Empire: Do Agora Provide One of the Top Prog Albums of Recent Times?

It feels like it’s been a while since we did an in-depth review of a power metal album, doesn’t it? Granted, the Angus McSix review was only like 6 weeks ago, but it feels like longer. God, for a genre that I only had a passing interest in before Overtone, I have definitely been converted, and quickly! Plus, the last year or so has been phenomenal in terms of releases in the sub-genre.

Mexican metallers Agora very much scratch this itch. Don’t get me wrong, they are mainly prog, but there is definitely some heavy power metal influence in there too. Even without hearing a note played, the album artwork sucked me in and immediately told me what I was to expect from the release. Themes of virtual reality, zombies and extinction are all touched on throughout, and the artwork and sound ties it all together perfectly. I hadn’t even heard of these guys before now, but they are clearly doing something right with their hundreds of thousands of streams and even writing alongside legendary keyboardist Derek Sherinian. Without further delay, let’s dive into the album!

The opener and title track immediately sets the tone with a heavy and fast riff. The drums, bass and even choir and strings build in, adding an already massive feel to the sound. The powerful vocals soon come in over the top, fitting in perfectly. The chanted backing vocals for the pre are great and I’m sure would go down a storm live. The backing vocals continue to add so much to the sound through the chorus as well, providing a fantastic higher harmony for the main vocal melody. It’s all infectiously catchy and sounds huge.

The guitaring leading out of the second chorus was awesome, and then we get an almost breakdown, heavy and slower. And of course, where would prog be without a blistering guitar solo. Holy crap, both parts of the duelling solos are incredible. Props to both of them, I’m not at all jealous… The track follows the standard radio format, which works given it’s single nature, and is a super solid way to start off an album! Playlisted!

‘I’m Just Venom’ opens on an awesome quick bass and drum line, their prog side definitely shining through. The riff explodes in with the guitars, sounding INCREDIBLE. The James LaBrie-like vocals sound fantastic between the huge chords and riffs. It’s another massively catchy chorus too, with everyone playing their part perfectly vocally. The whole track has a slightly more sleaze edge to it which I’m really digging. The soloing throughout is incredible too, one following every chorus. The great breakdown and almost Nuno Bettencourt level of guitaring to transition between parts and solo was amazing. It does very much feel like the guitarists were inspired by Nuno and Petrucci. A final huge chorus finishes off another amazing track. They are so far two for two on playlisted tracks!

Another single, ‘In the Name of Destruction’, is up next. Another great riff, made fatter by some great subtle strings, opens it perfectly. There’s some almost Iron Maiden-like melodies in here that I liked a lot, but obviously beefed up by the heavier guitars and drums. It reminds me a bit of another band I’ve loved for years and wish they’d come back, Painside. We get a great showcase of the bass in the bridge and breakdown and damn, that tone is tasty. We also get a sick brief keys solo in this track, which I have a feeling may have been Derek. It’s another pretty standard track format for a prog band, but a damn enjoyable track all the same!

After a brief interlude/buildup track, ‘Collosus’ explodes in. It, alongside ‘honor in Dying’ and ‘When Honor Ends’ are three more tracks similar to what have come before. All three are good tracks with some nice thrashy riffs spread between them. However, they are all pretty balls-to-the-wall and it’s nothing we haven’t already heard earlier in the album. It would have been nice to hear some dynamics like…

‘Immortal Dream’ is the first time the band slows down at all on the album. It’s nice to hear, and it’s a shame we’re seven tracks in before it happens. I’d have much preferred this around the mid-way mark, though I understand loading the more epic, concepty tracks towards the end. The drums provide a surprisingly excellent backdrop to some beautiful clean guitar and piano. The vocals are the perfect level of power too, it all having an open, almost ethereal sound to it. It all builds into a somehow even massiver, incredibly catchy chorus. And of course there’s another phenomenal solo. It gives off slight Genesis vibes, in the best ways. It’s an incredible metal ballad that does everything to perfection. Playlisted!

Single ‘Infinity’ also opens slowly, but builds masterfully for over a minute before a slower, heavy, sludgy riff comes in over the top. We get another great showcase of the amazing bass tone in the second verse as it drops back to it and the drums and vocals for a bit. Everything about the track was awesome, with the vocals fitting so well over the top the huge guitars, drums and synth. The vocal harmonies again add a catchiness to the chorus, too. And another blistering guitar solo that is another highlight of the track. Another excellent track!

Then we finally reach the last and longest track on the album, ‘Virtual Reality’. It builds for a while through synth, ambient sounds and a beautiful operatic voice, before the typical huge riff comes in. The strings throughout were a great touch too and added an awesome melody to it. We got some more amazing soloing and a nice, albeit brief, almost A7X bridge with a scream in it, which was sick. A little sadly, however, the majority of the 8+ minutes is just more of what we’ve already had. The intro was a cool build and the soloing was excellent, but it still had a similar structure as the rest and everything just felt a little too overly drawn out at times. A good, epic way to finish the album, but not quite what I was expecting or hoping for.

Overall: Wow. This was amazing. I had to hold off from putting over half of it on the playlist, it was that good. I’m now kicking myself for not hearing of them sooner. I loved every track on the album and will definitely be going back through their discography after this. They should be massive, and they definitely have a new fan in me. The final track didn’t quite nail it for me, and there were a couple of more ‘filler’ tracks, but still, I’mma give this…

The Score: 9/10

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