Sound — 5
Starting off with a melodic death metal/metalcore style in their 2007 debut album, "Once Only Imagined," The Agonist have grown more aspirational with each album. Showing more symphonic and power metal influences in their sound with their 2009 follow-up album, "Lullabies for the Dormant Mind," they would then up the ante on strength as well as include more acoustic songwiting in 2012's "Prisoners." After that, however, The Agonist would hit some interpersonal turbulence when they parted ways with frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz on contentious terms. But despite the rough patch hit, things essentially worked out for both parties: White-Gluz would end up becoming the new frontwoman for the Swedish death metal band Arch Enemy, and The Agonist's new frontwoman, Vicky Psarakis, proved to be a suitable replacement as both a clean and growling female vocalist in their fourth album, "Eye of Providence."
With "Eye of Providence" expanding a bit more on the cleaner, less extreme metal side of The Agonist, the band's fifth album, "Five," continues expanding from their heavier home-range. Showing more reservation in metal energy and more production value (especially in the vocal layering), some songs show a less aggressive, more mainstream metal sound championed by Psarakis' clean singing, manifesting in both good iterations (like "The Moment" and "The Ocean") and boring ones (like "The Hunt" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth"). And venturing even further in an artsier direction are the orchestral songwriting endeavors, much more elaborate compared to when they first dabbled with such in "Lullabies...," heard in the acoustic guitar and string sections of "The Raven Eyes" and the film-score power of "The Wake," though the string sections injected into the metal closer "The Trial" don't liven up its limp composition.
Despite this lighter side of the band being the more prominent one in "Five," The Agonist still make an effort to tap back into their heavier and more instrumentally skilled side, though the results are also mixed. While the guitar riffs and soloing in "The Chain" and "The Anchor and the Sail" are a highlight, and the shifting measurements in "The Villain" keep the energy high, other songs meander on with nondescript riffs or a lack of intriguing elements, like "The Game," "The Resurrection," and "The Pursuit of Emptiness."
Lyrics — 6
Following suit with the more mainstream metal flavor in the music, the lyrics in "Five" are much easier to digest compared to the flashy vernacular and dense philosophies touted in The Agonist's earlier albums. While some moments still maintain some fun syllabic symmetry (like "Tyrannical manacles of the process colossus" in "The Chain"), other lyrics come off more bland this time around, like in the general fantasy symbolism of "The Moment" ("This is the moment / All elements collide / Draw your strength where stars collide"), the meager gambling analogies in "The Game," or the shallow desires of mankind in "The Pursuit of Emptiness" ("Who can tell the truth from a lie / Money can't buy happiness they say / Oh yes it can").
The most noteworthy set of lyrics, however, seems to run as a mini-concept in the album. With a more compelling narrative established in the cryptic tale of a menacing man in "The Raven Eyes" ("He might let you bleed if you're nice / Salvation always has a price"), a number of lines from that song appear once again in "The Trial," providing a second half to the story of which this evil man meets his reckoning of being sentenced to death for his crimes ("Sweet euphoria / When the last drop has fallen / Inject the deadliest poison").
Overall Impression — 5
Setting itself apart further from the likes of their earlier work, The Agonist's effort in "Five" pursues some more theatrical songwriting and some more mainstream-friendly metal moments. And while that direction comes with its own set of gains and losses, the biggest problem with "Five" is The Agonist also wanting to keep as much of themselves tending to the heavier metal formulas of before, but not reaching that same level of heavy quality as earlier albums. Ultimately, this makes "Five" a very bloated offering with a lot more forgettable songs than worthwhile ones.