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Music / The Agonist

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The final lineup. L-R: Simon, Danny, Vicky, Paco, Kells

Does history guide you, or do you set out to change it?
"Business Suits and Combat Boots"

The Agonist (formerly known as The Tempest) was a Canadian Melodic Death Metal/Metalcore band from Montreal, characterised by topical lyrics, complex guitar work and a female lead who can sing (well) in both clean and growling vocals.

Their lyrics often consider themes such as animal rights, social injustice and other contemporary issues. This fits in with the band's name: "agonist" means challenger.

In March of 2014, Alissa White-Gluz announced that she had been chosen as the next frontwoman for Arch-Enemy. She also revealed that the band - as fans knew it - was "over", and that Vicky Psarakis would be taking over as vocalist. Though the change has inevitably produced some backlash, the band have taken it in stride and produced two albums since: Eye of Providence in 2015, and Five in 2016. After bouts of touring, The Agonist went into production of their sixth album Orphans, released September 20, 2019. Their final EP, Days Before The World Wept, followed in 2021. These last two releases were shortlisted for the Juno heavy metal album of the year in 2020 and 2022 respectively.

The band would call it quits in May 2023, citing financial issues and creative burnout, but remain friends. Vicky is now co-fronting her other band Sicksense, while Kells is moving into video production and Danny is taking a break from band work to spend more time with his family.

Their final line-up is:
  • Danny Marino - lead guitar (2004-2023)
  • Chris Kells - bass, backing vocals (2004-2023)
  • Simon McKay - drums (2007-2023)
  • Pascal "Paco" Jobin - rhythm guitar (2010-2023)
  • Vicky Psarakis - lead vocals (2014-2023)

Former members include:

  • Derek Nadon - drums (2004-2007)
  • Andrew Tapley - rhythm guitar (2008-2009)
  • Chris Adolph - touring rhythm guitar (2009)
  • Justin Deguire - touring rhythm guitar (2011)
  • Alissa White-Gluz - lead vocals, lyrics, artwork planning (2004-2014)

    Discography and videos 

Thank you, tropes.

