Argus is one of the leaders in the “trve,” “cvlt” metal wave ov late. They specialize in the kind of muscular battle metal that makes you long for the days of swords, sandals and institutionally approved beer wenching and you can almost feel the hair on your back growing as you spin their odes to brotherhood and bravado. Long have they toiled to perfect their blend of Iron Maiden riffs, the doom-based power of Candlemass, Grand Magus and Doomsword and the oiled pectoral charm of Manowar and both their debut and Boldly Stride the Doomed follow-up were highly impressive, throwback ragers. They’ve continually grown as writers and performers and I’ve come to expect great things from them. Album number three, Beyond the Martyrs doesn’t offer any major surprises, but it does introduce a more stripped-down, singularly focused version of Argus‘s music. Gone is the oversized epic scope, heavy doom dabbling, generally diverse songwriting of Boldly Stride and in their place are more instant, easily digestible nuggets of brawny, old school metal. While it isn’t quite as masterful as their prior output, it still hits hard and checks all the right boxes while keeping their leathery authenticity and genre legitimacy firmly in place and beyond reproach (and martyrs).
They get right down to brass tacks with “By Endurance We Conquer” which is all about big, crushing Grand Magus approved riffs, heavy bass rumble and the über manly vocals of Brian “Butch” Balich. As things get rolling and Balich sings of war, death, bravery and all things honorable, you’ll be hard pressed not to brandish a mop handle against the godless heathens formerly known as your neighbors. While the “warrior of metal against the world” shtick has been flogged to death by Manowar and their ilk, Argus somehow makes the broadswordy themes feel fresh and delivers them in a way that seems way more serious and far less cheesy. The rally-cry of a chorus is all about machismo and chest thumping and boy, is it hooky! This is exactly why I love these guys.
They use the textbook Maiden gallop for the commanding power of “No Peace Beyond the Line,” and there’s a palpable Candlemass and Jag Panzer influence running throughout “The Hands of Time are Bleeding.” Later, the doom influences of Candlemass and Penance are adroitly mixed with Maiden-esque riff/bass ideas on the excellent “The Coward’s Path” where Balich really steps up his game and delivers a rich, emotional performance.
There isn’t a bad tune to be found here and all have ballsy riffing and tough vocal work. Hell, even the instrumental title track impresses and I’m generally not much for those things. The only real issue I have is the lack of diversity from song to song. Boldly Stride the Doomed had the same kind of mid-tempo battle metal, but mixed it up with classic doom tunes and more epic flavored material. Here, it’s one big mid-tempo rumbler after another and though each song is worthwhile, a slight feeling of monotony begins to creep in on the album’s back-end. Boldly just felt like a bigger, more sweeping album and I miss that a bit.
As always the Argus sound is dependent on the thick, heavy riffing of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson. They stick close to the Grand Magus blueprint, but there are always a plethora of Maiden and Candlemass hints spliced in. The solo work is always tasty, classy and melodic and they spice up the simple song structures with scads of slick harmonies and well-placed noodling. They’re a pleasure to listen to and the album is awash with badass metal guitar-work. Perfectly complimenting the big riffs are Balich’s iron-lunged vocals. The man has a rough, tough voice which adds considerable heft and oomph to the proceedings and his alpha male delivery fits the subject matter perfectly. While he generally stays in a throaty mid-range, he shows his singing chops when the mood calls for it and he gets better with every album. Rounding things out is the low-end thump provided by Andy Ramage who provides an enjoyable Steve Harris like function while beefing up the overall sound.
Fans of old school acts like Grand Magus and Sinister Realm would be silly to overlook the Argus discography and those who still long for the days of Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol will find kindred spirits here. Argus is a rock-solid, consistent crew and Beyond the Martyrs is another platter full of barbarian style ass kicking. Grab the war hammer, don the plastic Viking helmet and pound the first poser you can find. I’ll be shaving my back because hair shouldn’t grow on Steel.