March 2009 - ARGUS
ARGUS is a genuinely gifted band from Pennsylvania, who released their first demo back in 2007. Sometimes it's just amazing to hear how outstanding a band can be, although they only released a demo, but ARGUS fit smoothly into that category. As aforementioned this five guys are genuinely gifted with a knack for songwriting that includes without limitation a good sense for melodies and, of course, blistering riffage which is heavy like some huge juggernaut. The effect on the listener is almost the same as if this old vehicle would roll through your head. But besides that the chemistry and talent within ARGUS is absolutely effective, it's singer Brian 'Butch' Balich who makes everything just more perfect. If you read the Cosmic Lava carefully, you already will know that he was the singer in Penance for many years and his exceptional voice has the ability to intensify the entire sound of a band. All in all a bright future lies ahead of ARGUS and so the time has come to talk with drummer Kevin Latchaw , vocalist Butch Balich, guitarist Jay Mucio and new/old guitarist Erik Johnson about their plans and to dip deep into the past.
At first I like to tell you that your first demo is simply amazing. It's much better than most of the albums I've heard in the last two years. Even the production is very good and the song material is top-notch. Where have you recorded the demo and have you played all songs live during the recording session? Please, give us an insight in the way you work.
Kevin: Thanks! We recorded the demo at my house. Mike and I had a little home studio together and we just put everything together here. We recorded everything separately in order to get the best sounds (we had limited equipment) and to accommodate our various schedules. We started of recording drums with a scratch guitar and click track. I have to give Mike all the credit as far as the sound goes. He has a great ear for mic placement and mixing, especially given the limited resources we had to work with. I'm really happy with the way that one came out.
Erik: I'm going to approach the majority of these questions as an outsider looking in; as I just recently re-joined ARGUS due to Mike Wisnieski's departure. I think the demo's production turned out great for what the guys had into it equipment-wise. Gear definitely makes it or breaks it; and, they had a decent selection of mics from what I recall. I remember going up to Kev's house for vocal sessions during the latter day's of the recording and thinking to myself - this is some really solid shit! Much of the demo's soundscapes can be attributed to the wizardry of Mike Wisnewski, who went to school in NYC for sound production and has such a good ear for the music and recording/mixing altogether. I hope he continues on with it in Lancaster, PA.
Butch: As for how we work - we have a bit of an oddball situation as far as being a band goes in that we're kind of spread out in Western Pennsylvania. Kevin and Erik are in Franklin, PA but I live in the Pittsburgh area and it is a close to 2 hour drive to for to get to rehearsal. Jay is up in Erie and it also takes him 90+ minutes to get to rehearsal.... Luckily we've always been a band that can work efficiently and quickly during the rehearsals we do have. Generally songwriting begins with one person developing either a riff or most of a song at home and bringing it to rehearsal. From there, as a band we'll learn the parts and add our ideas as we go.
Once the parts are developed I'll take a recording of the song with me and begin developing a vocal melody and then lyrics (which can often follow the melody a long time after the song is fully arranged.... I'm picky and work, often, slowly). Once the song is in a arrangement we add it to the set we run down and we'll tweak it where needed. It's a group effort and for as dysfunctional a situation as we have it's worked well for us, it just takes us longer to complete songs than a band that is in the same town. I think I get to rehearsal once every few weeks. The rest of the band does try to get together weekly when possible.
Do you still play in the same line-up or have there been any changes since you've recorded the demo?
Kevin: Since the demo we've unfortunately lost Mike when he moved east. He'll definitely be missed. But we were fortunate enough to pick our founding member, Erik, back up and keep moving. We've been pretty resilient over the years. We've changed lineups more times than I can count since we started and always seem to hit the ground running. It always sucks to lose someone, but we're fortunate to know plenty of great musicians that can fill the void.
Fortunately your demo will be released by The Miskatonic Foundation, so that everyone has the chance to listen to your mindblowing heavy sound. Would you give us a short update on the latest news. Can we expect a release date in 2009?
Butch: We're wrapping up the art now actually. John Gallo has done our art and layout. I know, for sure, this will be out in 2009 but don't have an exact date yet.
Your demo is also available for free download from Bland Hand Records. Why do you want also a proper release of it?
Kevin: First and foremost we love the opportunity to work with Rich and Miskatonic. It's an amazing label with an incredible reputation. Second, we loved the idea of having it released on vinyl. Thanks to John Brenner for distributing the demo via Bland Hand. Who knows how many more people we reached thanks to him.
Erik: I think a proper release of the demo provides true fans of the music (and in this case - true fans of vinyl) with something tangible at the end of the day. I dig alot of the other bands on Miskatonic's roster (eg. The Lamp Of Thoth, Asomvel) and am excited for Argus to be amongst such an epic regiment of metal acts.
You've recorded the demo in 2007, so I assume that you've written a lot of new tracks during the last two years. Do you have any plans to release your debut this year and are there any offerings from any record labels?
Kevin: We are actually in the final stages of recording and mixing our full length. We had to delay the release due to some difficulties with Emissary Records, but we're now proud to be working with Shadow Kingdom Records and it should be out soon. Check out the other releases on Shadow Kingdom if you haven't already and you'll see why we're excited.
