With their blend of seventies hard rock, heavy metal and doom metal, Argus out of Pennsylvanias in the US has established themselves as one of the finest new bands to grace the scene during the last five years.
This article consists of three different interviews with the band, the first one done in the autumn of 2009, when the band’s self titled debut album was released through Shadow Kingdom Records, the second part was conducted in May 2011 when Argus after having changed label, to Cruz Del Sur, put out “Boldly Stride The Doomed”. Last but not least, I recently did the third part, focusing mainly on the new album “Beyond The Martyrs”. Thie questions in this last interview were answered by vocalist Butch only, while the two other parts involves answers from several band members. No part of this article have been published in English before, but some of the Norwegian readers might notice that experts of the first two parts were used in two different features I did for Scream magazine. Have fun reading – you only got about 8750 words left!
Part I: “Argus” (Autumn, 2009)
Guys, why don’t you start by giving our readers a little insight in the musical past of the members of Argus? Are any of you involved in other acts at the moment? Butch of course is known to many through his work in Penance. What is the status of that band at the moment, and would it be possible for Butch to be a part of both bands?
Kevin – It’s crazy to think that Erik and I were in a band together 17 years ago. Jay and I played guitar together in a band in the mid-nineties, and Andy took over for me when I left. We have all been involved in a variety of bands over the years, both together and with other people – the band pool is pretty shallow here, at least with those our age – but none have really been as successful as Penance. Currently Andy is in Oh Shit They’re Going to Kill Us, a punk/thrash crossover band that is pretty popular and kicks some ass. I was playing with the Cleveland band Abdullah for a year or two, but that came to an end in January.
Andy – I’ve been jamming with these guys for a while now. Being in a couple of bands in high school with Jason and being in a band with Kevin, Eric and Mike back in 2003. I currently play guitar in the punk/metal band Oh Shit They’re Going to Kill Us, which Jason was once a member of also, and am quite busy between that and Argus.
Jason – I don’t play in any other bands at the moment, there’s just no time in my life. I pretty much started my guitar career playing in punk band in the early nineties and progressed back toward my earlier roots of heavier rock and metal as time went on. Now, I listen to so many different types of music I can’t even say what the hell I’m into anymore.
Butch – Penance is not active at this time. Ultimately it is Mike and Terry’s band so it would be up to them to get it moving again. But both guys have families and jobs that are their main focus at this time. I would always be open to doing it because I love those guys as people, as friends and as musicians. I was a fan before I was a band member and I remain a fan of all the music the band created from the very beginning to the albums we did together. I could be a part of both bands as neither band is in a position to be a touring band so it wouldn’t be hard or a massive time drain to juggle the two. Argus is my priority but I could see doing, if nothing else, some live shows with Penance at some point if I the right opportunities came up.
Erik – Kevin, Mike Wisniewski (previously on guitar) and I started Argus back in 2004 with a desire to play a heavy and riff-oriented, doomier style of music. The three of us played together consistently in a couple other projects since 2001. However, Kevin and I have jammed together most of our lives, in fact since the early nineties in high school. Depending on the band, these projects ran a gambit of styles and were mostly influenced by any combination of NYC hardcore, punk, early thrash, rock as far as genre goes. None of the bands we were in had any label support or official releases or real notoriety aside from a local scene following. I am not currently involved in any other musical projects at the moment.
Let’s switch to the name of your current band then. I know it’s a common word, but could it in any way be inspired by the album of the same name by Wishbone Ash? At least you have the twin guitars in common…
Andy – I think most people in the metal community initially think of Wishbone Ash when they hear the name Argus. We hear it all the time. When I first joined the band I didn’t even know the name yet, one day Mike dropped me a CD-R of the material with Argus written on it. The first thing that came to my mind was Wishbone Ash too.
Jason – The name of the band actually is based around the mythological being whose name was Argus. He was a hundred-eyed beast who, while following the appointment of the Goddess Hera in the task of guarding Io, was slain by Hermes.
Erik – It’s an interesting correlation that does come up from time to time in the forums. Truth of the matter is, that may have been a very small part of it on a subconscious level; but, the final decision to use Argus came from the Greek mythological ties. I did some research and, low and behold I discover this great Titan of Greek mythology – Argus Panoptes. In the ancient texts, he is a “hundred-eyed” giant/beholder sent by Hera to protect the white heifer Lo from Zeus. In recent years, I have been intrigued by mythological imagery and icons as possible historical, religious or cross-cultural allegories. Here, Argus plays into a more universal or conceptual paradigm as relating to one of the guardian “watchers”; but in antithesis to his brethren of titans , eg. Zeus, who wishes to mate with the one of the daughters of men, Lo. This story works on many levels and even biblical correlations can be drawn from the book of Genesis, i.e. the story of the nephilim. To make a long story short, I thought it was a very powerful and noble name that reflected very powerful and noble imagery. I ran it by the guys and they were into it as well – so it stuck.
