Review Summary: There is no peace.
Genres aside, it’s always nice to see obscure bands achieving a steady and healthy growth ascribable on their merit alone, and it’s inspiring that the said outfits are doing so, while defying all obstacles posed by the so-called “crisis of the music industry”. In that respect, it is time for the spotlight to shed light on Argus, an old school metal band from the ever active metal scene of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Argus made a first bold step forward with their 2009 eponymous album at Shadow Kingdom Records, an album that put at display the band’s fresh, yet far from refined, view about blending traditional metal with doom metal and the blues. The album received quite an acclaim within the underground metal circles, and quite soon it became apparent that the band had to reach out to the current cradle of old school heavy metal, Europe.
In that light, Argus joined forces with the Italian label Cruz Del Sur Music and began work on new material. The band’s sophomore album, Boldly Stride The Doomed
, captured the band in excellently blending the old school heavy metal of outfits such as Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy and Omen, with the aggressive epic doom metal of early ‘90s doom metal bands, such as Solitude Aeturnus and Penance. Both the album and the band became acquainted with a much wider audience, resulting in an increase of live concerts in Europe and the US. Upon the completion of all activities for their sophomore album, it was time for Argus to start preparing for a follow-up album, and indeed, throughout 2012 and 2013, the band went on composing and recording new songs that have come to form their third full length affair Beyond The Martyrs
, an album of merit that sees the band in migrating decisively towards traditional metal.
The band’s decision to promote “classic” over doom metal, is firstly evident to the sound texture of the rhythm guitars. Unlike the previous two albums, their volume is somewhat restrained, an indirect hint that Beyond The Martyrs
is, above all, an old school epic/heavy metal album. The album kicks off with the abstract yet sad, introductory melody of “By Endurance We Conquer” and those already familiar with the band may be misled to believe that Argus will still be dooming as usual. On the contrary though, the song is readily transformed into a galloping metal anthem, in which Brian Banick’s impressive mid-range-pitch vocals become instantly the first asset of merit to account for. Having been given the proper depth and dynamics in the final mix, Banick’s quality vocal work in Beyond The Martyrs
is no surprise, as his skill was put in record in previous Argus albums and during the days and works of the (underrated) doom metal act of Penance. In giving some subjective references about how he sounds, imagine a mix of Robert Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus), J.D. Kimball (R.I.P. - Omen) and Harry Conklin (Jag Panzer). Aside from his vocal work, Banick’s written lyrics are also excellent, with their content ranging from personal experiences to real-world perennial quests.
Banick’s vocals would not sound as impressive, were it not for the rest of the Argus players. Although the doom metal elements – that made Boldly Stride The Doomed
an album of excellent character – have been consciously pushed in the rear, the music sounds fairly diverse and most importantly, fresh. The band takes a calculated risk and chooses its weapons almost exclusively from the classic metal arsenal. The Iron Maiden-drive twin guitar leads are frequent, and the galloping/“marching” song tempos are the one and absolute law throughout the whole album (save for the song “The Coward's Path”, the only liaison to the band’s past heavy/doom metal affairs). Although the above descriptions are frequently used nowadays for beautifying really bland old school metal records as well, here the day is saved by the band’s apt musicianship, and its admirable effort in shuffling the cards of the rather restrained classic metal deck as much as possible. A special reference is due to the excellent lead guitars, that seem to have drawn inspiration even from extreme metal bands (see Symbolic
-era Death), and to the mind bending artwork of Brad Moore, an associate of the band since the debut album.
Since their humble beginnings, Argus proved that they were a band to look upon and Beyond The Martyrs
further solidifies that conviction. Those who were enticed by the dual, adventurous heavy/doom nature of the previous album may be slightly disappointed by the new album (the author of this review is one of them), but this assertion is highly dependent on the listener's degree of affinity towards doom metal and the heavy/doom crossover that Argus proposed in Boldly Stride The Doomed
. Subjective preferences aside, Argus are one of the best old school metal outfits out there and in a fair world, US/European tour and festivities organizers should come knocking at their door.