Birthed in an attempt to drop the shackles of musical tradition, it’s interesting some 40 odd years later to coin the term “trad metal” when speaking about a particular sub genre that really feel of a place and time more than a decade after Sabbath dropped their massive blast of a debut. But if we’re going to stick with what the populace now calls traditional metal; give me heavy bass, cascades of harmonized guitars and solos that slay great beasts. Give me majesty and darkness in equal measure, give me a voice with the grit and power to convey it all with a solemnity that inspires awe as much as it does raised fists and head bangs.
In other words, give me Argus and their new LP, From Fields of Fire.
Since their self-titled debut in 2007 Argus have occupied that small niche where progressive and power meet without leaning too far in one direction or another. The goal is heavy, melodic, and powerful, with the emphasis at all times on the heavy. 2011’s Boldly Stride the Doomed highlighted, right in the name, another essential component to the Argus sound – that pervasive darkness and weight match perfectly with vocalist Butch Balich’s powerful pipes, and the twists and turns the guitars take make tracks like “A Curse on the World” and “The Hands of Time are Bleeding” off of 2013’s Beyond the Martyrs not only natural extensions of the kind of work bands like Iced Earth, early Helloween and Artch (let’s all raise a glass to the power of Another Return to Church Hill) and particularly Candlemass were pushing forth in the 80s and 90s (and in the case of Iced Earth, today) and peers like Visigoth and Sorcerer are driving today.
From Fields of Fire does nothing to tarnish that legacy – four years later the band has once again crafted a dark, driving and aggressive album that checks off all the necessary points: perfectly synced guitar riffs that chug and lock in with the drums, bass that is not only audible but carries the songs forward in their myriad directions and of course that voice punctuating every emotion the songs inhabit. After a brief introduction “Devils of Your Time” burst out of the gate with a terrific riff that alternates between muted menace and open chord power. “As a Thousand Thieves” recall echoes of Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” filtered through a doom lens.
If there’s something that really sets Argus apart from their peers it’s this marriage of doom and traditional metal without one overwhelming the other. Citing the two other bands above, Sorcerer definitely plays more in the doom world while Visigoth sits firmly in the more speed/traditional world. But Argus can tread that line without spilling into one or the other: “Hour of Longing” shows how the doom blends in with the traditional elements quite well, alternating from heavy doom to fast and hard before taking an acoustic interlude and returning to the main theme. The whole of From Fields of Fire is like that: if there’s a complaint to be had it’s that the middle section loses a little luster before bouncing back – after two amazing albums more of the same only goes so far – but what is on display is filled with the same technical excellence and sincerity that makes this style of music work.
When all is said and done, there’s something in Argus’s take on traditional metal that brings me to a nostalgic place without feeling like they’re a nostalgia act. From Fields of Fire is filled to the brim with passionate playing, incredible vocals, soaring guitars and a somber, penetrating vision that leaves no doubt as to its heartfelt nature, and that makes the album and band one of the best at what they’re doing today. And there ain’t nothing that can be cooler than that.