Kevin – While we definitely see the resemblance to Wishbone Ash, especially the dual guitar aspect, and we dig their stuff, the name comes more from mythology and our geek upbringings. Erik and I are old school D&D geeks, and we liked the concept of Argus in Greek Mythology, and kind of related it to the Beholder from D&D fame. Nothing fancy, but there you have it.
Several other bands have been called Argus during the years, and still there are at least a German band and an American one using the name. Have you encountered any problems due to this? I guess sooner or later there will be some fighting over the band name between these bands, How long are you willing to go to keep hold of the name? The myspace page has http://myspace.com/theargus as the address. Could The Argus be an option if you have to change the name of the band?
Kevin – We have yet to encounter any problems with other bands sharing the Argus name, although we are aware of it. It’s not really a concern right now, as I don’t think we’re really that big of a band. Band names are so hard to come up with, and, unless you pull two random nonsense names out of a hat it gets pretty difficult. Ideally I’d like to keep the name as long as we can, as we are starting to build somewhat of a following. It would cause a bit of a slowing of momentum to have to change the name now. We had discussed it in the past but decided to keep it and move forward.
Erik – As far as I know, we have no plans on changing the name. The guys have debated this dilemma multiple times and always come to the same conclusion. It’s pretty much just a name. We’re not making any money off the name or being in this band. Actually, we’re in the hole on this one and probably will be for a while. We all have nine to five jobs and none of us are independently wealthy by any means. We created Argus because we love making music for ourselves and for other people, not because we thought we would ever get rich from it. If someone was to confront us about this issue, it would be just silly and a waste of time for both parties involved.
The artwork is really something special which really stands out, between all the mediocre stuff out there. Was it done specific for the album? Is it based around or maybe inspired by the music contained on the album?
Andy – Butch mentioned Brad (Moore) from his past work with Penance. I think we all liked what we saw. The final artwork came out way better than I ever imagined that it would. I think it fits the content of the album perfectly.
Butch – I first met Brad and his wife Diana at the Stoner Hands Of Doom Festival years ago. This was during my years with Penance. Always really liked them as people and have admired Brad’s artwork. He did the inner painting for the Penance “Alpha & Omega” CD. Always loved it as well as the art he did for Sixty Watt Shaman’s “Seeds of Decades” album. His ability to intertwine the macabre and things fanciful as well as the way he used color very much appealed to me. The fact that he was not only a great artist but also a righteous dude and someone who has been there supporting bands made him my first choice. I turned the band on to his web-site. They all liked what they saw and from there Brad and I struck up a dialogue about the art. The only preconceived notion I had for the art was I wanted it to be colorful without being happy. Brad pretty much listened to the demo and did his thing. The first draft he sent us had a lot of elements that we really loved. There was a warrior type of character in it and we told him to come up with something Lovecraftian instead, hence the beast. It is a brilliant piece of artwork. I am hoping to get a print of it to hang in my music room.
Erik – Brad Moore was commissioned to do the artwork for the album many months prior to its release. He and Butch were in constant consultation back and forth regarding its progress from what I remember. It is a very HP Lovecraftian piece and I believe really compliments and enhances the overall mood, atmosphere and energy of the music. I was totally blown away the first time I saw the completed painting.
Kevin – Brad Moore’s work on the album is amazing. We were really excited to work with him as we loved the work he did with Penance, among others. Other than the Faustus pic, though, it’s not really based too much on the lyrical content. Brad came up with a hunter’s lair type of theme, and we bounced ideas back and forth and decided on something Lovecraftian as we are fans of his. I love how it came out.
I remember Butch speaking about “the unforeseen nonsense that held up the recording sessions” on an Internet forum. What kind of problems are we talking about, and how much did this set you back?
Butch – In short – it took much longer than we expected for Emissary to get payment to the studio for our first recording sessions. Then it was delay after delay trying to get the balance of our promised recording budget so we could book time and go in to finish the album. Finally we’d had enough of “I’ll send it soon” and we decided to finish the CD on our dime and hope someone would pick it up once it was finished. We were psyched when Tim (Shadow Kingdom Records) said he wanted to release it. It works out great for us because he’s right here in Pittsburgh so it is very convenient.
