You know all about our stance on so called “supergroups” at his establishment. The whole concept of a group of superlative (or at least well known) musicians coming together to form an exciting new project invites heightened expectations, and all too often the end product is a let down. Of course there are exceptions to the rule like Arch/Matheos and of course, that awesome Metallica/Lou Reed collaboration, but as a rule it’s best to approach these things guardedly. That brings us to today’s subject – a project by former Fates Warning guitarist Victor Arduini and Argus vocalist Brian Balich. Though neither are household names, they’re known in the metalverse for works past, and when I heard they were collaborating on a progressive doom album, my interest was undeniably piqued. Dawn of Ages is a mammoth effort, with 6 songs accounting for over an hour of music, and with track lengths sometimes exceeding 17 minutes, it’s obvious they were going for something larger-than-life. Taking elements of Dio-era Rainbow and Black Sabbath and mixing it with more modern doom like Solitude Aeturnus and The Obsessed, they’ve managed to create an interesting sound of their own that touches on almost every major doom act of the past 40 years. It definitely has some mind-blowing moments, but it has its flaws too. Such is the way of the super-powered.
Anytime a band opens with a 10-minute behemoth, you know you’re dealing with renegade badasses, and “The Fallen” certainty takes its sweet time getting its stone buttocks ov steel up and moving. At the 4-minute mark when the big doom riffs finally show up, they’re so welcome it’s like a party breaks out in your mausoleum and everybody’s coming. The mood is heavy, the riffs are huge and Balich’s big, raspy roar is perfect for the music. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before but it’s high-quality doom nonetheless, and it makes the longer than needed wait feel worth it. “Forever Fade” is much more immediate, situating itself between gritty street doom like Pentagram and The Obsessed and old Fireball Ministry. It aims to put a hurting on you with crushing, aggressive riffage and does just that.
Big, long-winded set pieces like “Into Exile” shake so many doom branches it’s hard not to play Spot the Influence as the song drags you down nostalgia-filled highways and byways for 11-plus minutes. It shamelessly copies the classic riff from Sabbath‘s “Into the Void,” but with so much else going in, that seems fairly forgivable, especially given the stunning guitar-work throughout and the ripping solo that strikes at the 7:40 mark. “The Wraith” is longer still, mixing Awaken the Guardian era Fates Warning melodies with some very Pallbearer-esque vocal hooks full of emotion and pathos.
The biggest and most unwieldy cut is “Beyond the Barricade” which at various times recalls the epicness of Rainbow‘s “Stargazer,” the bluesy barroom rock of Deep Purple and even the grunge of Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, all as the band does their best to pulverize you with classic doom sounds and staples. Balich outdoes himself vocally here and the sheer number of interesting riffs and harmonies is impressive.
The biggest issue the album has is that while long songs are expected on a doom album, these things are really, really long. As good as many of the ideas are in “Beyond the Barricade,” at over 17 minutes, it’s really hard to stay locked in and attentive. All the more so after the series of 10-13 minutes whoppers that precede it. Even the best music suffers when the compositions defy the listener’s endurance and stamina, and this album definitely demands you run the attention gauntlet. I have trouble spinning this in its entirety, though I very much enjoy every song on it’s own.
Between the two stars, it’s hard to say who impresses more. The guitar-work is wonderfully diverse, dark, engaging and at times, crushingly heavy. There’s a great mix between melody and power and Victor Arduini really lets himself go as he explores many different eras and genres of music, while always keeping things anchored in doom. Pick any track and you’ll be impressed by what he’s doing. As good as the guitar-work is, I’m equally impressed with the power and range Brian Balich displays on this material. He goes far beyond what he’s shown on the Argus albums, delivering truckloads of raw emotion and soaring harmonies. I honestly had no idea he was capable of so much as a singer and I was already a big fan of his vocals on the Argus albums.
Dawn of Ages is a very interesting piece of doom that manages to show where the genre has been while also giving us a glimpse of where it might be going. It defies the curse of the supergroup, and if the songs themselves were shorter and a bit more easily digestible, this would be Album o’ the Year material. As it stands, this is a mammoth slab of thinking man’s doom with more flavors than Baskin Robbins. Get the extra-large cone and prepare to gorge on riff cream.