Erik: Tim at Shadow Kingdom has stepped to the plate for the full length slated for release very soon. ARGUS decided it was important to keep this release domestic and believes SK will prove invaluable in regenerating any momentum lost in the past year due to the debacle/delays with Emissary. Tim's releases are classic, and his label is run like a well-oiled machine. Every order I've placed with him, I've received within a weeks time or less.
The tracks sound huge on this recording, and I'm saying this hearing them before the final mixing and mastering. Kevin's drums have that big, undeniable Bonham feel/sound; but at the same time, his playing is still very defined and tight. The guitars are very apparent with two distintive tonal qualities: Mike's Sunn and Jay's Splawn. Jay recorded the solo's using a Cornford 30 Watt head at minimal gain settings which provides a nice contrast to the overall guitar tone. Andy's bass is undeniably massive and exactingly murky at the same time - I always compare his playing style to an amalgamation of Geezer Butler and Steve Harris.
This recording really reinforces the fact that Butch's vocals are as powerful as they are majestic. I'd been a fan of the stuff he did with Penance before Kevin, Mike and I started ARGUS back in '04. As a friend and fan, I'm truly glad Butch decided to start singing again after Penance and believe his vocal style matches the music in ARGUS to a T.
Butch: This CD is long overdue and we're so happy to be getting it out finally. We have been working on new material but wanted a proper release for some of the tracks from our demo. So, we re-recorded 4 out of 5 of them. We feel the songs are strong and want to give them as wide an airing as we can. So - the debut will be 50-50 old and new material.
What can you tell us about the new songs? Will it be in the same vein as the old songs or are there any surprises?
Kevin: The new songs definitely have that "ARGUS" feel to them. We've certainly progressed as song writers though. Some of those demo songs were written 3 years ago. 4 of the demo songs will be on the full-length, along with some new ones. I'm really excited to get this out. It sounds great (thanks Dave at Soundscape Studios).
Erik: In my opinion, there's an undeniable/underlying consistency or vibe that flows through music of the new songs and binds them as cohesive unit. They're epic & doomy with a few surprises thrown into the mix for good measure. One of my favorites from the newer tracks would be 'From Darkness..Light'. Very moderately paced riffing that trudges forward with a saddened optimism (if thats possible). Hints of Maiden/Lizzy worship here for sure.
Jay: Similar sound but a bit more diverse, more attention has been given to arranging riffs. One person usually comes up with the basic song structure and most of the riffs then we all work together to make it a finished piece.
Butch: I think the newer songs on the album built upon what we did with the demo songs and have defined what ARGUS is, as a band... what our sound is... classic metal style, dual guitars, and a doomy underpinning. Many moods and diverse without being all over the map. I think the newer songs 'From Darkness...Light', 'Outsider', 'None Shall Know The Hour' and 'Devils, Devils' have an epic feel to them even if they don't all clock in in that range... though 'Outsider' is 10+ minutes. I'm really excited for folks to hear these songs.
Maybe the most well-known member of ARGUS is vocalist Brian 'Butch' Balich, who was in Penance for 8 years before the band split-up. Butch, I can imagine that is was hard for you when you realized that Penance is no more. What was the reason for it and are you still in contact with Mike Smail and Terry Weston? When did you met the guys from ARGUS?
Kevin: We rescued him from a shelter for lost singers. Actually we were fortunate enough to talk with him the night of our former singer's (Erik) last show. He and Erik knew each other from college, we talked and there you have it.
Butch: I suppose the definition of Penance being "no more" is really something Mike Smail and Terry Weston would be more in charge of than me. Mike used the term "Penance is sleeping" and it is his band so he could conceivably resurrect it at some point. To me though the band has been totally inactive since 2007 and other than the Doom Or Be Doomed Festival that year for 2 years prior.... Back around 2005 we tried to start up writing with Terry back in the band and it just didn't go anywhere - some of the material was really good but I think the wheels were rolling in different directions creatively and it just petered out. It was a huge disappointment for me as I loved being in the band....
It was an honor to even be a part of the history of the band that had created 'Parallel Corners'... undoubtedly one of the greatest doom metal albums ever (and highly underrated). And I really like most of the material we created together over 3 albums. Played a lot of cool shows like Stoner Hands of Doom, Emissions from the Monolith, Born Too Late, Doom Shall Rise II, got to do a short tour of Europe... met a ton of great people and bands... Plus it was just fun being in a band with Mike, Terry and then Matt and Mary as well. I am still in touch with Mike and Terry and consider them to be great friends. Our schedules etc. don't always allow for getting together nor am I great at keeping in touch, picking up the phone but yeah, I love those guys. I see Mary and Matt when I do get out and about to see bands. In fact, Matt and I are in a Thin Lizzy tribute band together called The Vagabonds.