Erik – When I rejoined the band last year, I remember the guys were having a real tough time getting the money promised from Emissary on sessions that had been recorded. The studio was not getting paid for work already done; and, the band was spinning its wheels losing momentum from lack of funding and lack of communication from the label. So in late 2008, the decision was made to self-finance the recording, drop the label and shop around for a more reliable/established source of distribution.I would estimate this set the band back six months as the initial recording process started in May of 2008 with the album finally released in May of 2009. However, in lieu of all the delays and headaches, I think Argus was fortunate in how things turned out. Shadow Kingdom is a really cool label to work with, and, to be a part of Tim’s classic roster is fucking killer! The man lives, breathes and bleeds “metal” in the truest sense of the word.
In my opinion two of the strongest songs open and close the album, however “Devils, Devils” and “The Outsider” are quite different songs. The first one is groovy and catchy and the last one a slow, long track with an awesome vocal performance. Tell me a little about how these two compositions came to life? Also did you put much work in getting the track list right?
Kevin – Thanks, these are two of my favorites as well. Although Jay could tell you more about the actual writing – and I’m sure he will at length, this one was pretty straightforward, with the main song being written pretty much as you hear it now, with little to no tweaking other than the intro harmony part, which was written the week before we recorded it. We just learned it, Butch wrote some lyrics, and there you have it. “The Outsider,” on the other hand, was a long process. Mike and I had been tooling around with a few of those riffs for years, but nothing seemed to come together the way we wanted to. Then, he came to practice with it one day in almost the form that’s on the album. We moved some stuff around for dramatic effect, Butch extended parts for vocals, and we finally saw the finished song that I feel really captured our vision for the song from the very beginning. I’m very proud of this one. And, although I’m sad that Mike (Wisniewski) left, I think he went out with a bang.
Jason -The slower, harmonized intro part for “Devils, Devils” was written after the rest of the song and was potentially going to be something entirely separate. I actually wrote it right before we went into the studio and ended up recording both guitar parts myself because of that fact. The rest of the song was written all in one or two days just hanging out at my house jamming, that’s how most of what I write comes out, just messing around with riffs. Mike, who has since left the band, wrote the music for “The Outsider”. It fits his style perfectly, and it’s quite an epic tune to leave the band with. He was a great guy, and a great guitar player, there were no hard feelings when he left.
Butch – I struggled for a good while trying to get this album together lyrically. Nothing would click for me. Kevin had actually mentioned using Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” as the basis for a song back when we first started writing material after I joined the band. I just never found a home for it. I finally got into a spot where it was do or die time with the words so I pulled the story out and read through it several times trying to figure out how I’d break it up to make it fit. I ran my initial draft past Erik and he gave me a few ideas to tweek it. I then ran it past Josh Hart (Chowder, Revelation) who is a big Lovecraft fan. He wrote me a very positive note about it…I figured if it impressed him it was good to go. Also, I got some kind words about the song from Karl from The Gates Of Slumber, another Lovecraft fan. So…it makes me very happy to know I’ve been able to retell the story and remain faithful to it. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out lyrically. Thank you for your compliment on the vocal lines – I think it’s one of the best performances I’ve ever recorded.
Erik – I wasn’t a part of writing these tunes and they were recorded after my return to the band. I do know I was taken by how different these tracks are from each other while still maintaining a consistency with regards to the album’s flow and thematics. “Devils, Devils” starts the album with that somber dual-guitar harmony intro which sets up an overall melancholic mood. It then moves into this punchy metallic jingle clocking in under six minutes – a bit shorter than most of the tracks on the album. “The Outsider” is a doomy/epic ten + minute monster and probably my favorite on the album. This song just had to be last on the track listing. To me it contains elements from all the songs prior with regards to riffs, atmosphere and thematics. An interesting thing we noticed “lyrically”, after we got the CD back from mastering and listened to it as a whole, was the image of the “mirror” in both of these tracks. I imagine the lyrical repetition within these tracks was unintentional, but, definitely seems to give the album a start and finish and/or an unconscious congruence with regards to subject matter.
I think “Argus” is a really strong album, and like most of the songs. “None Shall Know the Hour” and the instrumental “The Effigy Is Real” are the only two that haven’t really clicked with me so far. What are in your opinion, the strengths of these two tracks?
Kevin – It’s kind of funny that you mention it because these were two of my least favorite songs when we first wrote them. But they grew on me. I think the thing I like about “None Shall Know” is the way the vocals really tie everything together. I think this is one of the stronger performances on the album. That and the dual guitars in the middle make this one of my favorites now. “Effigy” I think is just heavy. It has some awesome guitar work and I really love the heavy, off-time middle riff. It’s one of my favorites to play. Maybe it could use some vocals, but it just never evolved that way. The ending is heavy as hell, too.