  • A Day in the Limelight: "Waiting Out the Winter" (written by Simon), "I Endeavor" (written by Paco).
  • Accent On The Wrong Syllable: Quite frequent on their older releases — Prisoners in particular — probably as a result of squeezing sophisticated lyrics into unconventional rhythms. It's most noticeable in "Thank You, Pain" ("it's not only my afTERlife I bereave" and "think about the STATistics you feed"). This is more or less a result of how Alissa wrote the lyrics and her accent. Ever since Vicky joined this hasn't been an issue due to her more straightforward lyrics on Eye of Providence, Five, and Orphans.
  • Air Guitar: How Danny comes up with his riffs.
  • All Drummers Are Animals: Despite his thing for Klatchian Coffee, Simon is actually a friendly, funny guy.
    • All Men Are Perverts: Apparently, Simon tried hitting on Alissa at his audition. Might have just been a one-off though.
  • Almighty Janitor: Kells, who provides both bass backing for Danny and Paco, and vocal backing for Alissa/Vicky. He is also very active in engaging the crowd during live shows, handles a lot of band photography and even directs some of their music videos!
  • And I Must Scream: Parts of "...And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep" and the first verse to "The Resurrection" seethe with this trope.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Alissa's Berserk Button. Vicky also touches upon this in the likes of "The Chain" and "The Gift of Silence".
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: When asked by an interviewer what the most important thing to have with him when inspiration struck was, Danny replied "For music? A guitar. For lyrics? A pen."
  • Audience Participation Song: "Thank You, Pain" is an audience participation video casting clean Alissa as a defendant, death-growl Alissa as a judge, and the audience as the jury.
  • Battle Couple: As of 2021, Vicky is co-fronting her side project Sicksense with her husband Robby J Fonts.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted in "As One We Survive" where we see Vicky looking pretty much tortured while hands come out of nowhere to drag her down and beat her up to a point where she's spewing Blood from the Mouth. But then after every cut focused on tortured Vicky, interspersed with the band's Dress Rehearsal Video scenes, at the very last second we see an actually unhurt Vicky snap (with a Precision F-Strike to boot) and throw her chair at the camera.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: "Predator and Prayer" takes this line, advocating a more existentialist worldview. "Follow the Crossed Line" has a similar message.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: "The Sentient".
    Euthanasia is a crimeless death penalty, but it's still better than what they get when they're tortured, brutally murdered, because some fucking coward can't make a clean living.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Vicky sings a slightly tweaked Title Drop of "Blood As My Guide" in her native Greek: Με οδηγό το αίμα.
  • Bloody Horror: Seems to be a theme with the back half of Orphans. "Blood as My Guide" has a more metaphorical take on the subject.
    • The video to "The Gift of Silence" screams this, treating us to shots of Vicky caked in blood every few seconds.
  • Call-Back: In “The Trial” to “The Raven Eyes” from several songs earlier.
    “Pour that man another, 'cause he might let you bleed...if you’re nice.”
  • The Cameo: Youri Raymond from Cryptopsy and Unhuman on Lullabies for the Dormant Mind. Also Melina Soochan, Avi Ludmer and Jonathan Lefrancois Leduc (Blackguard) performing additional instruments. Their producer even got in a few sneaky Metal Screams on their first single "Business Suits and Combat Boots."
    • In turn Alissa has cameo'd in songs for Synastry, The Plasmarifle, Blackguard, Erimha and Kamelot! You can see her wearing a Plasmarifle t-shirt at the end of the "Business Suits" music video.
  • Cathartic Exhalation: The very beginning to the video of "As One We Survive".
  • Chick Magnet: Paco Jobin (nuff' said) and Alissa is a Clueless Chick-Magnet. (When it comes to guys, Alissa is fully aware of the Chick Magnet status. Just read some of the YouTube comments.)
  • Concept Album: Five comes close to being one. And the songs on the Days Before The World Wept EP focus on themes of mortality, death and resurrection.
  • Concept Video: "Thank You, Pain" (verging on surreal).
  • Costume Porn: Alissa's stage outfits. Usually averted by Vicky.
  • Couch Gag: Kells often introduces the band with "We are the Agonist, and we're here to X", where X is usually an Amusing Injury resulting from The Power of Rock.
  • Cover Version: They’ve done ones for “Monochromatic Stains” by Dark Tranquility, and “Take Me to Church” by Hozier.
  • Creepy Children Singing: Employed in "Predator and Prayer," in a similar vein to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall."
    Choir: We hear you, we don't care. We hear you, we don't care.
  • Darker and Edgier: Orphans. Lyrically (many of the songs take after horror stories), literally (dark album art, dark color motif, possibly Vicky's dark hair), and of course sonically (very aggressive-sounding compared to the last two Vicky-era records).
    • "The Resurrection" from Five reappears on Days Before The World Wept (this time titled as just "Resurrection") with a notably darker and heavier sound.
  • Dawn of an Era: Alissa pauses in the middle of "Predator and Prayer" to deliver such a speech, which turns into a Metal Scream by the end. Vicky does the same thing in "The Ocean."
