Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a book by its film. And don’t judge a band by its image. Especially not where Oklahoman quintet The Agony Scene is concerned. Yes, they may look like the next bunch of skinny, overly coiffure-conscious, lostprophets-type merchants who peddle pop-pretending-to-be-rock but, in contrast, their second album The Darkest Red is bone-crushingly heavy, a pastiche of early ’90s Scandinavian death metal and 21st Century American metalcore.
The Agony Scene’s eponymous debut was produced by Killswitch Engage‘s seemingly ubiquitous Adam Dutkiewicz. The Killswitch influence is very much in evidence on four of the 10 proper tracks here – Screams Turn To Silence, Prey, Procession and My Dark Desire all have clean-ish vocalised choruses and slowed-down sections with multitudes of giant guitar riffs.
What’s impressive, however, is that unlike many of the bands currently vying for space in the overcrowded metalcore sub-genre, The Agony Scene create such cohesive pieces of bludgeon, and seem to have heavy metal dynamics down to such a fine art that they are able to compete with Killswitch at all.
Even better is the more usual case when The Agony Scene don’t bother trying to compete and forge their own path down the dark road of seismic death metal. It is here that the band members’ undoubtedly impressive talents synergise to pummel the listener into submission.
Brent Masters proves himself to be one of metal’s most capable drummers throughout The Darkest Red, often kickstarting the songs and then powering them along in a whirlwind of double-bass pedalling and innovative snare drum work. Frankly, Brian Hodges does well to keep up on the bass, while Chris Emmons and Steven Kaye provide the solo-less but far from soul-less dual guitar hammering.
Meanwhile, vocalist Michael Williams’ possesses a deathly, serpentine hiss that lends an extra weight to the already piledriving fare on offer. The title track, Scars Of Your Disease, Sacrifice and especially Suffer and Scapegoat are simply crushing with an intensity not heard since The Agony Scene’s kindred spirits Living Sacrifice were busy grindcoring Slayer‘s and Meshuggah‘s blueprint to a new level.
The album finishes with Forever Abandoned. It’s not a ballad and there are no clean vocals. Instead, it’s no-nonsense, heads-down, furious, superbly played yet highly listenable extreme metal. You may not be able to judge a band by its image but in this case, at least, you can judge an album perfectly by its final track.