Andy – “None Shall Know The Hour” was probably one of my least favorite tracks before we went into the studio. After it was recorded and the vocals were down the song really came to life for me, even though we had played it live before. I think Jason’s lead work is strong and enjoy the harmony section in near the middle of the track.
Jason – “None Shall Know The Hour” is probably my favorite track. I think I really like it because it splits the mold a bit with lots of lead breaks, and just flows a bit different. The harmony section was written at a time in my life when I wasn’t writing a whole lot, I probably spent almost a year sitting on a couple of those riffs before I really put things together and brought it to the band to check it out. “Effigy” is a cool song, it really lends itself to our heavy guitar sound, I love hearing those opening riffs and the pounding mid-section through a loud stereo. I wrote those opening riffs three of four years ago for another project that didn’t go anywhere, I’m glad I remembered them.
Butch – On every album I’ve been a part of there is always a dark horse song that I end up liking much more once it is fully recorded than I did when it was just a song in the live set. For this album it is “None Shall Know The Hour”. It was probably my least favorite track as we headed in to the studio but I think it came out great. The swings in the song from fast to slow and changes in mood, plus Jay’s guitar work really appeal to me now that I’ve been able to let it all soak in a bit.
Erik –“None Shall Know the Hour” really took shape for me after hearing Butch’s performance on the final recording. When we first began rehearsing it, I noticed the music had a different feel than the rest of the tunes, but, I liked it still. Mucio’s solos really stood out for me on this one – very exotic and eastern sounding patterns reminiscent to a Marty Friedman style, circa early nineties,“Rust In Peace” era. This, combined with the lyrical content, which focuses on the story of the “Millerites” and the “Great Disappointment” of the mid 1800’s, as well as Butch’s delivery, really made the song a strong choice for the album. Also, I like how the track just explodes at the song’s beginning with the attack of Andy’s bass and Kev’s skins leading the charge – while the guitars fall into rank not far behind. Instrumentals are always a tough sell for me on albums. They definitely have to work with the rest of the album and as a proper segue piece in my opinion. “The Effigy Is Real” was in the first round of songs the guys demo-ed off in 2007. Just like the majority of the other songs on that demo, the band wanted to see them get out to a wider audience. With the exception of “Sleeping Dogs”, which was written prior to Balich joining the band, these songs all kind of represented a newer direction for band. This transformation leaned towards a more cohesive traditional/epic metal sound. “Effigy” is definitely a simpler and more straight forward song than the rest on the album; but, I think this allows the listener a break and a chance to catch their breath before the grand finale.
Your first release was a demo back in 2007. Four of the five songs on this one are featured on the new album, and I guess “Sleeping Dogs” will be on the vinyl EP to be released on Miskatonic. I guess the songs in question were recorded again for “Argus”, but have these songs changed in other ways since you first recorded them on the demo?
Andy – I think it will be nice to for people to be able to have a vinyl release of the demo, even with most of those tracks being on the album. I know that some of my bass lines for “Eternity” (Beyond, Part 1) are different on the album. Sometimes it’s cool to hear other cuts of a track. I know I like to buy these types of things and I think that a lot of music collectors are like that also.
Jason – I think for the most part they’re very much similar. I guess the issue that comes to mind with recording them a second time is that we had always planned on having them on a full-length release. The problem was, we had so much down time between the release of the demo and the release of the album that those tracks became a little more well-known than we anticipated.
Butch – We were torn going into the full-length as to whether or not we’d re-record any of those songs. Ultimately we decided that the full-length would be, hopefully, reaching a wider audience and we wanted those songs to be heard. It’s kind of funny in these days of getting your music out digitally or via CD-Rs at shows that folks look at demos and complete pieces of work that stand on their own. We could name a ton of bands which recorded demo versions of material and re-recorded them for their albums because the sonics would be greater and the reach of the music wider. We didn’t alter the songs at all really but I think the definitive version of each of them is on the full-length and that warrants their inclusion.
Erik – The demo was originally released as a free download on John Brenner’s Bland Hand Records site, it’s still there and anyone has access to it. There were also a limited amount of homemade CD-R copies sold/distributed by the band at DOBD Festival in 2007 with the money going directly to charity. This 10″ vinyl release on Miskatonic will be from that demo – mastered to up/even out the levels for the vinyl – and will be a smaller pressing run as well. This release will include newer artwork by Professor John Gallo (Orodruin) and will probably be more of an archival/collector piece for diehard fans of the music on a vinyl format.
Kevin – The songs have definitely evolved over time, as they all do. Plus it’s great just to have something on vinyl. Plus it’s a chance for us to work with Rich and Miskatonic, which is an amazing label.
