More than two years have passed since I did my first interview with Pennsylvania's ARGUS. At this time, the band was in the final stages of recording and mixing their debut album which has been released by Shadow Kingdom Records shortly after. Since then, a lot has happened and ARGUS have proven that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the world of doom-influenced heavy metal. After the move from Shadow Kingdom to Cruz Del Sur Music, the band released their second full-length 'Boldy Stride The Doomed'. To be honest, I wasn't surprised about the excellent quality of that record. It's erected upon the band's signature, crunchy twin-guitar tone, pummeling riffage, a thunderstorm of drums and Brian 'Butch' Balich's distinctive, powerful voice. Additionally, one shouldn't forget that these guys are able to write intensive and well-crafted songs that vibrate with energy and burst with passion. Just a pity that ARGUS has not yet managed to play more shows in Europe with the exception of an apprearance at Hammer Of Doom in 2011. If you've missed that, I recommend to buy the 'Live At Hammer Of Doom V' DVD that has been released by Cruz Del Sur Music a few months ago. But it seems that ARGUS have plans for an upcoming tour in Europe and, furthermore, the band is working on their third album. Reason enough for me to to do another interview with former Penance singer Brian 'Butch' Balich, who gives us an update on the latest activities in the ARGUS camp.
First a big praise for your latest album 'Boldly Stride The Doomed', but it seems as if I'm not the only who is enthusiastic about your latest release. What were the reactions so far?
Reaction has been really really great. I was quite surprised at first. I knew we had a good album on our hands that exceeded the debut in every way but I guess I didnâ€™t realize how many folks would agree and how strongly. One of the things Iâ€™ve loved about the various opinions and reviews has been that different songs get mentioned as the highlight of the album. I think every song, barring the instrumental intro and outro, has been pointed out as the best song on the record by one or multiple sources. It is confirmation that the writing was uniformly excellent for the album. Also have to say that I LOVE that 'Pieces of Your Smile' seems to be dividing folks into "love it" or "hate it" camps! Strong opinion is welcome â€“ don't give me any of that "itâ€™s ok" shit. Give me "this song is brilliant" or "this song is endless and boring".
I still think that your debut was a great start, but the new album shows that ARGUS has fully developed its crisp and heavy sound. How would you compare 'Boldly Stride The Doomed' to your self-titled debut?
It was a more collaborative writing and recording process than the debut was and I think it shows in the album. It sounds much more cohesive to me and though I love the debut I do feel we surpassed it in songwriting, performance and production. The fact that we wrote so much as a band and were unafraid to discuss things we didnâ€™t like resulted in us always coming up with improvements to each song. Stylistically I feel it has a not dissimilar feel to the debut but these songs work much better together, as an album, than the debut which has a looser feel as far as how it all fits together.
How long did you work on the new record? It sounds to me as if you have put a lot of love and effort into the new songs. That doesn't mean that your debut is bad, but the opposite.
We began writing really once the debut was out. I think we spent a year give or take getting the right songs and vibe. Some was, almost literally, written as we were headed into the studio. 'Boldly Stride the Doomed' was written a few weeks before we went in. The recording itself took maybe 10 days all told but was spread out over a couple of months.
Whenever I listen to 'Boldly Stride The Doomed', it feels like watching an epic movie. It forms a self-contained unit, where each track is like a new chapter. However, I wouldn't say that it's a concept album but is there some sort of conceptual approach?
There really wasnâ€™t. I think the albums sounds so cohesive and together and by tying it with the intro and outro it can appear to be a concept, an illusion of a concept but truthfully I approached the lyrics individually with no ties in mind. Where they do tie together is coincidence. I wish I were smart enough to do a concept album - LOL - I think it would be great fun and a great challenge.
Butch, you are the one who writes all lyrics. From where do you draw your inspirations?
Life experience. Reading. Conversation. Whatâ€™s going on around me. Really whatever strikes a chord with me in some way that I can sing about it convincingly. I try to approach lyrics from different angles to keep from repeating myself but also to try new things. I did something on this album where I pulled words randomly from a dictionary and then cobbled them together into what is 'Fading Silver Light'.
Once again, you have chosen an extraordinary cover artwork which seems to be connected with the cover of the debut album. Can you agree with me and what is the story behind that strange creature?
We wanted Brad to do the art again for the album and I forget who came up with the rough concept. But we decided based on the concept that rather than have the devil or something like that that weâ€™d have the Lovecraftian beastie back again. We laughingly call him 'Vagina Man' because his face kind of looks likeâ€¦well, a vagina hahaha (not a nice one mind you, but a vagina nonetheless). He came about because for the debut we had Brad make some changes to his initial draft that included incorporating a Lovecraftian beast and we love him. In fact, he WILL return for album #3. He has no name yet. Guess we should consider that at some pointâ€¦. The boldly jacket is basically our view of those who are moving toward their doom without care or without knowing that choices they are making are damning them. The beastie is ushering them into their damnation.
In the meanwhile, 'Boldly Stride The Doomed' has been released as double vinyl edition including two bonus cover songs: Candlemass' 'At The Gallows End as well as Thin Lizzy's 'Roisin Dubh'. Why this songs and when did you record them?
