2018 has seen some surprising, and surprisingly solid, comebacks from many of the metalcore and NWOAHM bands that populated the early 2000s. However, few have been as unexpected or as outstanding as The Agony Scene‘s Tormentor. Many of their peers have succeeded by simply cementing their relevance in recent years, but the Tusla natives have truly outdone themselves: delivering what is undoubtedly the best record of their career and one which sits alongside Bleed From Within‘s Era (2018) as the gold standard by which all further comers will be measured.
Although The Agony Scene were quickly pigeon-holed with the metalcore crowd off the back of their self-titled debut (2003), their successive offerings did little to support such categorization. The Darkest Red (2005) achieved a similar effect, albeit with a greater emphasis on melody, by combining Slipknot‘s nu-metal sensibilities with a more melodic death metal template. Yet, by 2007’s Get Damned, many of the traditional metalcore tropes had been dropped entirely, in favor of a more thrash-oriented sound. Tormentor continues the evolution toward a more traditional-metal based sound—picking up, more or less, where that third album left us more than a decade ago, while also reintroducing elements of melodic death and other extreme metals into their sound.
Tormentor is one of those records that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. The record opens in fine fashion with “Hand of the Divine,” which immediately stakes its claim upon The Agony Scene’s upper echelon and perfectly sets the stage for what’s to come. Michael Williams’s shrill rasp and Brent Masters’ frenetic drumming lend the track, and the subsequent material, an extreme metal edge, but these songs thrash at their heart, and there’s even some symphonic textures littered throughout, which lend the material a more theatrical feel a la Bleeding Through. “Like Weeds in the Field” opens like something you’d expect from later day Cradle of Filth, before settling into an ominous, mid-paced thrash stomp; while second single “The Submissive” comes off like the love child of Darkest Hour and Lamb of God. Later offering “Mouthpiece” is an almost blackened number, which comes closest of any track on the album to being categorised as genuine, bona fide death metal; before the title-track, Serpent’s Tongue” and “Mechanical Breath” return things to a more riff-oriented setting.
For all its subtle nuances and intricacies, Tormentor isn’t the most varied of releases. Yet, the serves speed it serves up it serves exceptionally well, while also ensuring each of its ten tracks retains its own distinguishable identity. To simply call what’s going on on Tormentor “melodic death metal” is not only to severely stretch the definition of “melodic”, but also to overlook the sheer songcraft and generic melting-pot The Agony Scene provide on their fourth outing. Between this and Get Damned the band seem to have finally found their sound but, more importantly, to have honed their craft to an effectively lethal quality that puts them on par with the NWOAHM legends of yesteryear.
The metalcore revival has yeilded some impressive results thus far, but few as ferociously exceptional as Tormentor. The record is, without a doubt, the best thing The Agony Scene have ever put their name to, and finally sees the Oklahoman outfit nailing down their sound, while reveling in the chaos they’ve created. Now, if we could just get those Himsa and Chimaira comebacks sorted…
Tormentor is out now on Outerloop records, and is available for purchase on the label’s website.