Part II: “Boldly Stride The Doomed” (May, 2011)
Even if his name was in the booklet, I don’t think Erik played on “Argus”. How has his guitar playing affected the sound of “Boldly Stride The Doomed”?
Kevin – Our old guitarist, Mike, was the second guitarist on the debut. Erik did not play on it, but came back into the fold before the release and was able to add some vital input into the mixing process. I don’t know if his playing affected our sound really, but his enthusiasm really lit a fire under us. When Mike left, it kind of knocked the wind from our sails a bit. Having Erik come back in seemed logical, and his energy helped motivate us. He also wrote some riffs and had some great ideas for “Boldly Stride the Doomed.”
I guess it’s safe to call your debut a success. What about that album was most satisfying for you – the sales, the reviews, the feedback from fans or maybe other things?
Kevin – I think the most satisfying thing about the debut was that we got it out at all! That album was plagued with problems and setbacks – the Emissary debacle, lack of money to finish recording, Mike leaving, etc. At times, it seemed like we would never get the thing released. Tim stepped up and helped us out of a jam, releasing it on his excellent Shadow Kingdom label. Once we got it out, the response was overwhelming, and I am very proud of that album.
Butch – The accomplishment of two years work coming together with my brothers in the band was the best followed by the reception by fans and critics. It made me feel very good about what we’d created.
Coming fresh from the recordings of your new album, are you still satisfied with the way “Argus” turned out, or do you feel now, after having done another album, that there are aspects about this record that should have been handled differently?
Kevin – We are our own worst critics, so I could go on and on with things we could have done differently. Some of the songs were written shortly before we recorded, and I always think of different fills or beats that may have sounded better. But I think it’s a solid record with some great songs.
Jason – I’m happy with it, I guess there were some aspects of the recording itself that I was initially a little off about, but listening back now I really like the way it sounds and I’m glad it sounds different than the new one. To this day, I play those songs the same way now as they were recorded so that says something I suppose.
Butch – It’s funny – up until we finished “Boldly Stride The Doomed” I looked at our debut as the best album I had yet been a part of…I didn’t really see too many warts on it. I was terrified to try to follow it especially since we received a lot of praise from critics and fans on that album. Now that we have surpassed it, I hear things that I wish we ‘d done differently to make it flow better etc …but every album is like that. Ask me in two years and I’ll likely have criticisms for “Boldly…” One thing for sure is I wish I had more time with the vocals on the debut…for harmonies etc…. All that being said – I am exceedingly proud of that album and think it holds up well and has some great songs on it that will be in our set for a long, long time.
Even though I know that your debut was supposed to come out on Emissary, and Tim from Shadow Kingdom kind of came to your rescue, it’s a bit surprising that the new one is put out by Cruz Del Sur. Why and how did this happen? Is it just as convenient for you being on an European label compared to one that is based almost in your own backyard?
Jason – Our main reasons for the switch were securing some kind of recording budget and being able to reach further into Europe and other audiences. Enrico really works with us to promote the band in ways that are more active and progressive than what Tim was able to do. And I don’t think it was necessarily Tim’s goal to promote a new band that way, he helped us out and got our album finished and released, that was really all we ever expected from that arrangement.
Butch – It was important to us to have a label that could help us reach the European market and that would advertise and push the band and album. I don’t mean that as a slight to Tim who runs a great label and is one of the best and most honest men in the business. It was just time for a change for us and we feel Cruz Del Sur is the perfect fit for us and so far so good. Couldn’t be happier right now.
As I pointed out in my review of “Argus” too, this new one also seems to draw influences from both the seventies and the eighties, and both from doom and heavy metal. In other words, the music of Argus isn’t really easy to put a label on. A positive or negative thing when it comes to promoting the music, you think?
Kevin – I’m not a big fan of labels and genres. I think a lot of new bands run into problems when they get lumped into a genre but don’t quite fit. Then, when someone grabs their CD expecting a healthy slab of doom, traditional metal, prog, or whatever, they’re a little disappointed that it didn’t meet their expectations. We’ve run into that a little bit – “They’re not really doom, they’re too modern,” etc. Luckily, however, most people have been able to look past classifications and listen to our music for what it is. It has a positive twist as well, as we’re able to fit in with a wide variety of metal bands. We don’t necessarily have to focus on playing with specific bands or worry about catering to any one crowd. We cater to fans of metal in general, because that’s what we are.
Jason – I see it as a positive thing from the perspective that what we’re doing really does blend various styles of metal in a really tangible way that people can literally hear when they listen. I’d hate to be easily pigeon-holed into a genre and have people coming in with some preconceived notion of what this album is supposed to sound like and be disappointed when it’s not “true doom” or whatever. I want people to be interested and intrigued by the lack of an easy definition for our sound.
