The Agonist is a Canadian metal band from Montreal, Quebec formed in 2004 by guitarist Danny Marino, bassist Chris Kells, and vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, who uses both vocal fry and clean vocals for the band. Originally known as The Tempest, the band adopted their current moniker upon their signing to Century Media in 2007. To date, The Agonist has released three studio albums, the third - "Prisoners" - was released June 4, 2012. Touring extensively since their first album, they have shared the stage with bands such as Arsonists Get All the Girls, Epica, The Faceless, Chelsea Grin, Kamelot, Visions of Atlantis, Labelmates God Forbid and operatic power metallers Epica.
Much has been made of the uphill battle fought by women as they try to make some inroads into the overwhelmingly macho world of heavy metal, and the good news is that there are ever more female metal heads joining bands and leaving their mark on par with the boys. The bad news is that progress in this arena is still painfully slow (although, if you were there in the non-spandex '80s, you know it's been a lot worse!) and for all the growing acceptance among even the most meat-headed headbangers, not all women in metal are necessarily helping their cause. Case in point, vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, of Montreal's Agonist, whose formidable singing, screeching and growling talents can't convey her eco-friendly lyrical preoccupations (and would prove darn near impossible to pull off live), nor excuse her group's competent but imminently forgettable brand of metallic deathcore. As profiled on their 2007 debut, Once Only Imagined, (rush-recorded shortly after the band's inception) Agonist's music is predictably stacked with forceful, down-tuned riffs, blunt-force breakdowns, dissonant squeals, and soaring melodies; all of them stale building blocks, the likes of which discerning metal fans have had more than their fill of, this late into the '00s. By the time the band tacks on a truly ear-catching piano coda to "Business Suits and Combat Boots," and comes up with semi-distinctive counterpoint melodies for album closer "Forget Tomorrow," most listeners will likely have moved onto something else. Unless they have an interest in White-Gluz's fetching good looks, that is, but that's hardly how she'd want to gain metallic acceptance, wouldn't you think? And in any event, like the aforementioned issue of her "green" lyrics, it all comes off feeling like diversionary tactics to cover up the album's abundant deficiencies -- better luck next time.
On the Agonist's first album, 2007's Once Only Imagined, most of the truly memorable musical fireworks were ignited by vocalist Alissa White-Glutz and her uniquely accomplished beauty-and-the-beast duality; all that her bandmates were capable of doing in response was echoing those moodswings with generic melodic metalcore. So the pressure to improve and diversify was obviously on the boys when time came for the Agonist to record their second album, Lullabies for the Dormant Mind, which, before you even ask, does find White-Glutz firing on all cylinders, once again. The good news is that, this time, so are guitarist Danny Marino, bassist Chris Kells, and drummer Simon McKay, who must have taken a crash course in "Advanced Metallic Subgenres" or something, because they are finally able to break out of those melodic metalcore shackles and put their substantial instrumental talents to good use behind their formidable frontwoman. As a result, highlights amidst standouts such as "The Tempest," "Thank You Pain," "Waiting Out the Winter," and "The Sentient" manage to frame White-Glutz's alternating bouts of sweetness and savagery with backdrops built from some of the most extreme heavy metal styles in existence: death metal, black metal, even grindcore! Simultaneously, the Agonist repeatedly interjects keyboards, both synthetic and straight-up piano, into most all of these songs, thus bringing the sophistication of classically inspired songwriting even unto the most chaotic of thrash-outs. The sheer schizophrenia of it all may prove a little disorienting, at first, but by the time we roll past the halfway mark, even the raga-flavored midsection of "Chlorpromazine" and the seemingly preposterous "Swan Lake" passage sung a cappella by White-Glutz seem to work in the context of the album's fearsomely eclectic creative wingspan. Not bad for a band that seemed to be hopelessly mired in a deteriorating subgenre just two years earlier; Lullabies for the Dormant Mind sees the Agonist rising to the challenge of topping themselves.
Although its explosively schizophrenic amalgam of disparate sounds, moods, and intensities might initially suggest otherwise, the Agonist's third album, 2012's Prisoners, is in fact an apt summation of that which came before it; a mature, calculated freakout representing the latest sprint in the Canadian band's aggressive evolutionary curve, well beyond the modest metalcore roots of 2007's Once Only Imagined debut. To that end, the recurring involvement of producer Christian Donaldson (known for his work with technical death metal ensemble Cryptopsy, among others) cannot be overlooked, as he clearly helped shepherd the Agonist's instrumentalists beyond the marked improvement (and still slightly overbearing deathcore influences) shown on 2009's Lullabies for the Dormant Mind toward a far more polished and progressive sort of controlled chaos. What's more, he did so while harnessing the outstanding, nerve-fraying vocal transformations of singer Alissa White-Glutz -- who can switch between coarse grunts and angelic melodies at the drop of a guillotine -- and let her sail atop these choppy seas with the fluid savvy of an albatross (with rare exceptions like weak-link "Dead Ocean"). And, whereas the obscenely broad range of the Agonist's creative reach is already copiously displayed by brain-twisting numbers such as "You're Coming with Me," "Anxious Darwinians" (which takes Lacuna Coil to a darker, more violent place), and the frankly overlong "Ideomotor" (which fades after an endless, seemingly tacked-on guitar solo), it's masterfully crafted highlights such as "Predator & Prayer," "Panophobia," and "Everybody Wants You (Dead)" that really pull it all together, fusing the extreme complexities and infectious hooks at war throughout the album with utmost precision. No, not perfection, precision: the band still has room for improvement (see less distinctive, curiously nerdy fare like "Lonely Solipsist," "The Mass of the Earth," and "Revenge of the Dadaists") and to say the group has achieved true originality of sound would be a heck of an overstatement. Rather, the Canadians continue to impress with their maturing talents and, at this rate, that utter break from familiar sounds could be just around the next corner.