Few things ail me more than taking the piss out of some obscure, forgotten metal record, but since I'm often caught slogging the wine of nostalgia from that very same trough, and am ultimately a child of the 80s myself, it's only fair that I bring the hellfire and brimstone to bear occasionally. Such is the fate of Agentz and their sole full-length album Stick to Your Guns, which was released a few years too late, after the band's 1985 demo. Agentz were a New York act with not only a terrible name, but also some very hair sprayed heads full of dreams of being the next metal sensation. If you're staring at the cover art, eyes agape at the horror of what you see there, whether it's the goofy broad with the gun or the band's logo, I'm afraid to inform you that the contents of this artifact aren't much better...
Now I've been known to dabble in the art of 80s radio metal. You know, that blurred line between hard rock and heavy metal where certain glamorous bands at the end of that decade dared to tread. And I like quite a few artists within these parameters. For example, I enjoy the first four albums by Dokken. I enjoy the first few albums by Bonfire too. I like Kingdom Come. The Scorpions. Vengeance. Fastway. Quiet Riot. Even Saxon released a few divisive albums in this category. But these all had something in common...they wrote pretty damn good songs, the kind of songs that had you looking beyond the aerosol canned headdress, pre-ripped jeans and bad taste in makeup to some place deeper in your soul, where you liked to rock out and have fun. And where you STILL like to rock out and have fun, regardless of what culture has dictated to you as being cool or fresh, all these years. Agentz take an approach very similar to the bands I listed above, but apart from some good intentions and an occasional riff that can get a dry heart pumping (slightly), they fall into the category of easily dispensable demi-glam fodder.
And it doesn't take long to figure out why, because the opening title track is a veritable catalog of everything that is right and wrong about this album. "Stick to Your Guns" starts with the typical mid-paced, steamy street rocking beat, with a crunchy, super simplistic guitar line and cheesy keyboard to give it that total 80s feel (think Journey or Survivor). The guitarist Jason Sabo knows how to lay into a minimal solo that evokes the city nights this beast wishes to prowl about in, but the tragedy begins with frontman Patrick Dubs, whose vocals sound ever so slightly 'too manly' for this recording, like an early John Bush (Armored Saint) whose just had his nose broken and ears clubbed in at a local boxing match. Could this be the Rocky Balboa of street metal? To think, he was actually a guitar player in an earlier incarnation of Savatage (Avatar). The backing vocals also sound just a little too phoned in, but perhaps it's the tempo that needed to be just a little faster.
And then the album gets worse...as Dubs pretends he's John Bon Jovi, or a woman, and gives an 'emotional' vocal introduction to "Don't Tread On Me" over some light keyboards that sound like any random 80s pop band in ANY random 80s movie, playing at the prom. You know what I'm talking about. This song is called "Don't Tread On Me", Agentz. You should be TRAMPLING the prom, not wearing the tux and piano tie and drinking the damn punch. "Time Will Tell" sounds like a rewrite of "Jesse's Girl", and "Take a Chance on Love" is like something Aerosmith threw out in the dumpster in 1980. "Bite the Bullet" builds an ambient prelude and for a second I felt like I was at the opening credits of an 80s cop flick, as the shot was panning closer towards the city skyscape. But instead of biting me in the ass, it sounds quite a lot like the first few songs. "Fire in the Heart" might be the most 'burning' track on the album, but it's once again very similar to the rest and doused in too much keyboard that undercuts the metal fire in its own heart. "When the Axe Falls" is like an epic 'power metal' hybrid of Def Leppard, with Dubz lower, manlier vocals, but it's just too hilarious to take seriously when I hear lines line:
Feelin' the pain of a broken heart
I tortured my mind with the games that she played
And when I've cried a thousand tears she doesn't seem to understand...
She was my woman! I just can't let you go...
What the fuck, man? You are the Agentz! You are a metal band. You TAKE the women. It's not the other way around. You don't sit around on their lap like a fluffy white kitten awaiting scraps! You come and you go as you please. For God's sake. Next to this crap, the final cut "Waiting in Vain" seems positively upbeat, but in all reality...Stryper makes this seem like Rick Astley by comparison. 33 minutes of your life, swallowed in a vacuum of broken dreams.
Need I remind you that this was the same year Savatage released Hall of the Mountain King. Raven released the relentless Life's a Bitch. Running Wild had Under Jolly Roger. Slayer and Metallica had already re-written the rules. So an album like Stick to Your Guns feels far, far behind when it comes to the appreciable level of power bands were flexing in their day. It almost smells like ignorance. Perhaps the album just came a few years too late? Regardless, it doesn't even sound good. The keys are too loud, the vocals, too loud, and the guitar has this very lo-fi crunch to it which you weren't hearing from similar artists. Granted, Agentz were an underground band, and they probably did not have the deep pockets or interest necessary to mix a better record...but even a million bucks would have been wasted on these eight miserable compositions. I like a little cheese with my wine, but unlike so many scores (or hundreds) or similar albums treading the border of commercial radio trash and metal music, Stick to Your Guns has not even the minimum caliber of firepower to defend itself on this mean city street. It seems the Big Apple ran this posse through and then ran them under.
Highlights: It's frightening enough to shake out some of your feminine side.
Verdict: Epic Fail [1/10]