Jason – I can’t say there was anything other than production that we knew we wanted to be different, and it’s not necessarily an improvement as much as a shift toward a tone we had envisioned that better fit the mood we wanted to set. The first album was a little sharper and more mid-heavy, and we wanted to round out and thicken the guitars this time, bring the bass guitar out more, and make this album less compressed sounding and have more of that old-school, less-colored final production sound. We’re all super happy with the way it turned out.
Butch – My personal goal for myself and the band was for us to exceed the debut in songwriting, playing and singing. I think we accomplished that. Despite a very rough start for me in the studio I feel this is my own best performance to date and I feel the band also was tighter, played harder and better than we ever have.
Are all the songs on “Boldly Stride The Doomed” written after “Argus” was released? Do you have more material that wasn’t used on the new album? Which one of the new songs came together pretty easy, and which one was the hardest one to finish?
Kevin – I think a few of the riffs were around for a while, especially those in “Fading Silver Light.” Most of the songs were written after the debut was released, however. Similarly, we have some ideas around, but no finished songs ready to go. We have a habit of performing surgery on song ideas, tearing them apart, using certain riffs in other songs. So we usually end up with some great but incomplete ideas waiting to be finished. We always labor extensively over our songs, and we’re never completely satisfied until Butch puts the last note of vocals on them. That being said, I think the title track came together quickly, probably a record in Argus terms.
Jason – “Fading Silver Light”, that Kevin mentioned, was a song I wrote a long time ago, years ago. No one was into the verse riff I had originally written so I canned it for a long time then re-wrote the chorus and brought it back and it was cool with everyone. “Pieces Of Your Smile” and “Boldly Stride The Doomed” were the last ones to be finished, I wrote the riffs for “Pieces…” in chunks and threw it all together with the help of the band and came back toward the end of November with the faster ending riffs. “Boldly Stride The Doomed” was a quick effort, I spent one or two evenings at home putting together a riff Andy had written, the opening one, and a few of my own and brought it to practice the following weekend.
Butch – Hardest one for me was “Pieces of Your Smile”. I was blanking on vocal melodies except for the middle section and a lyrical concept. It was pretty much a last minute thing for me.
You’re opening the album with an instrumental and closing it in the same way. Many bands, of course, have done the same before, but what’s your idea behind it? How much work did you put into getting the right running order and flow of the album? Could those two pieces have worked somewhere else on “Boldly Stride The Doomed”?
Kevin – I had wanted to have something tie the whole album together shy of writing a full-blown concept album. I always liked when bands did this, as it gives the album a complete feel. I didn’t want the intro to be the same as the outro, and we tossed around the idea for a while, but nothing stuck. We toyed around with some riffs that Erik had written but we were never able to turn into a full song. Erik and I wrote the harmonies the day before he recorded the guitar parts, and it worked. We never really considered putting them anywhere else as the idea was an intro/outro thing. We always give a great deal of thought to running order, trying to get a great flow to the songs throughout. “Abandoning The Gates Of Byzantium” and “The Ruins Of Ouroboros” fit right in with that.
You have once again used Brad Moore to do the artwork. I remember from last time that Butch was very enthusiastic about Brad’s work with Penance and also on “Argus”. Was it a band decision to have him to the new one as well, or did the opinion of Butch count a lot?
Kevin – Everything we do is a band decision. That being said, we really didn’t discuss using any other artists. I think we had contacted him early in the process to see if he would be into doing this album and also bounce some ideas we had for the cover off of him. Once we had a timeframe for release, we contacted Brad with our idea and, luckily, he was into it and able to meet our deadline. We didn’t even have a back up plan!
Butch – The choice of Brad was initially something I suggested for the debut but it was more like “Hey – I’d like to consider Brad, what do you all think of his work?” They all loved it so it was an easy band decision and for both albums we all weighed in on concepts or tweaks etc… Like Kevin said, we do things pretty democratically.
You recently performed at Hammer Of Doom V in Germany. I didn’t attend, but heard some great things about your performance, but how do you feel that Argus fits in on a festival like this?
Butch – Though we do not consider ourselves a pure doom band we feel we fit. It was a very diverse bill with no two bands sounding the same yet everyone had some components that a doom fan could enjoy. We feel like we play music we like – we all like big riffs and guitar harmonies and a more epic vibe at times and lyrically I tend to skew towards more somber material and I think these are things that appeal to the doom crowd though we may not be a “perfect fit”. We would like to play Hammer of Doom again someday and hopefully Doom Shall Rise, Roadburn and Keep It True – we think we could slot in on any number of metal bills and fit because we can’t really be classified as anything but metal.
