “Lines of Suicide” are up next. The former has that venomous At The Gates-style groove down perfectly, while the latter transitions from the punchy, metallic-hardcore vibe of its first half into a thoroughly brutal second half, where the riffs trend far more towards Death Metal territory.
The stomping “Eyes Sewn Shut” is a lean, mean, killing machine of lurching, low-slung riffs and scorching vocals, with a pair of killer refrains (“scarlet stains!” and “ripped out / the stitches”), all of which combine into one unforgettable murder-anthem. It’s followed by the distorted dissonance of “Nausea”, an almost-instrumental track of cavernous drum work and cadaverous, sub-human screams, and the short sharp shock of “Shotgun Wedding”.
“Vivid” is an angular, stop-start piece of primal Metalcore menace (with a hint of Cannibal Corpse influence woven in), whose rolling kicks and dark undercurrent of seething melody lead into the band’s shamelessly infectious cover of “Paint it Black”, before the violent Melodeath-on-Meth assault of “The Damned” appears to batter and brutalise the listener with unrepentant aggression, pausing only for a moment of hauntingly melodic introspection before dropping the hammer one last time.
Sample song: “Lines of Suicide”
THE DARKEST RED – 2005
By my estimation one of the most perfectly put-together, and massively underrated, Metalcore albums ever produced, The Darkest Red mixes up a venomous cocktail of Death Metal and Metallic Hardcore influences, laces it with tasteful touches of seductively sadistic melody, and chases the whole thing with a heavy helping of monstrous groove.
A brief introduction (“Prelude”) soon gives way to the hack and slash of “The Darkest Red”, where the thunderously powerful production job lavished on this album becomes immediately apparent. Guitars crunch like breaking bones, drums detonate like artillery fire, and the vocals unleash a veritable torrent of venom and hate.
The scalding “Scars of Your Disease” is up next, scratching and clawing and pummelling with its titanic chuggery and acid-laced vocals, all driving a frankly savage chorus refrain, before the seductively sadistic, stab-happy “Screams Turn To Silence” introduces you to capricious clean vocals of Michael Williams, who delivers his malign melodies with a cruel, punk-edged sneer amidst the caterwauling calamity.
The rampant “Sacrifice” kicks in hard with its superfluously aggressive, thrash-tinged assault, barely pausing for breath as it runs through a gauntlet of ravenous riffs and gut-punch grooves, leading into the stuttering, staccato ground-and-pound of “Prey”, whose rampant energy and low, bassy rumble, build towards a virulently infectious clean-chorus of sweetly murderous melody and malice.
The rippling kick-chug attack of “Procession” incorporates one of the album’s most majestically evil chorus refrains, Williams trading off anguished cleans and agonised screams over thrumming, electric-chair riffs and coldly calculated drums (as well as some broodingly malevolent bass-work), and is followed by the brutal Death Metal-core blast-and-groove bludgeon of “Suffer”, which undeniably errs more on the extreme side of the spectrum, delivering a lethal dose of relentless, bestial aggression.
The narcotic hooks and contagious cleanly sung vocal melodies of “My Dark Desire” offer up one of the album’s most potentially divisive moments, with its mix of feverish, hardcore beats, brutal metallic chuggery, and Gothenburg-tainted melody. It’s quickly followed, however, by the carcinogenic crush of “Scapegoat” – a back-breakingly heavy piece of berserker ferocity with a chorus refrain that hits you like an avalanche of anvils.
It all crashes to its conclusion with the caustic cauldron of riffs and rage that is “Forever Abandoned”, whose compulsive, suicidal hooks and poisonously melodic guitar work seem designed to leave you broken and exhausted and bleeding out from a thousand self-inflicted wounds.
Sample song: “Scapegoat”
GET DAMNED – 2007
The band’s third (and last… so far) album eschews the more polished punishment of its predecessor and goes for a rawer, more Punk/Hardcore-influenced take on their signature Death-Metalcore sound. Pissed-off, pugnacious, and devilishly dark, it’s a real barnburner of an album… so it’s only appropriate that it kicks off with a song by that name, a tightly welded juggernaut of destruction overflowing with tetanus-coated hooks, rib-scraping riffs, and Richter-scale-bothering kick-drums, conjuring up the sort of lethal groove that modern-day Decapitated would be proud of.
The ravaged, glass-gargling vocals of Michael Williams remain one of the band’s most lethally effective weapons, his venomous snarl playing off against darkly bombastic gang-vocals during “Barnburner”, while on the twisted, steroid-enhanced grooves of “Predation” he spits out his malicious imprecations like a man in the throes of demonic possession.
The rampant, rancorous “Dances With Devils” pummels the listener with its ruthless aggression and skin-flaying riffage, punctuated by a truly ferocious chorus refrain of masochistically metallic melody, while the head-banging riffs and sledgehammer drumming of “Adversary” unleash a series of targeted salvos of stunning Metalcore punishment, softening the listener up for the rusted hooks and tangled, barbed-wire guitar work of “White Nights”, which goes straight for the throat right from the very start.
Williams is at his murderous best throughout all these songs, as he is on the jackhammer pounding of “Rapture”, his napalm-drenched vocal chords spitting forth hellfire atop the song’s neck-snapping chuggery and corrosively dissonant chorus.
Both “Deliverance” and “Rattle Me Bones” are perfectly proportioned cuts of prime Metalcore meat – the former a scalpel-sharp melodic incision, the latter a mammoth rhythmic battering-ram – and “The Opposition” would sit nicely alongside the most recent At The Gates album, were it not for the unexpectedly neck-snapping breakdown that comes out of nowhere ¾ of the way through.
The album ends with two tracks that match flesh-rending riffage and dynamic, devastating drum-work to an undercurrent of darkly defiling melody. “Will To Bleed” sees Williams vomiting his blasphemous maledictions over a serial-killer’s stash of lethally honed riffs and booming, bludgeoning grooves, while “Old Scratch” delivers one final toxic dose of lacerating riff-work which builds towards a beautifully menacing, bitterly melodic, cleanly sung chorus refrain.
Sample song: “Dances With Devils”