Friday, March 30, 2018

Argus Megere - VEII

You could almost write an entire article about all the connections that Argus Megere’s lineup and sound has to Negură Bunget. But, the main takeaway is this: VEII shows that the band can stand on nearly equal footing. It’s as if the two bands share the same majestic place high up on some metaphorical mountain. While it would be really easy to subconsciously punish the band for coming so close to (but not quite replicating) Negură Bunget’s dark romanticism, VEII is absolutely a solid album in its own right. It forges its own path rather than trying to recapture lightning in a bottle.

Some key point of difference are the traces of progressive inclinations similar to Enslaved. Importantly, the band’s approach is more traditionally metal: they rely far more on riff or melody based structural anchors compared to Negură Bunget’s frequent use of massive dynamic changes. A great example of this is the sugary and somewhat traditional, but engrossing, guitar solo rounding out the end of “Umbre ratacite in piatra apuse.” Another key point are the shockingly stunning clean vocals, they are in a league completely of their own. These vocals are 100% my new favorite cleans, and compare well to what you might expect in Borknagar’s music.

The overall atmosphere on VEII is incredibly triumphant and uplifting, and while the band’s incorporation of folk influences is relatively subtle compared to what you may be expecting, it still gives off a distinctly Romanian black metal feel. Synthesizers provide a frequent harmonic backdrop for the music, but aren’t as heavy handed as many “symphonic” metal bands use (Interestingly, Sol Faur is credited with recording both the keyboards and drums). Still, the synths, along with an ample helping of effects and occasional violin, help to cement the band’s unique style. One particularly beautiful example of this is how the layered violin work on “Tabla” at one point mixes a fast trill-based melody with high synth notes before transitioning to a more reserved clean vocal section. Absolutely brilliant stuff of the sort you won’t find anywhere else.

A crisp, earthy, atmosphere makes the instruments feel like they were recorded outdoors and similar to the synthesizer’s light touch, each instrument slides into the mix like a soft breeze. Unlike many bands that aim for a naturalist vibe, Argus Megere always has a clear vision of how to keep the music blatantly heavy. In fact, a number of the riffs on the album are borderline chug-fests with how heavy they are. But it always works. What really blew me away was sticking the Romanian lyrics into Google translate and finding exactly the kind of nature themes that the music alone was already able to independently convey.

The pacing here is also excellent. However, there’s a slightly awkward lag between the third and final songs that makes me sad every time I hear it. Is the album over already? After the last track though, there is such a clear sense of finality and resolution that it seems like the band was just teasing the listener earlier. We should all be incredibly grateful for this because the album’s 47ish minutes are spread across only four tracks, each of which is over ten minutes long. The band handles this setup so well that the tracks breeze by without lagging for even a moment, and it reinforces the album’s grandeur.

ather than wishing the band sounded more like their famous brethren, Negură Bunget, I wish they focused more on their own strengths; namely their use of vocals and their grand sense of pacing. The entire band is responsible for making the soaring cleans work so well, and there’s no shame in showing off a bit more when you have both the pipes for it and the framework to make it successful. Along the same lines, where a lot of bands release very long albums just for the hell of it, Argus Megere is the kind of group that not only is capable of a long album, but really ought to expand on their grandiose atmosphere with longer releases. Still, the 47 minutes on VEII are epic in the truest sense of the word and this album is necessary listening for those who are fans of Negură Bunget (and also a good chunk of people who aren’t).

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