Ever hypothesize that if Jesus Christ ever came back to earth as promised, few people these days would give a shit (except for the Solid State roster, past and present) Still yet, promise your resurrection, and prepare for a select handful of fanatics to watch their calendars as if they were girl-on-girl porno vids. That's exactly what I've been doing since Agents Of Man released their debut EP nearly five years ago; staring at my calendars, year after year. I'm every band's dream: A loyal fan following a breakup just as much as during its' active days. But can the same be said about those eager to hear more from the band when they emerged half a decade ago That is a longer time-span than most people remain involved with the hardcore scene. All skilled and extremely creative musicians, considering their simple hardcore roots, the members of Agents Of Man are well accustomed to going all-out with their previous bands. Bassist Mike was a staple in Cold As Life, singer George and drummer Chris both played in Bulldoze, and nearly all the members have been playing together for around ten years, initially as Train Of Thought. The latter's contributions to the legendary compilations East Coast Assault II and The Harder They Come still resonate, and early shades of what would become Agents Of Man are clear upon first listen. So what do Agents Of Man sound like A streetwise blend of crunchy NYHC, slowed down thrash riffs, and the defining ingredient, popular rock. Yes, popular rock. The choruses on Count Your Blessings are breathtaking. So full of ideas were the members tracing back to their previous outfit, that Train Of Thought's material (followed by that from their initial transformation into Agents Of Man) displayed a unique heaviness and emotive component which often displaced traditional song arrangements. As they matured as players however, evidently their songwriting did as well, so the songs on Count Your Blessings benefit from an underlying emphasis on trustworthy structure. And with all of the popular rock/emo/punk bands making musical and fashion waves nationwide, I doubt Agents Of Man would come under fire for that. If anything, they would come under fire by young ears trained on third and fourth generation European metal clones, and of course melodic metalcore. The derisive review of Count Your Blessings on popular yet increasingly unreliable news site Blabbermouth is case-and-point of this phenomenon, as few people arriving to the scene within the past five years will know how to categorize Agents Of Man. And while stylistic uniqueness is generally a priceless characteristic, its value is fading fast, as the swarm of new entrants to the underground scene seek to make up for their years as alternative or nu-metal fans by developing an ear exclusive to ultra-extreme hybrid metal; not to mention avoiding anything which sounds remotely like mainstream music. For that reason, Agents Of Man will appeal to a true music listener; one who enjoys eighties pop and metal right alongside nineties hardcore, rather than one obsessed with the old-school revival ala-Lockin' Out and Bridge 9, or the metalcore illness now being spread amply by Roadrunner, Prosthetic, and Metal Blade. The guitar textures and harmonics do not resemble anything being brought into music right now, because their influences are rooted in familiar yet past aformentioned styles. They don't go so far as to include solos but the guitars travel far enough throughout each song, that overcompensating solos aren't even needed to spice up the material. Singer George's voice bears uncanny resemblance to Leeway's inimitable Eddie Sutton on a number of tracks, such as Without A Trace, Truth You Hide, and Can't Run; the latter two being straightforward and powerful rock songs. Even on tracks like "Death Of Me" with an underlying Metallica riff in the verses, "No Tomorrow" with a huge eighties rock chorus, and "Blood Money" with a feel reminiscent of The Police, his voice proves its dexterity by bringing in the competent hardcore yell that he used for years in Train Of Thought. Candiria's longtime producer and collaborator Michael Barile handled Count Your Blessings, so the final mix (aided by Candiria's legendary drummer Ken Schalk, no less) is huge. If Agents Of Man struck while the iron was hot and this record came out with the same promotional push five years ago, it would have been huge. They will have to grind their asses to the bone if they are to make an impact in 2005, because no one else sounds remotely like this throwback style. As a fan of all previous eras however, I'm still in disbelief as to how great this record is. It was also a great touch to re-record "Headless" from their debut EP, a highly infectious song. Bottom Line: While hardcore is meant to incite and fuel open-mindedness, the opposite has been happening in recent years, as violence and aimless mob-mentality has robbed the scene of its' once-enlightening properties, no thanks to the propagation of mixed-message, aimlessly-proud, tough-guy gibberish. And while members of Agents Of Man performed for years in bands whose albums are the blueprints for today's copycats, the professionalism and hunger evident at every point throughout Count Your Blessings displays a leap in growth that even I could not dream of. One of my top five for the year.