Six Dumb Questions with Arduini / Balich

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

arduini balich

When I finally got to sit with it and give the respectful listen it deserved, I had the most powerful oh-shit-this-is-the-real-deal moment with Arduini / Balich‘s Dawn of Ages (review here) that I’ve have with any single record in 2017. Released by Cruz del Sur Music, the 78-minute full-length is rife with an energy born of classic and progressive metal, and while it earns immediate interest owing to the pedigree of its core duo of vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich (formerly of Penance, currently of Argus) and guitarist/composer Victor Arduini (formerly of Fates Warning and Freedoms Reign, currently of Entierro), it’s the poise and righteousness of the six originals and three bonus covers that make Dawn of Ages stand among 2017’s finest debuts and finest albums overall.

Granted, it’s an undertaking with the aforementioned 2LP runtime — even without the covers it tops an hour — but to listen to extended pieces like “The Wraith” (13:44) and “Beyond the Barricade” (17:27), one finds Arduini / Balich capturing the essence of a place somewhere between progressive and power metal, the Connecticut-based guitarist and Pennsylvania-based vocalist, as well as drummer Chris Judge (a bandmate of Arduini‘s in Freedoms Reign), bringing out highlight performances as crisp in their execution as they are complex in their construction as they are worthy of a neck-breaking headbang session on “Forever Fade.” There are flashes of traditional doom throughout “Into Exile,” opener “The Fallen” and the brief instrumental “The Gates of Acheron,” but while that darker side of the metal spectrum is acknowledged in a take on Black Sabbath‘s “After All (The Dead),” that cover is no less an appropriate inclusion on Dawn of Ages than Uriah Heep‘s “Sunrise” or The Beau Brummels‘ “Wolf of Velvet Fortune” in emphasizing the vast swath of ground Arduini / Balich traverse across their original material.

In terms of composition, recording process and the potential for Arduini / Balich to continue forward as an ongoing project, there was a lot of fodder for discussion here, and fortunately, Victor Arduini was happy to oblige, even going to far as to address each of the questions-within-the-questions individually, taking on the whole thing and leaving nothing out. That effort is deeply appreciated, to be sure, and as I dig in once again to Dawn of Ages (which you’ll also find streaming at the bottom of this post) for what I suspect won’t nearly be the last time, it’s great to know that at some point in the future there just might be a sophomore outing to come.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

arduini balich dawn of ages

Six Dumb Questions with Arduini / Balich

Tell me how the Arduini / Balich project got started. What was the impetus behind writing these songs? How did they come together and when did Butch and Chris become involved? What was it you wanted to do differently coming off of Freedoms Reign?

I began writing new music towards the end of Freedoms Reign’s promotional tour. I was already moving on emotionally from what that band was about and had my “10 seconds as a singer” out of my system. I just wanted to get back to playing guitar and focusing on creating some riffs that would challenge me as a guitarist and musician. I told the guys I was going to do a solo-project where I could allow myself the freedom to produce an album where I could be free to let my ideas breath without any restrictions.

It was all an emotional connection to the music I was getting back into after some years away from my roots in Fates. With social media, YouTube and internet radio, I was like a sponge soaking up so much new music that I didn’t know existed. I was becoming inspired by learning there were so many great bands and artists out there still putting out some very cool music.

I would come up with riffs at home and present them to Chris to see how he would interpret them. Usually we would jam on them and other ideas would naturally follow. We spent about six months working stuff out and Chris was able to put down his drum tracks to the basic structure. I spent the next year writing and recording all the guitars and creating layer upon layer of music that transformed the songs into what became the music for the album. I found it difficult to find a singer who had the right voice and wound be into the music I created.

I originally was going to have a singer from Brazil but found it too difficult to work out. Brian and I knew each other from doing some shows together and he literally reached out the day I let the other singer go. We talked and he was really into the music I shared. It took some time with our schedules but Brian took the songs one by one and wrote some incredible lyrics along with some very emotional and power vocals which I think are the best he’s ever done.

