I'm always pretty impressed when a young band is able to sidestep all of the normal problems and clichés that less-experienced bands run into. That's precisely what Syracuse-based Argos Checkmate were able to do on their self-titled debut. What the tech-metal stylings lack in brevity are made up for with some impressive musicianship and complicated song structures.
Save for some spoken-word parts sprinkled throughout the album's 12 songs, there are no real pitfalls to be found. The five men that make up the band are very well in tune with each other, and their ability to coalesce a variety of playing styles and speeds into one cohesive effort is admirable if nothing else.
Their style is a tough one to play and make interesting; after all, what are you going to do that Breather Resist or the Minor Times hasn't already done better? What AC has done is put more of a focus on the instrumental aspect of their songs. That's not to say the vocals aren't important -- quite the opposite, but this quintet spends a lot of their time setting the stage for those vocals. Through various musical arrangements they manage to bring the vocals in from a different angle. The execution is extremely important with a philosophy like that, and they're able to absolutely nail it. "In the Warm" is the record's shortest endeavor, clocking in at four minutes even, and all but thirty seconds of that is spent setting the stage.
The guitar work starts off very quietly, and in an almost whimsical pattern, entrances you while the volume slowly increases and the rest of the band slowly enters the fold -- but it's now just beginning. In meticulous fashion, the chord progressions meander through a crisp and engaging path, until seemingly out of nowhere the frantic screaming pierces the rhythm and sets the song ablaze. The drums kick-start, the guitarists work to build a wall of dissonance five miles thick, and it's over just as soon.
More impressive than that, is the near-13-minute "Cerulean Tide," in which not a single instance is wasted. The patience and precision shown in this song displays a band mature beyond their years, as the continuous roller coaster ride from quiet to chaos is nothing short of enthralling. The vocals grip, the guitars destroy, and the drums and bass keep the time perfect -- not an easy thing to do with such a calamitous musical effort. Never does a moment go by where the band is not keeping you on your toes, leaving you waiting for the next monumental dropoff or explosion of distortion.
From production (somewhat muddy, which suits the album perfectly) to the vocalist's incredible screaming power, Argos Checkmate already have the pieces in place to take their career many, many years down the road. Where you see some college kids, I see seasoned veterans.