  • Deal with the Devil: "Remnants in Time" and "Immaculate Deception" both pose the question of what someone would be willing to sacrifice in return for more life. The music video for "Remnants In Time" takes the metaphor even further, featuring Vicky in an actual devil mask.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The video for "Orphans", with hints of Le Film Artistique.
  • Determinator: They don't stop their gigs for injuries, sickness, car breakdowns, headliners pulling out of tours, or even natural disasters. "As One We Survive" hammers this home, having been first written down at a time when hectic touring as well as food and sleep deprivation (among other things) had almost worn the band down to their last legs.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: justified.
  • Distracted by the Shiny: In one interview with Skulls n Bones, Alissa stops mid-sentence to point out a typo on a passing van.
  • Dramatic Pause: In a few songs; sometimes by the whole band (eg. "Lonely Solipsist"), sometimes by Alissa/Vicky alone.
  • Dress Rehearsal Video: "...And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep", "Thank You, Pain", "Business Suits and Combat Boots", “A Gentle Disease”, “The Hunt” and “Take Me to Church”.
    • “Gates of Horn and Ivory” is a comedic variation, showing the band being forced to prepare for a music video in Hair Metal outfits, before storming out and performing a more traditional one.
  • Epic Rocking: "Ideomotor" (which, incidentally, they love playing live) and "As Above, So Below," both clocking in at about 8 minutes. However they tend to play the shorter version of "Ideomotor" live which is 6 minutes long.
  • Ethereal Choir: "Swan Lake" is an ethereal choir of Alissas.
    • Also in the background of quite a few other songs, such as "Predator and Prayer".
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Alissa. Also The Charmer, I Didn't Mean to Turn You On and Stupid Sexy Alissa.
  • Final Solution: "Born Dead, Buried Alive" references the Trope Namer. It is probably worth noting that Alissa is of Jewish heritage, and lost family members in the Holocaust.
  • First Time Feeling: "I Endeavor".
    Is this a blessing or a curse?
  • Foreshadowing: "Synopsis," the slightly Mind Screwy intro from their first album, contains a distorted vocal excerpt of "Rise and Fall."
    • "The Wake" is basically an orchestral prologue to "The Resurrection".
  • Friendly Rivalry: Kells and Paco occasionally try to one-up each other during live shows.
  • Genre-Busting: The band has variously been described as Melodic Death Metal, Metalcore (due to their use of breakdowns and alternating clean/harsh vocals) and Deathcore, and they also have some progressive elements (which have become prominent in their more recent work).
  • Good Needs Evil: Discussed in "Immaculate Deception".
  • Gratuitous French: At the end of "Martyr Art," and at the start of "Revenge of the Dadaists." Less gratuitous than most, however, seeing as they are from Quebec.
    • "Martyr Art" - Accablées de misère en décembre, les muses se baignent en flammes. Noyées dans l'ombre elles disparaissent, attendant le divin pientre de l'Univers, le Soliel
    • "Revenge of the Dadaists" - Sont-ils prisonniers? Devrais-je les libérer?
  • Gratuitous Greek: "Blood As My Guide" has a section entirely in Greek. Again, not as gratuitous when you know that Vicky Psarakis grew up in Crete. Bonus point for the word "agonist" itself being of Greek origin. (Thank you, Alissa.)
    Ανοίξατε τις πύλες για να μπουν οι ψυχές στον κάτω τον κόσμο.translation 
  • Green Aesop: Many of their early songs touch on this ("Business Suits and Combat Boots," "Globus Hystericus" and "The Sentient" being the most obvious ones, though even those tend to deal with a great deal more than just environmental issues).
  • Grim Reaper: Appears in “The Raven Eyes” video as a sinister, balaclava’d figure attending several suicide victims and a sick child. He doesn’t seem to enjoy the job very much.
  • Humans Are Flawed: A theme in many of their songs ("Thank You, Pain," among others).
  • "I Am" Song: "The Ocean", natch.
  • I Am the Band: Danny Marino.
  • I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: It's fair to say that the entire band, past and present, are a rather attractive bunch.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: On occasion. Alissa is aware of this, and has stated that she thinks it would be cool if someone made a misheard lyrics video.
    • Less prominent with Vicky, who started out with a slower growling style. Compare and contrast.
  • In the Hood: Danny, quite often (though not when he is on stage).
  • Kill It with Fire: Burn it! Burn it all down!
  • Large Ham: Not prominent in most of the vocal work, but Orphans saw Vicky's clean singing reaching ham levels.
  • Last-Name Basis: Chris Kells, notable because every other member of the band usually uses their first name.
  • Last Note Nightmare: In "Everybody Wants You (Dead)." A Mind Screw-y Subdued Section is followed by a discordant wall of noise with Alissa screaming in the background. Subverted by way of a few more lines within the last 20 seconds of the song.
  • Lead Bassist: Kells is a type B.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to Lullabies for the Dormant Mind and Prisoners, Eye of Providence and Five were toned down to make room for the band to explore new directions with Vicky on board.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Discussed in "Globus Hystericus" and also touched upon in "The Tempest" (along with Who Wants to Live Forever?).