I wanted to create music that spoke from my soul without worry or restrictions to style, length or sound. I knew it would be heavy and dark and as Chris and I worked them out it became progressive as well with the different time signatures and complexity of the arrangements.

What was the timeline like from start to finish on Dawn of Ages? How long were you recording the songs and how were they pieced together? How much did the material develop in the studio as opposed to being plotted out beforehand?

It took a little over two years from start to finish. There were times it had to be put on hold which helped me relook at things and make adjustments along the way. I don’t think it would have been as complex if it was completed sooner as I ended up adding a lot of ideas when there was nothing else to do with it.

The demo phase lasted about six months where I’d take home the ideas from rehearsal and piece things together until we had a rough structure from start to finish. Chris did his drum tracks pretty quickly but from there it was over a year of layering various sounds, solos, etc. “The Wraith”’s drums are actually from a rehearsal which I was able to piece together and utilize for the final album.

[The material developed in the studio] Quite a bit. I mean I’d create riffs which became the structure but from there I had no idea of all the layers that would end up over it. There were many nights of just messing around and every so often some magic would come out of it. Some stuff I still don’t know where it came from. I guess that’s a blessing from being in a creative moment which I’ve always admired from The Beatles in their later recordings.

Talk about self-producing in this new context. How was your working relationship with Nick Bellmore? How did it compare to your time in the studio with Entierro or Freedoms Reign?

To me [self-producing] was what made the album so personal. I took the time to work out the arrangements and trying out different sounds, approaches and ideas get what was in my head onto tape. I love working in my studio and would try out all kinds of mixes and reevaluating until I was happy. Producing your own music works if you have a strong idea of what you want from it and you don’t care to please anyone but yourself. Making music is a passion and having the ability to put together such a project was very special and rewarding to me.

Nick is so good at what he does. As a drummer he helped me get some great tracks down and always could create the sound and mood I was looking for. I did just about all the guitars at home including the sounds I wanted but he always was there as an extra ear and helped me ensure it was always sonically as good as it could be. He is just a great guy and teaches me along the way which ends up helping us both do bigger and better things together. Nick actually played drums on “Forever Fade,” and two of the bonus tracks, “Sunrise” and “After All (The Dead).”

When I recorded with FR it was the typical format of everyone laying down their individual tracks as they had worked them out for rehearsal. With A/B, it was mostly experimentation with no restrictions. I could make any decision without running it by others which is why one is called a band and this was a true solo-project.

Tell me about writing “Beyond the Barricade.”

That song took on a life of its own. There was no previous idea of writing such an epic. I just took the song piece by piece and it seemed to build upon itself at rehearsal. Week after week we would jam what we had and new riffs and ideas flowed which we always got onto tape. I’d take it home and work stuff out maybe writing something new and when we played again it just kept evolving. The cool thing is we were able to play the basic structure from start to finish. It was just all the layers and sounds which took it to another level. Again I was at a creative peak during that time and it was easier than you’d think.

What was behind the decision to include the three covers, and how were each of those tracks chosen?

We had the opportunity to do a 2LP vinyl but when laying it out we really had three sides so Brian and I started throwing ideas out to cover. “Sunrise” was something I wanted to do since I saw Brian earlier in the year and heard him sing to it in his car. “After All” was something I always felt Brian could nail and I love playing Sabbath. Brian brought “Wolf” to my attention and I was mesmerized by its beauty and ode to the trippy ‘60s vibe. It was one of the toughest songs to interpret and record.

Will you do more as Arduini / Balich? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I think so. Brian and I are very proud of this album and thoroughly enjoyed the process of making it and working together which is first and foremost why we do it. We’ve discussed doing the next one which I hope will happen but there’s no timeline. What I enjoyed most about doing this one was the natural creativity that inspired it and the joy of its process. I became so emotionally attached to it and I need some time to move away for a bit. I just don’t want to force anything and would like to come back to it all when I feel there’s something new to say. Most likely by early next year I’ll messing around and we’ll go from there.