We did our first 6 song set a couple of weeks ago and it went well so we're planning to keep adding songs and do shows when we can. Anyway, to lose Penance that and be in Pittsburgh where until recently the doom scene was pretty much limited to Penance - it was an uphill climb to try to put something together. I pretty much gave up any hope of being able to front a doom band and was considering either doing some other type of music or just trying to get players from bands I loved to help me write and record a "solo" album of some sort but knew that would be very difficult to pull off. I touched base with some guys but nothing ever came of it. So, fate intervenes when I start getting messages from Erik who was a fraternity brother of mine here at the University of Pittsburgh.
Turns out he was in this band ARGUS and they were gigging. Well, I kept missing the shows and then I get an e-mail that he's leaving the band because he was moving and that their final gig was coming up. So now I have to go or else I wouldn't get to see the band. I get to the club and, honestly, didn't know what to expect and I was floored by these guys. I think my first words to Kevin were "your bassist is a badass". At the time the band had a bit more of a groovy/stoner rock kind of vibe mixed with some doomier parts and a few tastefully placed guitar harmonies and though it wasn't a doom band I just liked what I heard. So, Kevin and I got to talking and he knew of my work with Penance and our conversation followed along the lines of "...Too bad you guys are up in Franklin, I wouldn't mind jamming with you..." without any real hope it could work in reality. I got some contact info though and messaged Kevin asking if I could work it out with my family that maybe we could see if it COULD work long distance. What we ended up doing is I'd come out every other weekend and then work on learning the existing songs and writing new stuff on my own so at rehearsal I could just hop right in.
I really would like to know more about your lyrics. Who's responsible for them and what does inspire you?
Butch: I've done the lyrics for the entire album, though I do ask for help from the band with proofing, getting their feedback etc... Erik was very helpful with arranging a few things on 'None Shall Know The Hour' and 'Outsider'. As for what inspires me to write it could be any number of things. In the past it was pretty much, exclusively, personal experience. For ARGUS I brought in some inspiration from literature like Christopher Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus' and H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Outsider'. Also delved into history a bit with 'None Shall Know the Hour' which is directly inspired by the story of the Millerites who believed the End Times were upon them...
They gave up their possessions, jobs and waited for God to come take them at the appointed hour. Of course God did not come - "The Great Disappointment" is all the arrived. It is not my intention to make a statement so much regarding a belief in God in so much as whether or not one does believe, you can never know, you can never pinpoint what and when things will happen to you. Of course I still sing about ideas, issues etc that arise from my own experience...
A song like 'From Darkness...Light' would have worked just as easily as a set of Penance lyrics...ditto 'Bending Time'... I always put a lot of pressure upon myself to write good lyrics and I've really been frustrated with writer's block for a good while now. It has been like pulling teeth but I am happy with what I came up with for this album and looking forward to working on the material for album 2 - and hopefully we'll do some collaborating on lyrics- anyone's ideas are welcome and valid in the band.
ARGUS played at the DOBD festival in Baltimore, and you've supported Trouble in Cleveland in front of 600 people. This must've been pretty amazing. Did you receive a good feedback from the audience and have you any tour plans for 2009?
Kevin: We've been lucky to play in front of some amazing crowds. The reaction we received at DOBD blew me away. And the crowds in Cleveland for Trouble and Candlemass were great as well. I'm always apprehensive going in front of a crowd there to see their favorite band. Here we are, some unknown band that just makes people wait longer to see Trouble, Candlemass, Revelation, etc. But we've been fortunate. People seem to like it! As far as touring, due to our work schedules and family lives, this is highly unlikely, but we plan to definitely play shows throughout the area. We're playing Templars of Doom in May in Indianapolis and the Stoner Hands of Doom in September in Frederick, MD. We'll certainly be out there.
Jay: The crowd response has always been awesome, we've been very fortunate to play some great gigs with some very cool bands. Cleveland, Baltimore, Wheeling, Pittsburgh..., they've all been very good to us and we love to hear from people afterward about our music, everyone's been really cool.
Butch: People have been really great to us. It has been very humbling to receive the feedback we have. We're very grateful for the support. Like Kevin said, any kind of actual Tour is pretty much out of the question this year. We're hoping we can continue to play regionally and at fests like Templars of Doom and Stoner Hands of Doom. We'd also like to squeak in a couple of long-weekend mini-tours. It just depends on what we all have going on with work and family. There are lot of places we haven't been able to perform yet that we'd love to get to.
Ok, guys that's all for now. I wish you all the best and really hope that ARGUS will come over to Germany one day!
Kevin: Thanks! We'll hopefully make it to Europe soon. No definite plans, but we'd love to.
Erik: I would love nothing more than to return to Europe at some point. Hopefully, this can become a reality sooner than later.
Jay: We'd love to be in Europe sometime in the next couple years, we'll be sure to touch base when we are.
Butch: Klaus, this is a goal of mine for ARGUS. I desperately want to experience playing in Europe again, hopefully in 2010. The experience I had with Penance back in 2004 was outstanding. People were so friendly to us and the clubs treated us superbly as well. Plus, the fans were so into it. It really was an awesome experience. I have a wish-list of bands I'd love to team up with for a 2 week stint so we shall see what we can make happen... Again a lot of this depends upon the economic situation in the world as well as family life. Thanks, as always, for your support and for the time and space Cosmic Lava is giving to ARGUS !!