Prisoners will forever haunt The Agonist. Shortly after the release of their best album, dynamic frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz parted ways with the group, and was quickly replaced by newcomer Vicky Psarakis. And though her first full-length with the band, Eye of Providence, wasn’t particularly great, it was still a decent enough (albeit generic) melodic metalcore album and a perfectly respectable starting point for the band’s second generation. In fact, in all honesty, I was relatively optimistic that The Agonist’s second record with Psarakis behind the mic would be pretty damn solid; now that the growing pains were sorted out and the transitional album had been released, it was time to get back to business.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here: I found Five to be a remarkably, almost indescribably unpleasant album, one that shares almost nothing with and is a borderline insult to the band’s previous material. I’m honestly not someone who’s particularly difficult to please as far as music is concerned—especially regarding metalcore—but this is inexcusably bad, cover to cover, from the first note to the last. The first red flag emerges less than 30 seconds into the album; “The Moment,” the track that The Agonist consciously chose to place first in the track listing, kicks things off with a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a high school band’s first demo. The lone red flag is joined by a legion of others as it becomes apparent that this riff serves as the backbone of the entire song—and then the vocals start.
Make no mistake; I am being completely honest, utterly devoid of exaggeration or hyperbole, when I claim that Five boasts the most inept vocal performance I have ever heard from a major label-released metal album. Mercifully, Psarakis’ singing isn’t particularly objectionable other than a few moments on the ill-advised ballad “The Raven Eyes,” but anything she attempts beyond standard clean singing is utterly unlistenable. The gutturals are particularly dreadful, and the fact they’re excreted over just about every song on the album is a goddamn war crime. Occasionally, a track like “The Chain” will kick off with a half-decent riff, but any momentum comes to a screeching halt thanks to Psarakis doing her best impression of a bobcat in labor. The vocals can’t even be ignored, either, as Five’s production is just as incompetent as its music. Every instrument is damned to the bottom of the mix, and even the purely instrumental portions lack any sort of punch or energy; granted, the instrumentation and songwriting are easily the worst of the band’s career, but a reasonable placement in the mix would have at least been a step in the right direction. Even the bass guitar work, a highlight of The Agonist’s previous material, is completely absent on Five—although, when the lead and rhythm guitars are so quiet and poorly produced, I suppose that’s to be expected. The quietness of the instrumentation, as a result, forces the atrocious vocals to sit front and center in the mix, a move so heinous that I’m surprised Al Qaeda didn’t think of it first.
Five’s perfect balance between “inexcusably awful” and “mind-numbingly boring” results in an album that is neither too uneventful to evoke hatred nor bad to the point of being interesting. Put simply, it’s a record that suggests a complete lack of effort on the part of The Agonist and an insulting level of disrespect towards their fans and listeners. Over the course of this 13 track album, there are perhaps a half-dozen moments that I found even somewhat interesting or enjoyable; I’ve listened to it far more times than anyone in their right mind ever should, and most of the tracks are still almost completely indistinguishable from one another. Five is easily the worst metal album I’ve heard all year, and one of the worst I’ve ever heard from a label of any sort of stature. The riffs are amateurish, the vocals are atrocious, the production is inept, and the level of effort is negligible; in essence, it’s a record that fails on every level imaginable before proceeding to fail on a few more just for good measure.