ZERO HOUR “Agenda 21”
In the 14 years since the band's last record they have been sorely missed. Various side/solo projects aside, there was always just something special about this band's WATCHTOWER-meets-MESHUGGAH delivery that was extremely unique that none of the member's other efforts adequately replicated, nor were they necessarily meant to. No other band has really come close to the lightning-in-a-bottle that the Tipton brothers managed to capture here. So how does this new record stack up to THAT sort of legacy?
Firstly, it must be addressed that the Tipton brothers are no longer both at the helm here, with Troy having stepped aside due to the injuries he had suffered leaving him unable to continue in his role as the shredding low-end wielder of past releases. Enter Andreas Blomqvist from SEVENTH WONDER to the fray and one listen to the likes of "Stigmata" definitely showcases the kind of talent he wields. That said, the differences between his school of playing versus that of Troy are glaring and the delivery is far less aggro and percussive that his predecessor. It's very adequate, just not the same. A little more in line with the band's previous output is the inclusion of POWERWOLF's Roel Van Holden on drums who very much is killing it on these polyrhythms and odd-time signatures with an aggressive, yet still very dynamic balance of power and finesse. It's dramatically different from what we know him from, and this record serves to showcases his talents substantially. That said, he never really goes off at all on the record; he holds it down and plays exactly what the song needs every time, nothing more, and nothing less. Returning to the fold are Jasun Tipton on guitars, who on this release seems to be writing far more gentle, progressive, and quiet passages versus the band's previous output, but it seems to balance nicely. It's bridging a gap between this band and he and vocalist Erik Rosvold's other musical endeavor, CYNTHESIS. Speaking of Erik, damn is it good to have him back! His lyrics were always exceptional; poetic and yet not for the sake of it like some lyricists seem to fall into. I've always likened his delivery to a fine, soothing blend of Geoff Tate and Tim Owens, take the best attributes of both to craft something both dynamic and very dramatic that just fits this music nicely.
While I appreciate the album as a whole, I feel like once track 4, "Memento Mori" comes in is what we start to get material that is a little more enthralling. That aforementioned track that begins the tonal shift in and of itself is a ballad. Very gentle, yet very attention-holding and it sets up an extremely loveable one-two punch of "Agenda 21" and "Patient Zero" to round out the record. In my opinion, "Agenda 21" may be the most 'ZERO HOUR-like song on the whole record, exemplifying many musical tropes the band's previous output had in abundance, such as the undulating pattern of the opening riff, the chunky chugging of the riff that follows, and 3:43 in, you get that awesome and familiar two-strikes-per-note pentatonic run in 9/8...something that was ALL OVER the band's previous material. "Patient Zero" is just epic! It brings to mind vibes of "Demise and Vestige" off the band's landmark 'Towers of Avarice' record. It's just a ride of a song...it has much of the same music tropes as the song that precedes it, but the vibe is far different and in my opinion is just the best track on this wonderful record.
While there are elements here or there that make the record a slight odd man out from the rest of their discography, like everything else the band has done this record demands to be taken in as a whole. It has peaks and valleys that are always intentional and creates a listen that while being linear is far, FAR from being boring. When all is said and done, isn't that what we really want from a progressive record?