About a year ago, a few of us went to the Nails/Zao double booked shows in Amityville and other than those headliners, Black Anvil was the standout act. They were kind of the odd man out from that night, not being hardcore or metalcore. They had the gimmicky fog machines that filled the small room, yet once they started playing, it was clear there was nothing gimmicky about them. Their sound was indicative of some of the black metal forefathers, but Anvil know how to pace both their live show and an hour and fifteen minute album (Hail Death). The majority of the album is a wall of blastbeats, power chords, and minor tones, but if you’ve listened to the album, you also know Hail Death opens with acoustic guitar slowing picking an eerie melody, and later on introduces some clean vocals. They’re not afraid to experiment, even covering KISS on a bonus track while injecting that black metal grimace.
That cover might have been a primer for a more calculated and experimental side of the outfit. The first thing any returning listener notices is the lack of bombarding instrumentals on As Was, like they took a page from Abigail Williams’ Becoming. Everyone has their place in the wide mix. “May Her Wrath Be Just” is a great single to start with. You get those classic, constant blastbeats and wretched vocals, but as you get further in, the chorus opens up into a slow riff and gospel-like clean vocals. From there, the title track switches the dynamic around to create one of many epics. Listening to the prevalent clean vocals on “As Was,” and other scattered moments on the album, Primordial comes to mind. While the cleans aren’t as powerful as some of Alan Averill’s on songs like “As Rome Burns,” the layering and effects tap into that same vein.
It's hard to criticize any of these songs. Every one is gargantuan. “Two Keys: Here’s the Lock” is a nine minute behemoth, incorporating moments of soul-damning darkness and breaks that part the looming clouds to let the sun in. It's a turning point in the album. With shortest song “The Way Of All Flesh,” and then “Ultra,” the remaining nine minutes are the brightest songs of the band’s catalog. “The Way of All Flesh” being an acoustic instrumental may say it all, its slow chord progression comprised of major and minor chords over a phaser track. Later, a twinkling riff leads smoothly into “Ultra.” This hymn-like closer features lyrics like “For he is me / He is the light uphold thee / Guide me / You are my name.” On my first listen, it was here that I thought to myself, “I need to go around again with the lyrics in front of me,” not only because the forward vocal track at the very end sounds like latin, but because I realized there must be more to the album that I missed, thinking it was going to be yet another black metal release.
I kind of want to say it, although I’m hesitant to, since it’s so early in the year - but I can see myself playing As Was long after this review, digging through the lyrics, matching them with their corresponding tones, and even adding the vinyl to my collection. The warm and open tone seems right like it would be at home accompanying Katatonia’s Dead End Kings or Have a Nice Life’s Deathconsciousness as my favorite sounding records. This is an excellent release that I’m sure will grow on me over time even more than it has in these past few days. I could see it on my end of the year list.
- Alex B.