We chose those songs simply because we loved them. Candlemass and Thin Lizzy are two bands that we all share an affinity for. We recorded the songs last summer. 'Black Rose' was a song we actually had wanted to cover maybe going back to when I joined the band. We finally did it.
Speaking of vinyl: your wonderful 2007 demo is finally available as 10" EP with a gatefold cover. I confess that I was initially somewhat surprised that it has been released via Pariah Child and not by Miskatonic Foundation as was planned. What is the reason for that?
Well, the planning for that EP had begun even before our debut was out. But I believe Richâ€™s intention was to release the Argus and Orodruin 'In Doom' 10" at the same time so delays with the Orodruin recording and art and our layout pushed the release back and back. Finally there came a point where Rich said he was going to end Miskatonic but he was committed to helping us get the EP out so he worked with Danny at Pariah Child and he did the layout for us and I think it came out quite well. Looks great. Sounds great. And Danny and Rich were a pleasure to work with. Canâ€™t thank either of them enough for their support!
I was very surprised to see that you left Shadow Kingdom Records and signed with Cruz Del Sur Music. What is the reason for that and what is the difference between the two record label?
Tim does a great job with Shadow Kingdom. It's a great label. We felt, though, that we wanted more of a European presence and so signing with a label based in Europe would help us with that. We also wanted to be a focus of any label we were on and felt like Cruz had a great roster but it wasnâ€™t so large that he couldnâ€™t give us individual time to push the album. Was also very important to us that our label advertise ad work the PR for us as hard as they could. And Enrico has been wonderful with all of that so far.
Last year marked the first gig of ARGUS outside of the USA. You have played at Hammer Of Doom 5 in WÃ¼rzburg and I can well imagine that is was an exciting day for you. Tell me more about your gig and your impressions. Did you went home with a good feeling?
We had a blast ! Hammer of Doom was so well organized and professional. Oli and crew really took care of every band there. The crowd was tremendous and really excited and enthusiastic. I feel we played very well and that the crowd really like what we brought. We released our set as a DVD (minus one song we badly botched..ouchâ€¦LOL). We went home on cloud 9. I remember Kevin shaking afterward he was so energized by that crowd response. As well, Wurzburg is a beautiful city. We loved our time there.
I can remember quite vividly that we were trying to organize a couple of gigs around the Hammer Of Doom, but unfortunately it did not work. Is there a chance for ARGUS to play an European tour in 2012? It would be absolutely great if you bring along Sinister Realm, but that is just by the by.
We are currently scheduled to play Dublin Doom Days on September 29, 2012. We are discussing a possible tour as well but this is up in the air right now due to some personal issues I must attend to. We would love to do a tour as soon as we can though. And Sinister Realm is tremendous â€“ one of the best metal bands going. Would love to tour with them. There is talk right now of a 10-12 date tour that will begin at Dublin Doom Days in September; however, this is all subject to family and financial issues. Itâ€™s tough for a band like us to do this due to airfare. Weâ€™re not in a spot where we can yet demand our flights be covered nor can we play for free you know? I would love to make it happen and I would love to tour with Sinister Realm one day.
Apart from that, what have you planned for the next 6 months and have you given some thought to ARGUS' third album?
We are actually nearing completion of the writing for the third album which will be entitled 'Beyond The Martyrs'. Weâ€™re entering the studio in late May/early June and should be wrapped by mid-July with a release in the autumn. So far so good with the songwriting. I think it picks up where weâ€™ve been and spreads out somewhat. Weâ€™re not a band that is going to start making sharp changes in direction but rather subtle ones just to keep things interesting. Overall this may be a more midtempo leabing towards quicker paced album but still the doomy undertones. Lyrically I expect it to be very dark, somber, sad.... not a happy record. Looking forward to getting these babies recorded and then weâ€™ll see what we have on our hands. Brad Moore will once again handle the art !!! Outside of the album we have festival appearances planned at Days of the Doomed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 16 and then Warriors of Metal on June 23rd in Ohio. Also playing at least one date with Twisted Tower Dire in New York City in late July. From there hopefully Europe to coincide with the release of 'Beyond the Martyrs'.
Finally a few words on MOLASSES BARGE. How does it come that you have formed another band and in what musical direction is MOLASSES BARGE heading this time?
Two of my friends Justin Gizzi and Wayne Massey and I had gotten talking about working together at some point. A few years ago Justin called and said he and Wayne were ready to put something together and it went from there. This band is a band we all do for fun but we do take seriously as well though all of us (except poor Wayne) have other, primary, bands. I always tell people Barge is more earthy, doomier in some ways and maybe more 70s styledâ€¦less metal though not less heavy than Argus. ( http://www.reverbnation.com/molassesbarge )
Ok, that's it from me. Thanks a lot! Close however you want.
Klaus, as always, it is an honor to be included on Cosmic Lava. You have supported the band for years so I first wish to thank you and also to thank you for your patience ! Dealing with me can sometimes be dealing with a large, slow, singing turtle ! I want to thank anyone reading for their interest in Argus ! Hope to see you all in 2012 ! Cheers !