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Canadian act The Agonist released Eye of Providence, its first album since 2012, this February. In the time between this album and the last, the band has lost its founding frontwoman, Alissa White-Gluz, to Arch Enemy, causing us to pay a little more attention to The Agonist. White-Gluz was replaced by Vicky Psarakis, but the vocalist switch isn’t the only immediately recognizable change for the band.

Pre-Eye of Providence, pre-loss of White-Gluz, The Agonist’s sound was built on two contrasting elements successfully played against each other. The band’s original blend of melodic death metal and metalcore used to mean haunting, dreamy vocals floating over and through aggressive, hyperactive guitar riffs and confrontational drums. The Agonist occupied the same space as other bands that managed to spin beautifully composed melodies without losing a sense of bile and rage – no easy feat, but accomplished by bands like Dark Tranquility, and early In Flames.

The latter could be an important comparison here, because both they and The Agonist started out walking that fine line between brutal and catchy, and are now really losing steam. In Flames has already completely collapsed in that department; The Agonist might still be able to turn it around, but at the moment it looks like they’re headed down the same path. Earlier Agonist also existed in the same realm as Arch Enemy with a sonic beatdown that didn’t sacrifice heaviness, even in earwormier songs. But Eye of Providence-era Agonist sounds far, far away from Arch Enemy now.

It’s as if White-Gluz decided to take all The Agonist’s bite with her when she left. Her Agonist had a good ping-pong of melody and assault going. It was that mix of clean singing and screaming you don’t even realize is the perfect formula until you’re listening to it and feeling how in tune every switch is. With Psarakis, Eye of Providence leaves you high and dry, wondering if the clean singing will ever switch, wondering how the band didn’t realize more of those switches were needed, wondering when this band became so Nightwishy [You say "Nightwishy" like it’s a bad thing. —Ed.].

As The Agonist seem to attempt to plunge further into the depths of metalcore and death metal, instead of weaving them together as they once did, the result is a less a cohesive, more generic offering. Slower songs, while played well, flirt with the edge of saccharine territory, bringing to mind Within Temptation or Kamelot. Faster songs cling to an outdated metalcore sound, reminiscent of Shai Hulud.

Eye of Providence is a solid album, when it comes to musicianship. There are some smartly arranged compositions here, and they’re executed well – Danny Marino and Pascal Jobin present a pretty strong united front on guitar. “Gates of Horn and Ivory” is one of the album’s best; unfortunately, it’s also the very first song, so things kind of start to go downhill from there. “Gates” packs the balance of heavy and melodic that The Agonist has done so well with in the past, so you don’t realize Eye of Providence is a really a different animal for the band until you start to move into the middle of the album – by the time you reach “Perpetual Notion,” you’ll probably have realized The Agonist has gone a little soft. You’ll also, presumably, be a little bored.

Make no mistake: Psarakis is one strong singer. No listener will be left wanting in the clean singing department - many reviews have opined that Psarakis is actually a better singer than White-Glutz. But this arguable upgrade in melodic vocals makes you wonder what role it played in The Agonist’s dulled output. Did the band seek to highlight Psarakis’s voice, and so the watered-down power metal effect was the result? Were they heading in that direction, anyway, and Psarakis’s abilities supported the softened sound? Or, was it her lack of screaming and growling ability that demanded it? The vocalist switch and the difference in the fortes of the predecessor and successor is obviously linked with the band’s sound shift; we just don’t know which was the cause and which was the effect.

It’s not hopeless for The Agonist. They’re a talented bunch, Psarakis was a solid acquisition, and we know they have something heavier in them because they’ve been there before. They need to marry the different elements of the genres they incorporate to make a sound that is their own, and not a recycled interpretation of things we’ve heard before, engineered in a way that the band thinks people must want. Having the skills in a band to explore complex melodies as well as ruthless rage isn’t the most common situation, and it’s something that should be played up and experimented with.

—Courtney Iseman

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Eye of Providence is out now via Century Media. Follow The Agonist on Facebook.

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