I feel like we’ve gotten back to stoking some heavy metal tradition around here, what with last week’s round of reviews and some of what we have planned for this week. For someone who has grown up and developed along with metal in my ears pretty much at all times, it all washes over me like waves of nostalgia, even if we’re talking about new bands.
It has seemed over the past few years that there is a concerted effort from a lot of bands today to rediscover older sounds, be it thrash or death or the strains of NWOBHM, but a lot of times it feels like it’s more of a marketing gimmick. But you know when you hear a band that really feels and believes in what they’re doing, and I always got that sense from Argus, a band that hails from Franklin, Pa., and who certainly have played a good bit in my hometown of Pittsburgh. In fact, the band was just here a few weeks back opening for Dawnbringer on a bill of bands that have a strong grasp of the roots of metal and how to reinterpret the sounds that built the genre (Ladybeast being the other band that night).
That evening in question at Howler’s, Argus also rolled out some new cuts from what was their their forthcoming new LP “Beyond the Martyrs,” their third effort overall and follow up to 2011’s “Boldly Stride the Doomed.” The new cuts seemed to hold up just fine against their older material (in fact, some fared even better), and while I didn’t go into that show a huge fan of Argus, the appetizers of new songs at least made me interested to hear what they came up with for “Martyrs” (and the on-stage endorsement of the record by Chris Black sure didn’t hurt either). Having had a few weeks to absorb the new album, I find myself liking it more and more each listen. Yeah, it’s a little silly at times (and really, you could say the same thing for predecessors Iron Maiden, Dio, Black Sabbath, Pentagram) and Butch Balich’s vocals can be a bit over the top, but that’s part of the fun, I think. This is one of those bands that refuse to put their tongue in their cheek, and they deliver heavy metal goodness the way it was intended. I respect that, and I’ve found myself becoming a fan of this band because they hold all the same ideals that I do as a listener. Plus they make me think of swords.
OK, so we mentioned Balich, and he’s a pretty commanding presence live simply through the sheer power of his voice and the fact that he is fucking into it, and along with him are guitarists Erik Johnson and Jason Mucio, bassist Andy Rampage, and drummer Kevin Latchaw. All these fellows ply their trade in other bands as well, including Molasses Barge, Oh Shit They’re Going to KIll Us, and Penance, but when they converge under the Argus banner is when all members seem most at home. By all means, pour yourself a nice dark stout (preferably one with a high ABV), turn down the lights, burn the candles, think about demons and sorcery, and tackle this record in a place where you can let your metal inhibitions run free.
“By Endurance We Conquer” opens the record with images of frost and ice, a mission to cross Antarctica, and the dawn of the first global war, with Ernest Shackleton’s famous words giving the track its title. The song has a pure ’80s power metal feel, with Balich pushing the story along, and the rest of the band backing him with strong lead guitar work and metallic glory. “No Peace Beyond the Line” chugs and hammers its way forward, with some grittier vocals and a really strong chorus. That leads to “The Hands of Time Are Bleeding,” a song with an ominous title and dark words drizzled over the steaming pile of epic power, with Balich howling, “Dark by my heart, take all this pain from me.” “Trinity” also charges pretty hard, with steaming guitar work and some really weird melodies that make this track stand out from the rest of the “Martyrs” pack. It also feels a little off in spots and, while it’s interesting, it’s not the strongest song on here.
“Four Candles Burning” picks up the pace big time, however, with a commanding song that would make Dio proud. The guitar work slices a path forward and dashes full speed ahead, and Balich’s vocals shine the brightest here, with him calling, “To walk the hall of nevermore.” This is a really killer track. “The Coward’s Path” delves deep into doom territory, one of the darkest moments on this record, but then it pushes back into power metal balladry (not in a bad way at all), with Balich delivering vocal lines that sound inspired by the great Bruce Dickinson. Like all songs of this type, the song kicks into high gear toward the end and goes out in a total blaze of glory. “Cast Out All the Raging Spirits” is heavy and menacing, as you might imagine from its name, and the song is thrashy and razor sharp all the way. The vocals take complete control, and the band practically stands on the edge of cliffs with torches, ready to conquer the world. The closing title cut is an instrumental track that travels all of their influences, from the NWOBHM strains to epic power to dark doom, giving you a little taste of everything as they bring the record to its end.
“Martyrs” is by no means a perfect record, but it’s one hell of a good time, especially if you pine for the early days of heavy metal when bands still were laying the foundation for what we all enjoy today. Argus take you back to a time when the metal roads weren’t exactly paved yet, but the pioneers had the bravado and fire to blaze their own trails. They stay true to that spirit and add their own righteous contributions to the cauldron, making them a band to which you should raise your glass and thank them keeping tradition alive.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.argusmetal.com/home/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=640
For more on the label, go here: http://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/