I just want to say to anyone who’s checked it out how thankful I am that you did so and appreciate your support and interest. We were both pretty floored by the response and it’s cool when someone breaks it down and you can tell they really listened and got what we were trying to achieve. Thanks so much.

Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages (2017)

Arduini / Balich on Thee Facebooks

Arduini / Balich on Bandcamp

Cruz del Sur Music website

Cruz del Sur Music on Thee Facebooks

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The Obelisk Radio Adds: High Brian, Arduini/Balich, Audion, Grey Gallows, Smoke Mountain

Posted in Radio on June 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk radio cavum

If you’re a regular denizen of The Obelisk Radio, you’ve probably already guessed by the massively expanded playlist that we’re back on the main server at this point. It’s been months on the backup, and while anyone is still reading, let me just say out loud how much I owe to the hard work Slevin has put into the back end of making this thing happen. From a huge file-recovery operation to yesterday turning the thing back on after I moved a bunch of files and screwed it up yet again, the dude is just unbelievable. Seriously. This site is coming up on nine years old, and Slevin has made it happen every step of the way from a technical standpoint. I am in awe of his prowess and generosity of spirit.

So now that we’re back up and running at full capacity, the only thing to do is to keep building it going forward. And here we are.

The Obelisk Radio adds for June 13, 2017:

High Brian, Hi Brain

high-brian-hi-brain

Though they start out with the post-Queens of the Stone Age shuffle of “Liquid Sweet,” the crux of Austrian rockers High Brian‘s playfully titled debut long-player, Hi Brain, lies in classic psychedelia, unafraid to directly make a Beatles reference or two in “Aquanautic Smoke” or name a track after Jefferson Airplane‘s Surrealistic Pillow. That song, “Surrealistic Pillow,” turns out to be one of Hi Brain‘s catchiest, but hooks about throughout the nodding “All but Certainty” and the later, Stubb-style raucousness of the pair “The Conversion” and “Blood Money” as well, while centerpiece “All the Other Faces” and the aforementioned “Aquanautic Smoke” engage effects-laden drift and poised fluidity, resulting in an overarching sense of within-genre aesthetic variety that moves easily throughout the vinyl-ready 44-minute offering. They close with the molten roll of “Time,” their longest cut at 5:52 and a bolder melodic take, as if to signal a potential direction of their growth on their way out. There are plenty of encouraging signs before they get there, certainly, but hey, one more never hurt. An impressive introduction to a project that one hopes continues to develop and expand its approach.

High Brian website

Stone Free Records website

Mountain Range Creative Factory

 

Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages

ARDUINI BALICH DAWN OF AGES

Words like “powerhouse” are invented for releases like Arduini/Balich‘s Dawn of Ages. The Cruz del Sur release brings together Fates Warning guitarist Victor Arduini (who also produced) and Argus vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich, and while I’ll confess that on first listen I went right to their cover of Sabbath‘s “After All (The Dead)” — fucking righteous; and there aren’t a lot of people I’d trust to take on that song or anything from the Dio era — extended pieces like “Beyond the Barricade” (17:27) and “The Wraith” (13:44) offer listeners a deep push into a heavy metal that’s progressive, powerful and doomed all at the same time, executed with a clarity and a purpose that shimmers with class and just the right balance of patience and aggression. Rest easy, traveler, for you are in the hands of masters. Rounded out by drummer Chris Judge, Arduini/Balich is what happens when heavy metal goes right, and from the doomly unfolding of opener “The Fallen” through the 2LP’s three concluding covers of Beau Brummels‘ “Wolf of Velvet Fortune,” Uriah Heep‘s “Sunrise” and the already noted Dehumanizer highlight, there isn’t one moment where they relinquish their hold on either their craft or their audience’s attention. It’s the kind of outing that might cause a last-minute revision to best-of-the-year-so-far list, to say the least of it. Not to be greedy, but I’ll take a follow-up as soon as possible. Thanks.

