Review Summary: Strung Out has finally released what will probably become the defining album of their career.
Punk has been declared dead for years by those who still wait for the likes of Refused to regroup and Against Me to release another Reinventing Axl Rose
. Albums like A Wilhelm Scream’s Career Suicide
and Propagandhi’s Supporting Caste
would in turn provide a very strong case to the contrary. Sure they may not sound like the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, or early 90’s Bad Religion, but evolution is necessary for the genre to survive, and it so happens that evolving is one of the things Strung Out does best.
The band’s dedication on improving their musicianship, their focus on technicality, and an ever present hunger to explore and expand have led Strung Out from the catchy Warped Tour worthy punk tunes of Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues
to the face melting tracks found on Exile In Oblivion
. With their 6th album, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
, it finally seemed that Strung Out had found their comfort zone and that, like many bands before them, they would be destined to release different versions of the same album until finally calling it quits. This is the part where you listen to Agents of the Underground
and feel like a fool for doubting the band’s creativity and will to evolve.
Agents of the Underground
is fast, energetic and powerful. This time around, instead of adding lots of new elements or trying to bring in outside influences the band does the exact opposite, they synthesize themselves. The album contains the energy and melodies of Teenage Wasteland and mixes it with the power and technicality found in Exile and Twisted by Design
. They also found the way to keep an outstanding balance in their melodies and song structures. They succeed in bringing heaviness and speed without the need to sound like a frustrated metal band while at the same time keeping the songs flowing with smooth precision. Songs like “Black Crosses”, “Ghetto Heater” and” Dead Spaces” are all excellent examples of this.
Strung Out’s signature energy and musicianship is still kicking it hard, finding the members performing as good as ever. Cruz’s vocals are a perfect match to the music and is the backbone keeping the album together while Kiley and Ramos’ superb guitar playing and Burn’s hard hitting drumming become the driving force. One could argue that, like in Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
, the album lacks the improvement in musicianship that the band used to show with every new release, but the fact of the matter is that Strung Out has reach their potential when it comes to their ability to play. A point that is hardly worrisome given that the band’s musicianship is truly superb.
As good as this album is, there are two things that are potentially bothersome. The first thing is the seeming lack of diversity of the album. As a whole Agents of the Underground
, for the most part, sounds quite similar, however inside each song there are multiple things going on. The songs themselves have diversity, showing different levels of intensity, mixed harmonies, changes in melodies, etc. Some of these details are small and not immediately noticeable, but they are the key that keeps the album from getting repetitive and tiresome despite the similarity between the songs. The second bothersome aspect of the album, which is tied to the first, is the vocals. As excellent as they are and as much as they match the music the fact is that they tend to get monotonous. Throughout the album, aside from a few moments, Cruz stays along the same tone and with the same amount of energy. Eventually the lack of diversity in the vocal delivery could be a potentially annoying factor for some.
In the end, Agents of the Underground
turns out to be the most complete album of Strung Out’s career. By using their own beginnings as influence Strung Out has managed to create something more refreshing and cohesive, and after 15 years and 7 albums that’s something to be proud of. The fans who love the metal-like Strung Out will still favor Exile, and the ones who love the melodic punk/pop-punk anthems will still favor Teenage Wasteland, yet in spite of that, by their evolution coming full circle, Agents of the Underground
will probably turn out to be the defining album of their career.