Boldly Stride The Doomed
posted on 4/2011 By:
In a recent review I talked about underrated bands, focusing on the ones that aren’t that underrated, but just hold onto a small but devout (and usually vocal) cult following. There is, however, another state of being underrated: the criminal type. These are the bands that in a different time or place would have conquered the tour routes, airwaves, and hearts and minds of the heavy metal legions. Bands that work relentlessly at their craft but are ignored by high profile labels, big time tours, and (perhaps most inexcusable) even many webzines.
Bands like Argus.
The debut of this Pennsylvania doom/trad quintet was lauded by many critics and fans alike, yet as of the writing of this review they have less than 500 (!!!) fans on Facebook. But time and place are key: western Pennsylvania in 2011 is not Birmingham, UK in 1982. In days of yore Argus would have opened for the likes of Dio, Iron Maiden, or at least Candlemass, but due to the current state of popular metal (and Iron Maiden’s own obliviousness to who their opening acts should be; Lauren Harris, my ass…), great bands like Argus go largely unnoticed despite the quality of their output. Not willing to let these atrocities slow their attack, Argus flies their banner with unwavering fervor, upholding tradition and surpassing their debut with the monumental Boldly Stride the Doomed.
Nowhere is their “band-out-of-time” status more obvious than through the smooth vocals of Brian “Butch” Balich (Penance). Had the man appeared during the golden age of metal singers (Bruce, Ronnie, Messiah, Halford, etc.) he would have undoubtedly become an instant legend. As is apparent from the anthemic chorus of “A Curse on the World,” much of Boldly Stride the Doomed revolves around Butch’s million-dollar pipes. That track sets the pace for the album in terms of impeccable quality and style, building on the debut with a touch more Killers influence than before. This (very slight) shift ensures that guitarists Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson are also given ample time to shine on their own through the mountains of riffs, harmonies, and tasteful soloing that they bring to the table.
One of the most immediately striking characteristics of Boldly Stride the Doomed is its holistic cohesion. Whereas the debut was a collection of new songs and re-recorded tracks from their demo, this effort feels like the product of a seasoned band with a singular vision. As mentioned, the spotlight shifts constantly between the vocals and guitars, but it is in knowing when to shift this focus that Argus succeeds while greatly increasing the album’s replay value. For example, the way highlight “Durendal” goes from Butch belting out one of the mightiest and Wyld Stallyn-est verses ever (“400,000 number the Saracen horde!!!”) into an early track solo is sure as shit to smack a big ol’ grin on your face. If it doesn’t you’re either deaf (literally, not figuratively) or too self-absorbed and pretentious to enjoy life (in which case you may politely get bent).
Another way in which Argus’ latest shines brightly is through the variety between tracks. There still exists some mightily doomy material here (epic “Pieces of Your Smile”), but with tracks such as the piano-tinged “42-7-29” they also reveal a new introspective side. It’s also funny (and surely intentional) that the title track of Boldly Stride the DOOMED is not doom, but instead a 2-and-a-half minute speedy rocker that rejuvenates the metal energy after “42-7-29” and heralds in the album’s last act.
The only possible complaint about Boldly Stride the Doomed is the same that could be made about the debut—beef up the guitar tone, boys. It sounds dynamite during rhythm parts, but often during the softer lead moments the lack of sustain becomes readily apparent. Still, a minor and frankly weak complaint, as the rest of the studio treatment—including that glorious vocal echo—is appropriately organic, crisp, and balanced.
Argus had already arrived, but many of you seem to have missed the fucking memo. Consider this a world class opportunity to redeem yourself. This band deserves a dedicated place in your heart, whether yours is Sacred, Metal, or both. Merely calling Boldly Stride the Doomed a contender for album of the year (which it is) seems to cheapen the spirit herein. Argus isn’t about claiming any title at any given point in time. They aren’t about being compared to legends of the past or present. They are simply about making fist-in-the-air heavy metal of the highest order, and here they succeed effortlessly with an album equally musical, emotionally-charged, and balls-out-rockin’, but most importantly timeless.
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