Arduini/Balich on Thee Facebooks

Cruz del Sur Music website

 

Audión, La Historia de Abraham

audion-la-historia-de-abraham

If the driving Motörhead-onic thrust of the title-track to Audión‘s La Historia de Abraham rings familiar, it might be because the rhythm section of the Buenos Aires trio consists of bassist Gonzalo Villagra (also vocals) and drummer Walter Broide (also backing vocals), both formerly of Los Natas. Honestly, that pedigree would probably be enough for me to get on board with the 10-track/49-minute self-released full-length, but then you get into the roll and drift of the subsequent “Llegaron Sordos” and the fluid cascade of “Colmillo Blanco,” and guitarist Dizzy Espeche makes his presence felt tonally and vocally throughout to add a new personality to whatever familiar aspects might persist. “Lesbotrans” dives into a ’70s-style swing and the blown-out “Diablo vs. Dios” follows it with the age-old question of what might happen if The Who went garage punk, but there’s flourish of psychedelia on the interlude “Para Rosita” before “El Carancho” and “Queruzalem” round out with some of La Historia de Abraham‘s weightiest impacts. I think it’s fair to say Audión have some tinge of Los Natas‘ style to them, but their first outing shows them working toward building something new from that as well, and that makes their arrival all the more welcome.

Audion on Thee Facebooks

Audion on Bandcamp

 

Grey Gallows, Underlord

grey-gallows-underlord

Not that it isn’t plenty malevolent on its surface, but there’s an even more extreme threat lurking beneath “Underlord,” the nine-minute opener, titular and longest track (immediate points) on the debut full-length from Phoenix, Arizona’s Grey Gallows. It doesn’t take long for that sense of extremity to manifest in a blackened sensibility that pervades both in the riffs of a song like “Belladonna” — the middle cut of the five included — or the overarching spaciousness that finds its way into the grime-coated “West of Hell,” which follows. With a depth of guitar worthy of filling one’s lungs, “West of Hell” churns in a manner faster and somewhat sludgier than the alternately nodding and atmospheric “Priestess” showed the Opoponax Records outing to be earlier, six-stringers Joe Distic and Cat weaving noted lines and crunch riffs around each other for seven densely grooved minutes amid low-end push from bassist Lee, adaptable and creative drumming from Shane and Zue Byrd‘s vocals, which hit in form no less distorted in the back half of “Priestess” than they are punker drawled in closer “Buzzard Dust.” Nasty. Nasty, nasty, nasty. That’s basically what the math works out to on the 35-minute outing, but it’s worth noting that even on their first album, Grey Gallows demonstrate a ready willingness to balance various stylistic impulses off each other in such a way that’s only going to make their sound richer as they proceed. Richer, and even nastier. So be it.

Grey Gallows on Thee Facebooks

Opoponax Records webstore

 

Smoke Mountain, Smoke Mountain

smoke-mountain-smoke-mountain

The first EP from this Floridian three-piece does precisely what it’s supposed to do: introduces a newcomer band with three unpretentious tracks of dirt-fuzz riffing. The immediate vibe of opener “Demon” is early Acid King as the vocals follow the riff in classic stonery fashion, but the three songs get longer as they go and “Violent Night” proves immediately more spacious en route to the eponymous march of “Smoke Mountain.” What would probably be called a demo in a prior age, Smoke Mountain‘s Smoke Mountain makes its primary impression tonally but shows potential in its songwriting as well, and as a quick sampling of what the band are getting up to in their first stages, there’s little more one could reasonably ask of it, particularly as “Smoke Mountain” hammers home its chorus in a balance of clean vocal melody and absolutely filthy guitar, bass and drum crash. That duality, should they maintain it as they move forward into whatever might come next, can only serve them well. One to keep an eye on.

Smoke Mountain on Thee Facebooks

Smoke Mountain on Bandcamp

 

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