Part III: “Beyond The Martyrs” (November, 2013)
More metal, less doom – is that a way to explain in one short sentence how Argus has developed since the debut, or is this an explanation that is way too simple?
Butch – It’s just how we’ve progressed as songwriters and players. There is nothing pre-thought out when it comes to our writing. Songs and then albums take on a life of their own as we move along through the process. I think we wanted to write more straightforwardly, trim the fat a bit and try some different things – more aggressive maybe, less plodding. Though I still think there is the moodiness and an underlying doominess to the album. It’s just that there are spots in songs rather than whole songs. The verse in “The Hands of Time Are Bleeding” is certainly moody and doomy I think, but the song taken as a whole obviously is not. We like big riffs so ultimately that doom side is never going to be extinct in what we do but how often we’ll dip into it? Who knows? We like to approach things without putting a box around ourselves. We go for writing good songs and worry about how it fits in later.
I still love the debut album, with its various tempos and moods, but feel that both “Boldly Stride The Doomed” as well as the new one are way more balanced albums. Have the way you look at the album format and what it should be in terms of for instance coherence and diversity, changed since you released the first album?
Butch – We were just gelling as a band on that first album. We’ve spent more time as a band these last two records arranging, throwing ideas around. Being picky and selective. We also learn as we go what we like and don’t – how to get to the heart of a song and not be as repetitious either within a song or over the course of an album. “Beyond the Martyrs” was a more conscious effort to focus in on the songs and not be so sprawling and not have an album that was as long as the last two. Also we definitely took the length of vinyl into account when it came down to selecting songs for the album and the flow of it.
A common factor for all three releases is the fact that it takes some time digesting them. How do you work to make sure that there is more to each song than what the listener might catch upon first listen?
Butch – Well, I think we have writing styles within the band that contrast but work well together. Someone may have the skeleton of the song done – Jay for example – and then we’ll decide what we really like, what works and sometimes others will come up with an idea that wasn’t even in the original blueprint. So with five voices all being taken seriously within the band often there are things going on that come from different mindsets and I think it makes our material interesting to listen to. Add a great engineer and producer like Dave Watson into the mix and it all comes together and often ends up in places we didn’t expect.
When we spoke around the release of “Boldly Stride The Doomed”, you said something like: “Ask me again in two years, and I might critize something about “Boldly Stride The Doomed” too. So, in retrospect, is there something about your second album that should have been done differently?
Butch – I feel that is a strong album. Maybe a bit long but not sure what song I would have scrapped to shorten it. Our live sets are still a majority from that album. A song like “Durendal” is now a mainstay. It’s not a perfect album, but it’s really good and I don’t really have anything that jumps out at me and makes me cringe or wish “damn we should have gone in a different direction there”.
You also told me that better promotion was one of the main reasons why you signed for Cruz Del Sur between “Argus” and “Boldly Stride The Doomed”. Are you satisfied two albums into the cooperation? And most importantly, has the promotion done by Cruz Del Sur resulted in improved working conditions for the band?
Butch – Enrico has been very supportive of our music and showing belief in us. We had a good relationship with Earsplit on the last album and Clawhammer has been doing their part promoting this one. We could still be getting more of a push in Europe though and we’ll be sure to look out for our interests in that area with the next album. Our working conditions have improved some but when you’re three albums in and promoters in Germany won’t take you on, you know more diligent work needs to be done to increase our profile in the European market. Playing Europe the last three years I think has helped generate a good buzz about our live show and the folks who like us really, really like us. If we could tour more it would really help. but we have to work within our given work and family parameters. We need a more aggressive game plan to get our name out there.
Apparently you had no left over songs from “Boldly Stride The Doomed”, just some ideas floating around. Did it feel like starting from scratch this time around and does that necessarily mean that the songwriting process is more demanding?
Butch – Yes and it was demanding and stressful and pressure filled…at least for me. But once we start things flow pretty well. With three riff writers there are always ideas. Jay was a machine for the new album. But every time out we, of course, want to get better as writers and players and push ourselves so there is always some sense of “ok, let’s focus on doing a little more of this” or “no, we’ve done that to death”. The thing is once you have albums that people really like, expectations are raised and the need to deliver is there. But the trick is not to get caught up in the pressure and force it. I think we keep each other in check and we’re not dicks to each other which is why we can hone these songs without major, Dokken-like upheaval. Hahaha!
As the title often says something about the lyrics of an album, it’s pretty unusual to have an instrumental title track. Is the title “Beyond The Martyrs” fitting for the rest of the lyrics on the album? I guess it must represent something more than just being a cool sounding title?
