Reviews list for Agent Steel - Mad Locust Rising (1986)
OK, so this four-track EP is really only about two tracks, the first being an intro to the title track and the third being a fairly faithful cover of Judas Priest's The Ripper which reveals nothing other than that maybe Priest should have recruited John Cyriis insted of Ripper Owens when Rob Halford jumped ship.
So the two tracks in question, the title track and closer Let It Be Done / The Day at Guyana, are fairly decent thrashers that tick a lot of the boxes instrumentally but, a lot like this month's Fallen feature, suffer for me in the vocal department. Basically I don't like Cyriis' screeching vocals very much at all which, considering that I have no issue with either King Diamond or Cirith Ungol's Tim Baker, is damning indeed! I think Let It Be Done is by far the stronger of the two tracks (where the singing does least damage) and the closing Day at Guyana riff is a killer that seems wasted as a mere fade-out for the track. The title track is OK, but I wouldn't go overboard for it, although if Tom Araya was singing on it instead of Cyriis then it may have been a thrash classic.
I guess I would have to say that this slight EP has had very little impact on me and I don't really feel that I missed out on anything by it slipping past me first time around.
I have a natural aversion to the vocals of John Cyriis. It is an affliction that soon starts to ease with repeated listens to Agent Steel releases with him present. He has range most certainly but is just ridiculous in tone and inflection to the point were it initially grates on me. That taken into consideration, a 4 track EP (well 3 track if we discount the pointless first track) should be more than acceptable for me. As it turns out I can quite easily tolerate Mad Locust Rising but this is largely due to the superb musicianship of Juan and Bernie along with the pumping bass of Karlos and the drums of Chuck Profus somehow making their presence known from beneath the murk of the production and mix job on the record which does an absolutely great job of capturing the vibrancy of the tracks whilst retaining that rawness that is by far the most appealing aspect of the EP for me.
The Priest cover is actually really well done and is a track that is particularly well suited to John's vocals and makes me really want to listen to Judas Priest immediately after listening to it. I will confess to being pleasantly surprised by Mad Locust Rising with my initial dread soon dissipating amidst those rabid riffs and breakneck tempos as they literally swarm (pun intended) over me. In fact I will go as far as to say that I have very little to argue with here after a few spins have nurtured me into those vocals a bit more.
I’ve long regarded Los Angeles five-piece Agent Steel’s 1985 debut album “Skeptics Apocalypse” as one of the top few speed metal records I’ve ever experienced so it’s fair to say that I didn’t hesitate in considering the band’s next couple of releases for inclusion while putting together an outline of the records I’d investigate as a part of this month’s speed metal deep dive. Agent Steel’s debut kinda fell into the speed metal tag due to it being made up of tracks that belonged in either the thrash metal or heavy metal camps so speed metal seemed like a happy medium, particularly given the extra melody in the vocals & guitar lines that wouldn’t normally be associated with genuine thrash. My review of 1987’s “Unstoppable Force” sophomore album last week found that the band hadn’t diluted their commitment to velocity in the slightest & I’d describe it as a relentless assault on the senses although the production & vocal performances left a fair bit to be desired & a lot of the more aggressive material is more speed metal focused than it is thrash. Having now closed that chapter in my understanding of Agent Steel’s essential releases I’m left only to fill the gap between the two albums with 1986’s “Mad Locust Rising” E.P., a twelve-minute affair that makes full use of it’s short run time.
“Mad Locust Rising” is made up of just the four tracks with the first being an insignificant 17 second intro piece that might as well have been a part of the first proper song as it serves no purpose on its own. The opening title track however is an absolute rip-snorter & takes a super aggressive thrash metal approach that’s far more similar to Slayer & Kreator than it is to Exciter or Helstar. Even polarizing front man John Cyriis’ whiny performance seems to fit the music beautifully & I’m not sure that Agent Steel could have come up with a better opener to be honest. Why the hell this track wasn’t deemed worthy of inclusion on a proper album is anyone’s guess. Next up we get a very solid & well executed cover version of Judas Priest’s “The Ripper” which is pretty faithful to the original but adds some modern-day oomph with a delivery that’s more in line with the US power metal sound. And finally, the E.P. is closed out with another thrasher in “Let It Be Done/The Day At Guyana” which is the more complex of the three proper songs & offers some fantastic riffs, particularly the Slayer-esque outro section from “The Day At Guyana” which would become a highly praised instrumental track on the “Unstoppable Force” album.
The production job is nice & raw but possesses a wonderful energy that beautifully highlights the strengths of the consistently high quality tracklisting. The performances are all excellent too with the over the top shredding of Juan Garcia & Kurt Colfelt being a definite highlight, particularly their Kerry King/Jeff Hannemann style effort on the title track which takes an already superb track to another level altogether. It’s really very hard to fault this little E.P. & I have to say that I’m surprised that it hasn’t gained more notoriety over the years. I can only suggest that the short run time is the main reason behind that but the other may be that fans weren’t quite prepared for the onslaught of aggressive thrash as there’s not really any speed metal on offer here with thrash metal & US power metal being far more appropriate genre tags.
I have to say that “Mad Locust Rising” has torn off my face & handed it back to me in pieces in many respects. I wasn’t in any way prepared to enjoy it as much as I have & now regard it as my favourite Agent Steel record by a clear margin. Is that due to the fact that it takes a direction that’s much more in line with my personal taste profile? Well… yes it certainly is but isn’t that how we all judge the merits of our music? It certainly is for me & I’m very glad to have discovered this short but very sweet little E.P. from a very important band in the US power metal movement.
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