They say swans are some of the only creatures to choose a lifelong partner and that when one among them dies, the other doesn’t live long after. How does either member of a couple that has grown old together cope when the other passes? Accustomed to each other’s living rhythms, presaging each other’s thoughts, even taking on the other’s physical appearance as years reduce features that were once sharp to so much moldable putty, two individuals that through shared experience have for all intents and purposes become as one, but now at the very end, that union is rent asunder, and only one is left behind to deal with the profound silence that has stolen into the dusk of his life. Friends, relations, and routine, if he is so lucky to have these entertainments, distract for a time, but every man goes to sleep alone at night, and what manner of shapes must haunt his moments of solitude then? Memories come unbidden, and not just those touched with guilt and regret, but even joyful recollections, now marred with sorrow because of the fresh dent next to him in bed, give way to the cruel necessity of choking those reminiscences so as to preserve in them some semblance of the purity they do and should represent, to cleanse them of the grief they otherwise would become irrecoverably polluted with. To be a man that once reckoned himself stoic, resilient and self-sufficient, who now has to endure this slow wasting away by degrees, must be an experience humbling enough to render him as helpless and disoriented as an infant. The physical infirmities of dotage bring along their own pile of humiliations anyway, but a man’s frailties are shored up to a great extent while he still feels responsible towards another, while that another still makes him feel worth a whole. The sudden extinguishing of that sense of duty, which really is a rock in the storm of his dwindling, must challenge the very foundation upon which he views himself as a man.
Argus‘ fourth album may not be about the perfect man, but it is about the man of conscience. It is about taking stock in the wake of past mistakes and it is about possessing the courage to look into one’s inmost recesses, which is where the self-known truth usually resides. It is about love and loss, too, and having the grace to let go without requital or recrimination. This classy American heavy metal band, modeled after Thin Lizzy, Solitude Aeternus, and Slough Feg, has no particular calling card, but as has been the case on previous efforts, From Fields of Fire grows exponentially in power and atmosphere once it gets into its stride. Appropriately, the opening to the album is more defiant in tone and tempo, as befitting the state of mind in which previous transgresses have only just registered but their repercussions have not as yet made themselves felt, when one can almost delude himself into thinking that things can still be set aright. But fortunate are those to whom such allowances are made, and Butch Balich’s simple yet powerful voice conveys the despair in finally realizing the injustices visited on those we wouldn’t otherwise wish ill upon. The backing instruments regularly build up to a crescendo and an open space for him to deliver his most potent choruses, but Balich does more than simply following the chords underneath; chords in heavy metal insinuate, but the fine heavy metal singer molds that insinuation to his will through minor inflection and embellishment and sheer conviction, and thus completes the song. The final quarter of From Fields of Fire aptly retreats from the use of precocious NWOBHM rhythms and other exotic motifs to contemplate greatly on singly-plucked notes, unambiguous progressions, and Balich’s direction of theatre. This is doom, then, in the best sense, more human and more intimate than any other form of metal, yet completely separate and unique in intensity from mainstream expressions of the more pensive side of life.