Album: From Fields of Fire (2017)
Genre: doom metal, traditional heavy metal
Where to buy: Bandcamp
As From Fields of Fire opens, it is not clear if the droning overture is wind howling across a desolate plain or the buzz of dying electronics, but when the clean tone fingerstyle riff emerges the sense of despair grows palpable. Argus leans into their style of traditional heavy metal by adding a touch of doom to the songs, a motif the band builds into both music and lyrics across the 55 minutes of the album. And yet, for the depth of bleakness on From Fields of Fire, the album is tremendously catchy. While I wouldn’t describe any of the tunes as anthems, they certainly inhabit their grooves well enough to induce headbanging, as on the main riff of “216.” Comparisons to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath are the most natural thing in the world here, but the sound is much more than tribute. Argus incorporates modern production techniques, especially with regard to layering of instruments, to buttress their own musical vision, and the result is their own excellent brand of contemporary traditional heavy metal.
The sound and production of this album are excellent. Guitarists Jason Mucio and Dave Watson work well together, constructing this and other riffs in a super satisfying fashion. Their riffs are chugging and evil, building logically from the main progressions, adding dotted eights notes and broken semiquaver runs to their movements. Behind the galloping guitars, Justin Campbell colors outside the lines with an excellent metallic, cold tone on his bass, high in the highs and lows on the EQ. The lyrics make full use of Brian Balich’s soaring and raspy voice, describing insanity and the desperate response to it (“Devils of Your Time”), consciousness wracked by guilt (“As a Thousand Thieves”), final appeals before a valediction (“216,” “Hour of Longing”), the inevitable consequences of good intentions (“You Are The Curse”), and other topics ripe for this style of music. Often the choruses are punctuated by oohs and aahs, which make me smile and show that the band is having no end of fun while playing and singing about death. And keeping it all together is Kevin Latchaw’s drumming, which is simultaneously subtle and creative. He enjoys adding hits in unexpected places, as on “As a Thousand Thieves,” where during transitions he plays with the hi-hat rather than the toms or bigger cymbals as most drummers would. And with all this going on, the sound is terribly clean, without the muddy walls that another band would construct. Every note and every voice is distinct, letting a listener appreciate the architecture of From Fields of Fire.
The songs are also long and decidedly intentional. No track, apart from the instrumental and ambient intro and outro, clocks in at less than five minutes, and most are six or more. The longest song, “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors,” is also the most complex, covering several movements over its eleven-minute run time. It also features three distinct solos, but the whole song is a showcase of the dual guitar work of Mucio and Watson. “As a Thousand Thieves” evokes the rumbling riffs of Powerslave but slows things down with a bit of doom, and it works perfectly, reminding listeners of one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time without just aping the sound. It takes restraint to accomplish this, and here Argus is showing their maturity, which comes through in every aspect of From Fields of Fire. The album is all the more impressive for being so new, demonstrating again that even in 2017, traditional heavy metal still has more gifts to give.