WISHBONE ASH – ARGUS: The Heavy-Folk-Prog Dream, Realized

If a band is lucky, they achieve a moment where their ambitions, abilities and communication merge into a kind of alchemy that produces a perfect album. In the middle of this moment, all the songs will come out brilliant and everyone involved – from the players to the producers to the engineers – never takes a wrong step. Every element will magically fall into the right spot, creating a final result that shines brilliantly from every angle. Such a magical album often becomes the standard by which the rest of the group’s work is measured – and that’s exactly the case with Argus by Wishbone Ash.

The group considers Argus the culmination of their early career. That’s not nostalgia or hyperbole: past albums had that classic early ’70s vibe of a band showing all the styles they could do on different songs. On Argus, they merge all their different styles into each song. Case in point: opener “Time Was” starts off with gauzy acoustic guitars and gently-harmonized vocals before shifting into a boisterous rocker where both guitars and vocals harmonize with taut energy. “Sometime World” pulls off a similar trick with a circular melody that grows in intensity and speed from a slide-driven ballad to a relentless piledriver fuelled by a fast bassline. “Blowin’ Free” and its joyous evocation of young love brings the energetic first side to a close, throwing in a nice left-turn of a bridge that adds a surprise touch of half-tempo dreaminess. All the exploratory joy of the past albums is there but the arrangements have a new sharpness and focus.

The second side of Argus is as close as Wishbone Ash ever got to a concept album, offering a suite of four songs that contrast the drive for war with the humanity of the people caught up in the war’s battles. “The King Will Come” is a majestic call to arms, with a stunning army-of-guitars fade-in, while “Warrior” takes the point of view of a downtrodden man who resolves to fight even as he feels the pull of the love left behind. Between those two, “Leaf And Stream” testifies to the yearning and introspection that gets abandoned during wartime and the despondently gorgeous “Throw Down The Sword” closes the album with a meditation the futility of battle.  The music for these songs covers everything from heavy rock to pastoral acoustic stylings, creating an ever-shifting, emotional cascade of sounds that shows the mileage you can get from two guitars, a bass and a drum kit.

Simply put, Argus achieves the idealized dream on an album, taking you on a journey that encompasses a range of emotions and sounds. It’s beautifully arranged and benefits from crisp, detailed yet minimalist production by Derek Lawrence that sounds timeless (the engineering was handle by Martin Birch, who would soon be producing Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, et al.).  Wishbone Ash would immediately begin experimenting with variations on their sound after this to varying degrees of success but Argus will always remains the moment when they touched perfection.

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