Agent Steel

Skeptics Apocalypse

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Agent Steel's 1985 debut, Skeptics Apocalypse, represented the state of the art in American speed metal upon its release, and a good indication of what Metallica may have sounded like had they not traded their native Los Angeles for the San Francisco Bay Area two years earlier. In other words, although the album shared perhaps as much as 75 percent of its musical DNA with the rougher style of thrashing that was quickly taking the world by storm, the other 25 percent replaced almost any trace of punk rock's "filth and fury" with the more considered presentation of British metal gods like Saxon, Judas Priest, and especially post-Paul Di'Anno Iron Maiden -- so much so that listeners might understandably think that conspicuously galloping numbers like "Bleed for the Gods" (inspired by Mayan sacrificial rites) and "Back to Reign" were essentially Maiden on methamphetamines, thus forging a bridge between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the power metal movement about to make its presence known in Continental Europe. But not even Steve Harris would have managed to keep up with Agent Steel's positively blinding velocity across semi-thrash onslaughts like "Agents of Steel," "Evil Eye/Evil Minds," and "144,000 Gone," which found the quintet thriving in its natural element (tellingly, the almost humanly paced "Taken by Force" provides the album's weakest link and most predictable formulas). And of course one can never discuss Agent Steel without bringing up their enigmatic singer, John Cyriis, whose rumor-laden personal back-story was bolstered with additional conspiracy theories by his recurring interest in sci-fi subjects here (see "Children of the Sun," "Guilty as Charged"), even to the point of overshadowing his incredibly powerful and frequently strident melodic vocals, inspired by yet surpassing even Bruce Dickinson's and Rob Halford's at times. These British metal influences would gain more prominence as the band stepped off the accelerator for vast portions of its celebrated second LP, 1987's Unstoppable Force, which is correctly considered to be Agent Steel's best ever release from the standpoint of songwriting excellence and variety. But because the admittedly more one-dimensional (i.e., fast!) Skeptics Apocalypse still epitomizes the absolute peak of pure American speed metal, listeners may want to pick it up first, if not simultaneously with its sophomore sibling.

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