(Cruz Del Sur 2017)
Pittsburgh’s Argus have been one of the true gems of American metal underground for more than a decade. No, they don’t jump on the bandwagon of whatever the latest trend or fashion might be. They don’t snag headlines as a “buzz” band. And their preferred form of musical expression – a sort of hybrid of leaden doom and twin-guitar traditional metal – is definitely not in vogue. But over the course of their first three albums, the Argus name has become synonymous with quality, creative, emotional, bold, genuine, uncompromising metal. Now the time has come for Argus to unleash their fourth album, From Fields of Fire, via Cruz del Sur Records. There have been two significant lineup changes. Longtime guitarist Erik Johnson (a co-founder of the band in 2005) and bassist Andy Ramage (also of Lady Beast) have departed, and are replaced here by Dave Watson (ex-Icarus Witch) on guitar and Justin Campbell on bass. Watson in particular is a natural fit, given his behind-the-scenes involvement (recording/mixing and adding some guitars) with 2013’s Beyond the Martyrs.
Do not fear: Notwithstanding the lineup shuffle, the band you hear on From Fields of Fire is definitely the Argus you already know and love. The key ingredients remain intact, from Brian Balich’s hellishly tortured but tuneful bellows to the introspective and melancholy lyrics to the magical harmony guitar sections to the foundation-shattering epic doom rhythms to the knack for superb melody, From Fields of Fire is classic Argus all the way. What does that mean? Take a generous portion of classic Black Sabbath, add a killer dose of guitar harmonies like Thin Lizzy on downers, then season with a dash of Iron Maiden and a pinch of While Heaven Wept. I’ve read multiple reviews commenting that Argus have largely forsaken the doom aspect of their sound on From Fields of Fire, but I disagree. First of all, Argus were never a straight-up doom band in the first place. Second, listen to “No Right to Grieve” and tell me that’s not the purest of soul-wrenching doom piercing serenity’s heart. Third, the poetic and descriptive lyrics (cementing Balich’s place as one of the finest lyricists in metal today) paint vivid pictures of dark despair. But to the point that Argus aren’t strictly doom, that’s of course accurate. This record has many uptempo moments, like the gallop of “You Are the Curse” or “As a Thousand Thieves” (whose main riff ever so slightly echoes Maiden’s “Powerslave”).
If anything’s really different on From Fields of Fire, it’s that Argus sounds more musical than before. You can hear it on the bookending intro “Into the Fields of Fire” and outro “From the Fields of Fire,” all acoustic guitars and bass effects from new members Watson and Campbell. The musicality I am referencing is nowhere more evident than on the 11-minute “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors,” which has to be the album’s crowning achievement. The song features an adventuresome, extended instrumental section effortlessly weaving a forlorn, beautiful acoustic guitar passage into the tune, before a bludgeoning doom section wrecks your neck and breaks your heart, then the magical twin guitars come in to take you home to a glorious conclusion as Balich intones, “Far beyond the end / there is no end.” That instrumental break is so good it gives me chills every time I hear it, just brilliantly crafted and executed. Wow! I’m also going to take a moment to acknowledge “Hour of Longing,” which hits really close to home for me. When Balich sings “Your wizened words would anchor me / In losing you I lost part of my soul,” I think of my dear grandmother, who passed away this spring. The lyrics of the song talk about how this departed loved one is not really gone, and that in the stillness of your hour of longing you can her voice giving you the strength to fight your fears. I’ll confess, I’ve teared up more than once listening to the song, which once again features a truly inspired, well-placed acoustic break. The ability to make that emotional connection with the listener is what makes Argus a truly special band.
Given the chance, I think From Fields of Fire is the kind of album that could appeal to a broad swath of traditional-minded metalheads. Its sound harkens back to the foundations of the genre, but Argus have spun those influences into a unique, creative style all their own. This album may well be their finest hour, and it deserves to be heard. What are you waiting for? Remember, boldly stride the doomed …
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~