[6th December 2013]
02. Dark Dreams
03. Collecting Scars
04. Made Of Gold
07. Wilt The Garden
09. Kingdom Of Fear
10. Like You Never Left
12. Lost In Transience
On paper, there’s been quite the gap between Agent‘s first album, Expand/Contract, released in 2007 and 2013′s Kingdom of Fear. However, in the interim the band has had a couple of line-up changes to contend with. Not only that, but also the not inconsiderable matter of relocating to London from their native New Zealand. That’s a sizeable undertaking in anyone’s book.
However, the lengthy gap between recordings has resulted in Kingdom Of Fear becoming a remarkably mature collection of songs for a second album. This is clearly apparent right from the first listen.
Agent take solidly written post-grunge songs and inject progressive metal elements to the sound. The resulting sound is a pleasing hybrid of melody and muscularity.
Interestingly, the bulk of the progressiveness in Agent’s sound is derived from the rhythm section, with drummer Alex Alvarado and bass player Matt Flower utilising similar techniques to Tool in the Undertow/Aenima period. Matt in particular puts in a great performance full of slaps, pops and taps that neatly occupy the spaces left by the interweaving, imaginative guitar work of singer James Donaldson and Gerald Gill. There’s certainly some evidence of Maynard’s influence in the phrasing of James’ vocals, too.
It all comes together to pleasing effect on the opening combo of “Dark Dreams” and “Collecting Scars”, where memorable, harmony-laden choruses sit comfortably alongside somewhat more off-kilter grooves in the verses.
Lead single “Made Of Gold” carries a particularly sizable chorus and a deft drop in tempo for some surprise heaviness. Elsewhere, “Lunatic” features jagged, stop-start riffing that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Helmet record.
However, as you get deeper into the album, it sort of runs out of steam. The band have chosen to include three short interlude tracks, and with the ballad “Like You Never Left” and a seven-minute plus epic “Vondelpark” in the last third, closing track “Vultures” feels a bit marooned. The album feels just a little bit too long, and a bit over-thought, which I suppose is to be expected to some extent given the six year gap between releases.
This is unfortunate, because the songs aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves – although “Wilt The Garden” and the previously mentioned “Like You Never Left” don’t bring much to the table - but the number of tracks and their positions in the listings don’t quite hang together convincingly as a whole.
Kingdom Of Fear showcases a band brimming with good ideas, and in possession of some serious songwriting talents and musical ability. So it is disappointing that the album somehow manages to be slightly less than the sum of its parts.
Make no mistake, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be found in the tracks that comprise Kingdom Of Fear, but past initial spins that enjoyment is most likely to be prolonged by taking them in isolation, rather than listening to the album from end-to-end.