As a forward slash between two names generally denotes, it’s collaboration time people! In the dark corner we have one of the founding guitarists of Progressive Metal pioneers Fates Warning (he was on the first two albums with the high-and-higher style singer) and in the even darker corner we have vocalist Brian Balich of American doomsters Argus – the man with a ‘non-more-metal’ voice! Along with drummer Chris Judge (a colleague of Arduini’s from his former band Freedom’s Reign), this 3 piece have concocted a sound that is whilst being everything you would hope for when you consider their influences, also manages to utterly surprise…when you consider their influences.

It’s unashamedly and wonderfully Metal. Heavy, Sabbath-honed riffs, blend perfectly with intricate acoustic parts, interesting time changes and mood shifts. For those unfamiliar with Balich’s vocal delivery, it seems to encapsulate so many classic Metal vocalists without being anyone else in particular. It is powerful, intense and perfectly suited to the doom-tinged slightly progressive Metal “Dawn Of Ages” bursts with. The tempos range from grindingly slow to mid-paced bombast, with tempo changes to enhance and unnerve at many a turn. Four tracks on this six track album are over ten minutes long, but really don’t seem it, as the music never lets your attention waver.

I touched on earlier that the music on offer is both a surprise AND to be expected given the people involved. You might initially think that this is so much heavier and removed from Fates Warning for example, but once you realize that Fates Warning’s first two albums were much darker than they appeared at the time, things start to make sense. Take away the slightly squeaky vocalist, replace him with Balich’s Metal tones, remove some of Jim Mateos’s slightly twiddly guitar noodlings, replace it with a much more Iommi style approach, give it all a modern production, darken it a little more and you very nearly have this album’s overall sound. That’s not the whole story of course, just a vague idea.

Delving deeper, there’s much on offer style-wise here. There’s a bit of Jag Panzer in the band’s quicker moments, but that’s equally balanced by a track like ‘The Wrath’, which with it’s striding, slow-burning heaviness, it reminds me at times of Solitude Aeturnus and with more than a passing nod to Krux. As an in depth example, take the epic 17.27 minute ‘Beyond The Barricade’. It manages to start with the dynamics of Queensryche in their heyday, but it effortlessly morphs into something that wouldn’t be out of place on Sabbath’s “Dehumanizer”. Yet as the song progresses, different time signatures are gradually introduced that takes the whole thing into an ever-switching world of dark Progressive Metal battling with elements of say, Grand Magus. And it certainly doesn’t feel like 17 minutes – that’s just one song!

As if an hour of original music wasn’t enough, the band also treat us to 3 vinyl-only cover versions – Uriah Heep’s ‘Sunrise’ (which shows a groovier hard rocking side to the band) Beau Brummel’s ‘Wolf Of Velvet Fortune’ (highlighting Arduini/Balich’s psychedelic side with this faithfully acoustic personalization of the 1967 track) and Black Sabbath’s ‘After All (The Dead)’ (which is just as reverential and faithful as you would expect whilst incorporating plenty of their own sound). So if you like your Metal with a doom riddled attitude and approach, spiced up with progressive dashes and a healthy dose of good, time-honoured Heavy Metal, then you simply MUST check out Arduini/Balich.

(8/10 Andy Barker)