Argus have been forging their own style of doom-laden heavy metal for a decade now, with three albums already etched into the stone of time.
Given the increasingly long-in-the-tooth status of many doom / heavy metal bands, that makes them comparatively fresh.
But the Pennsylvania group have always projected pathos and had an oaken, seasoned quality about their metal.
They’ve always felt more akin to the old hands of the Maryland doom scene rather than any other upstart US sound.
Much of this will have to do with the presence of ex-Penance singer Brian Balich, whose brass-hard shout has been a vital part of their sound. He leads from the fore on ‘From Fields of Fire’.
The record strikes two positives before even the first minute has passed.
Offering up another gorgeous cover art from the criminally under-utilized Brad Moore, this one features a truly beautiful and alien-looking mindscape.
The band also offer up an intro of richly woven acoustics that swiftly brings ‘Still Life’-era Opeth to mind; not a band one would readily associate with Argus.
Why the dissonance?
Well, while Argus have always achieved very strong songwriting in their niche, diverse sounds and true wealth in dynamics isn’t something you’d associate with them. On ‘From Fields of Fire’, they go some way to remedying that.
They’ve always been happy to delve into the rich annals of doom-ridden guitar, drawing plenty of inspiration from ‘Lamentations’, ‘‘Nightfall’ and the like.
But opener proper, ‘Devils of Your Time’, shows a dynamism that those records never really attempted. Crunching palm-mutes, a whallop of an “Oogh!”, and some almost fusion-indebted leads leads to a very finely balanced tune, with hints of ambition that drives beyond.
‘As a Thousand Thieves’ is more straight-forward gallop-driven fare, but gives Balloch more space to stretch into the wounded story-telling he does deliver so well. The momentum though, drops somewhat as we enter more desolate, chugging terrain.
This is where the frustration with Argus can sometimes come to the fore.
Having given us a taste of something richer, the more simplistic, almost austere steel they revert to can almost feel like a come-down. It’s something that happens throughout the record.
Then though, isn’t the reversion to chugging doom all the more doomed for that?
Sometimes, like on ‘You Are The Curse’, they hit a metallic stride with those traditional elements that can’t be resisted. It’s such a well-rounded track.
Contrast that then with the almost lugubrious, wonderfully delicate arrangements that launch ‘No Right to Grieve’. Balich hits emotional pay dirt here, emitting passion that just need to be soaked up.
Maybe the somewhat lopsided nature to the songs then is their curse. It still makes for highly engaging listening.
Just like the winged creation on the cover, it sounds like the band are stretching their bonds with their foundations.
The struggle itself makes for something that’s hard to tear the ears from. Colourful and crafted, it pushes the group into more diverse and outright interesting territory.
4 / 5 – Lorcan Archer ::: 31/07/17