Album Review: Argus - Beyond The Martyrs
I don't like to do so, but Argus is a band that I will forever think of as connected to another similar band. It's not fair to either of them, but Argus and Sinister Realm came about at roughly the same time, I discovered them concurrently, and they play similar enough music on the same schedule that it's hard for my mind to separate the two. Both of them released debut albums I was quite fond of at the time, at the first heights of the traditional metal resurrection. But along the way, I must have moved on to something more exciting, and the records that have followed haven't done much for me. I recently reviewed Sinister Realm's newest release, which was mildly disappointing, which means Argus once again has a chance to step up and take their spot in the hierarchy of modern traditional metal bands, as oxymoronic as that sounds.
Argus' approach is unique, insofar as they approach traditional metal from the doom perspective, extending songs and setting atmospheres as much as flat out kicking ass. You get a sense of this on the opening “By Endurance We Conquer”, which takes a couple of minutes to kick into gear, as the band wants to set the stage before the song is allowed to launch from the gates. It's effective at making that first galloping riff sound more crushing than it might have otherwise. Once the song gets going, it's got everything you could ask for from this kind of music. The riff gallops at a hearty clip, there are some doomy asides, and the chorus is killer. Right out of the box, Argus is firing on all cylinders.
“No Peace Beyond The Line” opens with some doom atmosphere and guitar lines that remind me of the simply awesome When Heavy Wept album “Vast Oceans Lachrymose”, which can only be described as a good thing. Although I hear what sounds like an awkward edit in the drumming, the song opens up into a number I could easily hear the mighty Slough Feg putting on one of their records. It's heavier than the opener, but not as melodic, balancing the two ends of the spectrum.
What I appreciate most about Argus on this record is their steadfast refusal to stay static. The songs all have movement, they ebb and flow as they unfold. “The Hands Of Time Are Bleeding” alternates sections of driving classic metal with sections of somber doom, which not only keeps the song sounding fresh, but artfully uses contrast to highlight the dynamics.
There are a couple of songs in the middle of the album that aren't as strong, but they never stray so far as to be bad, and they don't drag the record down. As the doom influences grow stronger, the record loses some of its immediacy, which requires a bit more work on the part of the listener to embrace what's going on. But when “The Coward's Path” embraces doom with both hands, and unleashes some of the most Tony Iommi sounding riffs that didn't come from the man himself, before changing things up and picking up the tempo, it's easy to see what those other tracks were building to.
Argus hits the same speed bump nearly every band playing this kind of music these days does; the inability to keep it up through a whole album. Their good songs are really good, but there's always one or two that keep the record from stepping up and claiming greatness. That being said, “Beyond The Martyrs” is still a very good record, and since I can't help myself but compare the two, it's also a better record than Sinister Realm's newest.
I don't listen to this sort of metal very often, but when I do, a record like this is just what I'm looking for.