Butch – Well we had the instrumental done and had no title. I had decided from the outset I would not base any lyrics on the album title as it was intended as a tribute to our friend who had written a book by that title. So someone suggested we use the title for the instrumental and so it is fitting that we did it that way. The album title has nothing to do with the lyrics. I never write with a common thread in mind. If one seems to be there it is purely coincidental and mostly due to me writing, often, from my life.
I haven’t had a chance to read the lyrics, but “By Endurance We Conquer” must be about Ernest Shackleton and his expedition with “Endurance”. Which aspects about the story, the surroundings and the hopelessness, or Shackleton’s bravery and character, do you find most fascinating?
Butch – Well it is fascinating to me that he and his crew all lived for over two years in that wasteland. I mean what are the odds? Explorations prior by others had left folks dead. Here 28 men survived and were rescued against all odds, stormy seas. To travel for 17 days in a lifeboat and then have to go over mountains and glaciers to reach help – I can’t even fathom where that sort of bravery comes from. Shackleton kept his men together, unified and I think that went a long, long way to them surviving. No one man was more important than the other including their leader. Truly a great story. You really couldn’t script it any better if it were a film.
I have got the impression that your compositions live their own life until you reach the studio and even while you’re in the studio, sometimes forcing small changes in song titles, lyrics or other stuff. Do you feel that this adds an extra dimension to you songs and also helps keeping yourself on the toes all the time? As these decisions must be pretty spontaneous, do you sometimes regret changing things or leaving stuff out?
Butch – By the time we reach the studio, the songs are usually done completely musically. The only things left that require work or revision are the vocal melodies and lyrics. This is because that is simply how I work. I don’t keep notebooks full of lyrical ideas. I often have sections of melodies waiting to be written. The pressure brings out the best in me even if it does turn me into a complete bastard while I’m in the actual process. I can’t think of anything I regret changing or anything I wish I’d done differently. Sometimes performance-wise there may be a note or two that I think “I wish I’d hit that more cleanly” or maybe times I wished we’d had more time to explore vocal harmonies.
Butch – We usually just give Brad a very vague framework and let him do his thing. He’s great at what he does. We love all three covers. The debut started as more of a warrior holding sword kind of thing and we had him revise it to the Lovecraftian beastie who has appeared on all the jackets now. Other than that we say very little and just set him loose. He never disappoints.
Kevin said pretty early in the process of creating this new album that “Many of the newer tracks illustrate a more up-tempo/aggressive approach in the songwriting”. Being interested in how and why music turns out the way it does, do you believe there is an explanation to be found within the band, or perhaps inside the members, or was this due to circumstances only? Did this approach affect the lyrical content in any way?
Butch – I just think it was a matter of how the songs were developing early on. We knew once we were about halfway in that we were headed in a more aggressive, less doomy direction and more straightforward maybe. To the point. It’s really just circumstance as far as I can tell. When you write you tend to not want to repeat what you’ve done and so you tend to discard stuff that sounds too familiar. Lyrical content was developed the same way it always has been – at the last minute during the recording process. In fact, probably one third or more of the album didn’t even have vocal melodies until I hit the studio. The band was hearing my parts for the first time during sessions for leads and then the mix. Lyrically I did what I normally do – let the mood of the song dictate where I will go. Did a couple historical things and the rest is personal experience focused on the last couple of years.
Since we spoke last time, you have had a few different releases out that we haven’t really covered. First off, did the release of the “Sleeping Dogs”-EP, in the end released by Pariah Child, not Miskatonic, make sense to you as it really took a long time getting that one out?
Butch – It was a bummer it took so long to get the EP out but we were glad to just get it released. It was never intended to be something where the timing was crucial but it was good to finally have it done and available.
Were you satisfied with the “Hammer Of Doom”-DVD? Do you use high quality audio and video like this to evaluate your own gig?
Butch – The video came out well. I don’t know that we evaluated our gig but certainly we could tell we were nervous to an extent. I know I was and Kevo came off the stage shaking from the high of how great that crowd was to us. We had to cut one song, “Boldy Stride The Doomed”, as we completely trainwrecked it during the set. But yes we’re happy with it for what it is – more of a promotional release.
Finally, how did you come up with the idea of the “Blood, Fire, Beer”-EP? Will we see more of these kinds of recordings released by the band?
Butch – “Blood Fire Beer” was simply made to get us some extra income when we played in Dublin and Belfast in 2012. It was a fun to do and we ended up having to do a second run. Cool enough little EP that served its purpose. We’ll likely do things like this in the future as well. If we can agree on songs to cover. Hahaha!
A big thank you goes out to the band for their in depth and interesting answers, and especially to Butch for concluding this feature by doing the interview for the last part of the article.