  • Lost in the Maize: Featured at the end of the music video for In Vertigo.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: The opener of "Burn It All Down" is bound to give you a Mood Whiplash.
  • Male Band, Female Singer: First with Alissa White-Gluz and later with Vicky Psarakis.
  • Master Race: The concept is venomously attacked in "Born Dead, Buried Alive."
  • Metal Scream: Probably 60-70 percent of the vocals in the Alissa-era, 40-50 during the first two Vicky-era albums. Noteworthy that both singers have undergone Vocal Evolution (more details below) while they're at it.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: Orphans has only the O of the Vicky-era band logo gracing its cover.
  • Mood Whiplash: The band seems to have a thing for starting some of their albums with this.
    • "You're Coming With Me" starts with a soothing acoustic intro before Alissa and the band blast through the silence.
    • "The Moment" is a subtle one that kicks off with a meditative, intoning synth chord that sounds almost detached from the rest from the track ahead.
    • "In Vertigo" starts off with nothing but a soft piano under Vicky's soothing vocals. The band comes in like a sudden tidal wave of Black Metal-esque soundstorm after over 30 seconds.
    • Another Lonely Piano Piece opens "Remnants In Time", the first song on Days Before The World Wept. Several other songs on the EP also feature quiet intros before all hell breaks loose.
  • Morality Ballad: Well, more like Morality Mosh, but a lot of their songs have An Aesop for you to think about.
  • The Mothman: "Mr. Cold" is all about this, including even dropping the Trope Namer.
  • Motor Mouth: Usually during the Guttural Growler sections of songs, more often with Alissa than Vicky.
  • Murder Ballad: "The Raven Eyes" sounds like one, but since the subject is the Grim Reaper it could also be interpreted as Mercy Kill.
  • My Car Hates Me: Their touring van, "the blue hornet", had a habit of breaking down in the worst possible places.
    • Tonight, Someone Dies: They promised to get their revenge by destroying it on film, and took suggestions from fans as to how they should do it.
    Simon: "Baseball bats, spiked clubs, grenades, you think we could procure a flamethrower?"
  • New Sound Album: They love this trope:
    • Lullabies for the Dormant Mind was overall faster and had less emphasis on breakdowns, along with a more pronounced Melodic Death Metal influence.
    • Prisoners had more Progressive Metal influences than its two precursors. This probably has to do with them being from the Canadian Death Metal scene, which is big on the more aggressive prog metal.
    • Eye of Providence was the most varied, but was generally more melodic than Prisoners.
    • Five verged on being a concept album, and had a simpler but much grimier sound (especially in the vocals).
    • Orphans boasts a Darker and Edgier return to the heavy, complex stylings of Lullabies and Prisoners particularly with more emphatic drumming and diversified vocal work, as well as far more prominent Technical Death Metal elements.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Lots.
  • Not Quite Dead: "The Resurrection".
  • Not So Omniscient After All: Covered in "Rise and Fall" and "The Sentient".
  • Pep-Talk Song: "In Vertigo" and "Blood As My Guide". The latter is an outright battle cry.
  • Performance Video: The videos for “Panophobia” and “Follow the Crossed Line” are made up of clips from the band’s live performances.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Alissa in the "Thank You, Pain" music video.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Vicky sports a magenta dress in parts of "The Gift of Silence".
  • Precision F-Strike: All over the place. Usually signifies that Alissa is pissed about something (usually humans in general). So far Vicky has avoided this in the music itself, but does one at the very last second of the video of "As One We Survive".
  • Protest Song: Again, lots of them.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: In "Trophy Kill" ("Fuck! You! Fucking hypocrite!")
  • Red Filter of Doom: Featured in several music videos (often when the screaming kicks in)
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: A minor but noticeable case with the band's singers: Alissa's stage persona was very stern and controlled, while Vicky tends to smile more and mess around with the other band members during instrumental sections.
  • Scenery Gorn: Parts of the "Orphans" video, aptly for its literary Shout-Out, were shot at the roofless ruins of a church.
  • Screw Destiny: "Gates of Horn and Ivory".
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Alissa (and Vicky) since Lullabies for the Dormant Mind. Kells did the backing in Once Only Imagined (and continues to do some at live shows).
  • Serial Escalation: The ongoing competition between Alissa's (and now Vicky's) whiplash vocals, the three guitarists' Epic Riffs and Simon's ludicrously fast drumming. Arguably toned down after peaking with Prisoners.
  • Serial Killer: Some of the band's more recent songs like "The Villain", "The Killing I", "A Devil Made Me Do It", and "Burn It All Down" seem to be from the perspective of this trope.
  • Shout-Out: "In Vertigo" is an allusion to Alice in Wonderland. Possibly also a Call-Back to "As Above, So Below".
  • Signature Move: Kells and Paco have one: holding down the frets of each others' guitars during instrumental sections.
