In the pantheon of epic and trve metal acts, the Argus wing isn’t far from the front foyer where legends like Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road reside. As one of the best of the current acts keeping the old ways alive, Argus has graced us with three top-notch slabs of backward looking metal that always managed to avoid sounding stale. The secret ingredient keeping their sound fresh was always the rich undercurrent of heavy doom they injected into the batter. This anchored their tales of myth and Manoantics to the Earth and kept things reliably weighty and mega-ballsy. After a 4-year hibernation, From Fields of Fire tampers not with their tried-and-true barbarian recipe, offering more of their Maiden meets Manowar and Candlemass testosterone stew. That’s comforting for fans of the band, but is their ancient style finally seeing signs of mold after such a long layoff?
After a lovely little musical prelude, “Devils of Your Time” T-bones you with the band’s typically burly power. It’s all about red meat, heavy, mid-tempo riffing and the leathery bellows of Butch Balich, which by themselves make this feel way heavier than other bands in this modality. The easiest reference point is Visigoth as they too employ this extra heavy approach to good ends. It’s a rousing, blood angering kind of song and it makes me wish the local gym would pipe this shit in instead of the top 40 pablum they get off inflicting on hapless fitness enthusiasts. “As a Thousand Thieves” keeps the energy quotient high with tasty riffage and Maiden-esque gallops adorned with melodic noodling that catches the ear before slicing it off for the keepsake necklace only closers get to wear.
As “216” rumbles out the paddock, it’s clear Argus is still entirely committed to their mid-tempo, “embrace the grind” writing style, relying on thick, burly riffs and Balich’s mighty voice to carry the day and smite any feelings of monotony. Oddly enough, it works as the song itself is buoyed by some heroic war chants and inspired noodling amid the chugs and ponderous thundering. Elsewhere, “You Are the Curse” is the most aggressive, immediate track, stomping along with warlord swagger and mercenary cunning.
The album centerpiece is the 11-minute epic “Infinite Lives, Infinite Doors,” and though there’s a little more Cirith Ungol and Candlemass influence creeping in, the basic template is unflinchingly adhered to and things trot at half speed for the duration. The song is good and some of the guitar-work is great, but the Argus approach tends to unravel in direct proportion to song length and by the final third, you may be feeling the weight of their stylistic paralysis.
This brings me to my biggest hangup with From Fields of Fire. While most of the material is enjoyable enough, it feels like the songwriting is slipping a bit. With 7 tracks over 55 minutes (including a short prelude/interlude), there isn’t that one song I need to hear again and again or move to my beloved “Kill Posers With Steel” playlist. As an album it holds my attention more often than not, but by the back third I’m glazing over and things fade into background noise. Some of this could be corrected by editing and trimming the longer cuts down, but ultimately it’s their uni-directional style that makes this collection of songs feel less engaging than what the band’s done in the past.
What keeps me wired in is usually the mega-powered vocals of Butch Balich. The man has a big voice, and one that goes exceptionally well with heavy, doom-tinged riffage. I loved his work on the Arduini/Balich collaboration earlier this year and I love his roaring and raging here too. He doesn’t sound like anyone else and he gives the music a big shot of adrenaline, steroids and turnips. Jason Mucio and new axe Dave Watson do everything talented guitarists could do to keep things interesting, despite a very limited songwriting approach and they hang melodic decorations on every hard and jagged edge they can find. I really like their playing, even when the songs themselves feel a little flat or inert.
This is the first Argus platter that doesn’t rustle my Jimmies and drive me to plunder and pillage, but even a dissipated version of the band smokes most of their peers. From Fields of Fire is a solid dose of trvness that should satisfy most fans and defenders of the olde. we’ll hold off relocating those monuments to a smaller room, for now.