zero hour





Agenda 21

(Frontiers Records)

     As a whole, the bulk of the music journalists at the gap-toothed epicenter of the blogosphere are often quite eager to abuse and overuse the terms 'groundbreaking', 'revolutionary' and even 'breathtaking' when describing the artists and groups they feel are deserving of additional or re-newed recognitions. Unfortunately for you, the increasingly-faithful reader, this has resulted in you being repeatedly subjected to my painfully adjective-riddled prattling concerning Among The Living/State Of Euphoria era Anthrax, Dream Theater, former Holland/Nitro axemaster Michael Angelo Batio and post-Metal Health Quiet Riot (notably QR III, QR and Terrified) on a regu -lar basis. Not surprisingly, when we were initially approached in regards to coverage of the highly-anticipated Agenda 21, the long-awaited comeback (i.e., the follow-up to the 2008 independent gem Dark Deceiver) from curiously-unsung Progressive Metal icons Zero Hour, we were once again only more than happy to overindulge.

     On the brilliant Agenda 21 (2022), an expertly assembled six (!) song collection of Progressive Heavy Metal each track, beginning with the fist-pumping, mosh-inducing “Democide” and the frantic, quasi-cautionary tale “Technocracy”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of even the most jaded and unimagina-tive of listeners, myself most definitely included. Refusing to resort to the 'tried and true' formulations favored by the would-be crème de la crème of the elite, the group's virtuosic, genre-defying tendencies level the playing field without overly complicating their tonalities. Seething with a refreshing sense of originality that implores us to indulge amid their sprawling discography, they drive home each key focal point while remaining subdued an- d tastefully restrained. Offering a sustained glimpses of unadulterated genius without sacrificing substance, the undeniable charm of these early excursions lies within the mystification and wonder at the epicenter of each cut.

     Continuing with the exhaustive, emotionally-overwrought epic “Stigmata”, and the somber, oft-shimmering melancholism of “Memento Mori”, the woefully-underrated combination of multi-octave vocalist Erik Rosvold, guitarist/keyboardist Jasun Tipton, bassist Andreas Blomqvist ('replacing' co-founding bassist Troy Tipton who was unable to participate due to injury) and drummer Roel van Helden (Delphian, Powerwolf, Subsignal) stea-mrolls ahead at a carefully-calculated pace. Embracing the pure isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group wrote and recorded their individual 'parts' remotely, the group wastes little--if any--time reminding us all of their reputation as a bona fide creative force not to be ignored. The ensuing audio onslaught, while occasionally less-than-subtle in acknowledging it's fleet-fingered influences, engulfs the proverbial average listener amid an all-consuming barrage that bridges the more than considerable distance between accessibility and showmanship.

     A true must-have for anyone with a genuine and sincere interest in all things Prog Metal and/or Prog Metal-related, other standouts, including the relentlessly pummeling--yet maddeningly infectious--tirade “Agenda 21” and the equally-impressive closer “Patient Zero”, effectively 're-introduce' the group to a whole new generation. Wisely attempting to replicate the finest elements from both Dark Receiver (2008) and Specs Of Pictures Burnt Beyond (2006) without sounding either forced or dated, the mighty Agenda 21 (and, as a result, the unnervingly long-running group itself), reminds us all of their more than considerable capabilities. Although only time will t- ell if these bombastic conclusions will resonate with a widespread audience already understandably placated via Dream Theater, Flying Colors and their like-minded brethren, the whole proves to be greater than the sum of it's parts as they offer an intense, delightfully exhaustive narrative that only alludes to the apogees of their potential.

     Even if you still find yourself less than enthralled with the absence of the venerable Tipton, one must, at the very lest sincerely admire the group's much-welcomed ability to 'deliver' the 'proverbial goods' without, believe it or not, resorting to the shameless, payola-fueled foolishness increasingly found within the confines of the über intense Progressive Metal sub-genres. With the majority--if not all--of the lastingly memorable wares contained herein now flexing on the ground-breaking lyrical and technical prowess of yore, the end result(s) of their more-than-considerable efforts are worthy of the highest of critical and commercial accolades and should be treated a- ccordingly. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a thought-provoking reprieve from the staggering array of Pop and Hip-Hop banalities that are so often force-fed en mass via the mainstream, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane cure-all for what ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Select Discography

Agenda 21 (2022)

Dark Receiver (2008)

Specs Of Pictures Burnt Beyond (2006)

A Fragile Mind (2005)

The Towers Of Avarice (2001)

Zero Hour (1999)

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