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The Agonist - "Lullabies for the Dormant Mind" (CD)

The Agonist - "Lullabies for the Dormant Mind" CD cover image

"Lullabies for the Dormant Mind" track listing:

1. The Tempest (the Siren’s Song; The Banshee’s Cry)
2. ...and Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep.
3. Thank You, Pain
4. Birds Elope with the Sun
5. Waiting out the Winter
6. Martyr Art
7. Globus Hystericus
8. Swan Lake (a cappella)
9. The Sentient
10. When the Bough Breaks
11. Chlorpromazine

Reviewed by on July 21, 2009

"The musical dexterity of the band repeatedly comes to the fore, as they mix styles, genres, sounds, and instruments effortlessly. "

The artwork for “Lullabies for the Dormant Mind” is darkly fanciful. The inside back cover depicts a little girl ten times the size of Godzilla holding a cruise ship on stormy waters. The album cover has a person, head replaced by crows, reading to an audience of coffins with the moon looking on intently. The odd juxtaposition of characters and themes is a perfect visual to represent the music on the album. Simultaneously spiritually uplifting and dourly depressing, The Agonist has produced an album that is among the best thus far in 2009.

“Lullabies for the Dormant Mind” is The Agonist’s second full length release under their current moniker (they released one album using the name “The Tempest” back in 2000), and is easily their best. The first album, “Once Only Imagined,” was a fairly standard piece of female-fronted ‘core-styled metal. It is clear within the first minute of “Lullabies” that this is a total jump-shift. The first song on the album, “The Tempest” starts with a quick drum fill and bass line, and then is crushed by brutal deathcore at warp speed. Alissa White-Gluz’s growl is ripped straight from the lungs of hell. The tempo soon slows to an easier groove, shifts into a power metal-styled bridge with layered clean vocals, and finally back to the death. Each section is unabashedly committed and convincing, and the entire song is fueled by frenetic and precise drumming from Simon McKay, Chris Kells’ hyperactive bass, and Danny Marino’s technical guitar.

“Thank You, Pain” is quite possibly the most haunting song on the album. When White-Gluz sings “Thank you pain” in the chorus, she hits a diminished note that sticks in the brain like a nightmare. It is heightened by the vocals leading up to it, as they are uplifting like the sun rising above the ocean. This is not her only standout moment however, as White-Gluz shines throughout the album. Her growls and shrieks are exemplary examples of black and death metal while her clean vocals, if not Tarja quality, certainly come close. They are on particular display on “Swan Lake” which is sung entirely a cappella. Some of the most compelling moments are when her dirty and clean vocals are layered together. “Waiting out the Winter” has straightforward chugging riffs and some violins and keyboards for effect, and White-Gluz uses clean vocals the majority of the song. But when the two vocal styles are put together during the chorus, everything else drops away to meaninglessness as the two styles fight for dominance. The entire song leads to that exact point, building musical ideas and emotional context slowly, finally reaching the end of the crescendo with the layered vocals. It then washes away, spent, in an extended verse-outro.

The musical dexterity of the band repeatedly comes to the fore, as they mix styles, genres, sounds, and instruments effortlessly, while creating a sound and identity all their own. Prog, death, black, ‘core, power, thrash – they all makes repeated appearances that are never overwrought or out of place. Each member is precise and musical, and every small hole and detail is filled. Despite the complexity and eccentricity, the songs and album hold together as a coherent collection, rather than a band on a bender – this may be The Agonist’s greatest accomplishment of all. If there is a demerit, it is that there is never any respite from the onslaught. Even “Swan Lake” is oddly crushing. But even during the heaviest and most bone-crushing moments on the album, for which many moments compete, “Lullabies for the Dormant Mind” takes the listener unbelievable and fanciful places, gliding easily on the wings of beauty and brutality.

Highs: “The Tempest” and “Waiting out the Winter” are the highest of many highs.

Lows: The relentless onslaught that never ends is the only minor problem.

Bottom line: This is one of the most welcome and well-done albums of the front half of 2009.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)