Life Imitating Life
Strung Out, while for all intents and purposes a punk rock band, have always flirted with heavy metal. They also happen to be stellar musicians, lest anyone automatically associate punk music with sloppiness. As such, their brand of technical, melodic punk-metal has helped distinguish them from the pack, while influencing bands from Rise Against to Avenged Sevenfold along the way. It also polarizes their fans, because for every fan who praises their increasingly melodic and metal-infused last couple of albums, there's certainly one who wishes they'd cut the crap and play simple, fast punk music again.
If Agents of the Underground (a title that no doubt smirks at the band's ability to remain just outside of mainstream success) doesn't satisfy both parties, then it's likely nothing ever will. The band ups the tempos and cuts down on the guitar solos, resulting in an album that apes the feel of their earlier albums, but with the technical proficiency of their later ones. It's a cohesive (if a bit one-dimensional) 36-minute blast, as all of the songs have a similar tone and flavor to them, and the energy doesn't lag one bit. The band's strengths and weaknesses are all on display too, from the strong melodies, razor-sharp guitar shredding and powerhouse drumming, to lead singer Jason Cruz's increasingly monotonous vocal delivery and the tendency for some songs to sound similar to one another.
Agents of the Underground is Strung Out at their most condensed, simultaneously giving a nod to their early days while not completely eschewing the musical advancements of their later work. Whether you view it as a mature version of their earlier sound or a simplified version of their more recent efforts depends on the type of fan you are.