  • Simple Score of Sadness: The end of "Business Suits and Combat Boots."
  • Singing Voice Dissonance: Mostly averted, but you'd be forgiven if you thought Alissa's Type 2 Metal Scream in the epilogue of "...And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep" were from a guy. Vicky becomes an even bigger offender come the finale of "In Vertigo" as well as sections of "The Gift of Silence" and "Orphans".
  • Sixth Ranger: The two most notable are Pascal (Paco) Jobin, who joined the band in 2010, and Vicky Psarakis who replaced Alissa in 2014.
  • Soprano and Gravel: In this case, both provided by the same singer.
    • Vicky sometimes leaves the deeper Harsh Vocals to Kells. They often exchange gravel on live gigs.
  • Subdued Section: Both within the context of the album ("Chiaroscuro" for Once Only Imagined, "Swan Lake" for Lullabies, "A Gentle Disease" for Eye of Providence and "The Raven Eyes"/"The Wake" for Five), and within individual songs (such as "Void of Sympathy," "Chlorpromazine," and several songs on Prisoners and Five).
  • Survival Mantra: We suffer as one. As one we survive.
  • Take That!: "The Gift of Silence" and "Dust to Dust" off of Orphans are likely shots at Alissa White-Gluz, more specifically to her perpetual victimhood and continued, ceaseless attempts to leverage connections to sabotage the band after being fired.
  • Technician vs. Performer: A mild example: Danny comes up with intricate and technical riffs, to which Paco adds shredding solos. This carries over to live shows, where Danny is generally the most subdued of the three guitarists.
  • Textless Album Cover: All the main albums bar Prisoners (though the band's Spotify has even that album playing this trope straight).
  • Three Chords and the Truth: “The Moment” is, by the band’s standards, very simple, and is coupled with thoughtful, introspective lyrics.
  • Title Track: Orphans is the first album to have one. The closest they got beforehand was two instances of Album Title Drop: "Ideomotor" (We are all prisoners of waterfalls) and "My Witness, Your Victim" (We will attend the eye of providence).
  • Titled After the Song: Inverted with "The Tempest," which was the original band name.
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Alissa and Vicky are two different flavors of this. Alissa's girly streak tends to show in her preference for Costume Porn during photoshoots and live gigs, and continues to do so beyond her Agonist tenure. Vicky, meanwhile, prefers practical getup but shows her own girly streak foremost in having a more feminine singing voice than Alissa, and secondarily in her love for makeup and having long hair.
  • Torture Cellar: The music video for "My Witness, Your Victim" features one of these, where a Gas Mask Mook is torturing some poor guy, apparently under orders from a nearby speaker.
    • Dramatic Unmask: The mook then comes to their senses, takes off their mask, revealing Vicky, and smashes the speaker instead.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Chlorpromazine," where Alissa's growl rises to a shriek after the bridge.
  • Villain Song: “The Villain”, naturally. It focuses on a "Not So Different" Remark (“I’m no villain, I am just like you!”) with a measure of Hoist by His Own Petard thrown in.
    The only grave worth lying the one you dig yourseeeeelf!
  • Vocal Evolution:
    • Alissa started out with deep grunts (compare with Angela Gossow's earlier Arch Enemy material) in Once Only Imagined. In Lullabies for the Dormant Mind, she has developed her voice to chameleon-level Metal Scream, able to pull off all 4 types within a single song (e.g. "...And Their Eulogies Sang Me to Sleep"). Since Prisoners she has stuck to Type 1 with the other types as embellishment, as with her live performances.
    • Vicky, pre-Agonist, used to stick to Type 4 in some of her metal covers. In Eye of Providence she honed her Type 1 soaring on a range as high as Alissa's type 3. Her Harsh Vocals in Five are a grimier and more forceful Type 1 with moments of Type 4, particularly in "The Man Who Fell to Earth". As of Orphans Vicky has mastered Types 2-4 (the last one being her favorite) with less winded high screams and low growls almost outmatching Alissa's, including outright gutturals more comparable to someone like Mallika Sundaramurthy or Marie-Helene Landry.
  • Walking Disaster Area: An alarming number of their gigs have coincided with various natural disasters.
    Alissa: I feel like as a band we are sync'd with nature in the worst way possible.
    • It's possible that Alissa is just The Jinx, given that there have been no notable disasters since she left the band, but on her first tour with Arch-Enemy she broke her ribs.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Alissa and the guys do NOT want anything to do with each other anymore.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: "Perpetual Notion".
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: "Born Dead, Buried Alive" sounds like it's about to end on a long, fading guitar chord, then cuts back in and plays for another 30 seconds.
    • "Ideomotor". See Epic Rocking above.
    • The video for "A Gentle Disease" ends after Vicky sings, but the album version continues on with Danny's low arpeggio on the acoustic.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: "Feast On The Living" evokes this. The music video even features Vicky as a Creepy Mortician, with the sheet-covered bodies sitting up one by one as she leaves the room.