Artificial Agent: ‘Death Ray’
Released on February 2, 2020 (Streamline Records)
Attempting to add to the concrete tough rock and roll history of Detroit is kind of like trying to catch a spot on the pages of “America’s Only Rock ‘N Roll Magazine” Creem by squeezing in somewhere between the raw, crazy groundbreaking diverse rock and roll madness of the likes of The Stooges, Mc5, Alice Cooper, and the Motor City Mouth himself Ted Nugent. Not only is it impossible to find space in a now long gone rock rag, these days, it’s even harder to try and find your own unique sound within a city long known for creating out of the box one of a kind sounding bands. And that’s not to mention that you’re also talking about a city that has been immortalized in song by the likes of non-Motor City legends like KISS (“Detroit Rock City”) and David Bowie (“Panic In Detroit”). Kind of lofty expectations to live up to but while rockers Artificial Agent might not be as uniquely groundbreaking as the Detroit rock scene’s forefathers, it’s not like they haven’t rocked their asses off trying to be a killer rock and roll band.
Starting with debut Love Won’t Strangle Me a decade ago, Artificial Agent have consistently littered their live show schedule with a regular blast of releases including 2014 EP Brain Grenade, 2017’s Programmed To Destroy and their most recent ten-tune platter, Death Ray. Lead guitarist Mike Elbert, bassist Bradley Jendza, drummer Karl Crafton, and singer Derek Jendza may well get way more points for rock and roll effort than originality. That being said, there’s no denying Artificial Agent‘s ability to take some cool old school rock influences like KISS and the Crüe, and season ’em with a kind of modern alternative edge in creating their own take on gritty hard rock. They even borrow a bit from the seventies punk idea of getting in and out before wearing out their welcome on Death Ray as they deliver a solid ten songs in just enough time to push things barely over the 30 minute mark. It’s kind of like loosening the belt a notch after a big meal (burp). If you’re counting, that’s about three minutes per tune so yeah, just enough time to create a smack but nowhere near enough to warrant a snooze.
Found within the ten Death Ray tracks is a consistent mix of old school hooky catchiness blended with a ’90s edge reminiscent of post grunge bands that fans who grew up on ’80s metal might dig like Breaking Benjamin and Five Finger Death Punch. Luckily while that modern rock edge is present, the nod to further back weighs in more than enough to keep it closer to classic ‘lighter in the air’ arena rock than cell phone waving current hard rock. You’ll find big, noisy, raw guitars bathed in hooks with a bit of funky grooves tossed in for extra measure. If that last bit scares anyone, fear not, groovers “The Devil Made Me Do It” and “Always A Victim” growl in a way not far removed from Crüe‘s “Dr. Feelgood.” For the most part, everything else on Death Ray is put your foot down heavy or fast rock and roll.
Songs like “Eye For An Eye”, “Finish Yourself Off,” and “Waiting To Die” come off like a bastard child of very early Alice In Chains and post Black album Metallica. When channeling any ’80s hard rock influences, Artificial Agent drop the hook hammer with tunes like “Do You Love Me Or What?”, “Strung Out,” and “We All Need Heroes.” Yeah, it sounds like an odd trash pit of stuff but it works, and it works in a way that while not as unique as some of Detroit’s early hard rockers, it stands out some in today’s rock and roll world. Those post grunge bands that many ’80s rock fans dig have yet to be able to suck me in (and trust me, I’ve given it a try time and time again) but Artificial Agent are a group with just the right mix of old, new, and odd to catch my ear more than enough to want not only listen to, but follow.
Overall, Death Ray is a well-produced blast of just plain good rock and roll above par with a lot of independently produced releases. The grit and edge of the music doesn’t screw with the listeners’ ability to clearly make out the instruments and vocals, which when listening to a new group is a huge plus. It’s a record well worth giving an attentive listen and with a mind more geared towards listening for quality than genre.
01. Eye For An Eye
02. Who’s Got The Bat Now?
03. Waiting To Die
04. The Devil Made Me Do It
05. Love Or Lie
06. Finish Yourself Off
07. We All Need Heroes
08. Always A Victim
09. Strung Out
10. Do You Love Me Or What?
Mike Elgert – lead guitar, vocals
Bradley Jendza – bass, vocals
Karl Crafton – drums
Derek Jendza – lead vocals
Produced, mixed, mastered by Tony Hamera
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, December 2020
Artificial Agent‘s “Do You Love Me Or What?” video:
Artificial Agent‘s “Eye For An Eye” video: