ARDUINI/BALICH - Dawn Of Ages
Itís a rare thing in heavy metal to come across a band named after two of its musicians. Especially Victor Arduini is an important figure, considering that he was a founding member of Fates Warning, but left in the mid-Eighties to concentrate his energies on his family, just before these progressive metal pioneers made it big with Awaken The Guardian and soon later with No Exit. Butch Balich used to be a later singer with second generation doom metal pioneers Penance and currently is a member of Argus. They both met a couple of years ago when Victor Arduini tried a comeback with Freedoms Reign, who were signed to Cruz Del Sur Music, just as Argus were. Arduini decided that he couldnít be as creative as he wanted to be with this new band, and thatís the beginning of Arduini/Balich, a trio completed by Chris Judge, who used to be the drummer in Freedoms Reign, and I wonder if I am the only one to wonder if he isnít frustrated that his name isnít a part of the band name.
Arduini/Balichís goal is to create monumental doomed progressive metal, and they definitely succeeded. The album starts with the ten-minute opener The Fallen, where the band shows from the start that they are not in a hurry to get to the point. A one-minute long guitar intro paves the way for something like a second intro, with the other instruments joining in, creating a melancholy atmosphere reminding of early Trouble. Especially the weeping guitar should allow for this comparison. Nearly halfway into the song, itís finally time for Butch Balich to join in, and his strong vocals are really quite unique. At times they remind me of the hoarse perfection of Omenís J.D. Kimball, an extraordinary artist who left us much too soon. The following Forever Fade is at six minutes the shortest regular track on the album, and despite a doomy intro, it gains momentum rather soon and feels like a refreshing mix between US power metal and proto doom metal.
An then things get really crazy with the next three tracks. Into Exile makes it nearly to twelve minutes, The Wraith even to nearly fourteen minutes, and the very progressive Beyond The Barricade is seventeen and a half minutes long. Of course there is always room for self-indulgence, but there are plenty of ingenious moments, brilliant guitar work, excellent vocals, even if at times there might be the one or the other frustrating moment, with the listener wanting to scream: get to the point! But thatís a very rare feeling indeed, and especially on the longest track does the trio find to their most splendid form. The three minute outro The Gates Of Acheron finishes the regular part of the album, which concludes the CD version at a little over an hour.
The LP version needs to have its fourth side filled, and therefore the band recorded three cover versions as bonus tracks. It starts with Sunrise, a song from Uriah Heepís criminally overlooked album The Magicianís Birthday. In my opinion, this band has always been much more than the one-hit-wonder of Lady In Black, and itís nice to hear them covered so well. Wolf Of Velvet Fortune is a cover version of an obscure American rock band from the late Sixties called The Beau Brummels, and it has to be said that Arduini/Balich manage to maintain the hippie atmosphere of the source material. Finally we get a cover version of Black Sabbathís After All (The Dead) from their early Nineties album Dehumanizer where Ronnie James Dio made a comeback. An unusual choice but a very understandable gesture, considering that this vocalist has been a huge influence on Butch Balich.
In this case, the LP version truly offers even more than the already well filled CD, and even if Arduini/Balich neither reinvent doom nor progressive metal, they still have come up with an excellent hybrid that combines US power, doom and progressive metal into an occasionally self-indulgent, but mostly just brilliant and above all timeless mix. Recommended for fans of truest metal indeed!