Review Summary: "It's harder to remember what never was"
For some bands, it's quite the challenge to truly shake off the shackles of their past styles and head into completely different musical territory. What determines the success of doing this in a band however, is whether or not the change in style is abrupt or gradual. For NY black metal stalwarts Black Anvil, the answer is definitely the latter. The band have been attempting to move on from the hardcore leanings at the start of their career and, utilizing a more psychedelic, black metal-focused style, have succeeded of late. Previous album Hail Death
tells you all you need to know about this progression from one style to the other, yet despite the band's seemingly positive willingness to change, that previous album still didn't quite convince the band's devotees that an overbearing hardcore influence was well and truly kicked aside. Thankfully, latest album As Was
is THE record to change things for the band.
From the get-go Black Anvil's latest album is a much mellower and more laidback affair. Most of the songs here feature numerous ventures into softer, gentler territory, but in no way is this a bad thing: It's the band's way of saying We aren't the same band anymore
. Quite the statement of intent, of course, but you only have to listen to opener "On Forgotten Ways" to realize Black Anvil have taken that giant stride into completely new musical territory. Beginning with a mid-paced, evil-sounding groove which proves very straightforward, Black Anvil immediately sound like a band rejuvenated and ready to shed their old skin in favour of a fresher version. The same thing can be said for the title track and closing highlight "Ultra", but this streamlined approach to songwriting is effectively the core of the album's sound itself.
Most of the musicianship on As Was
is actually quite melodic and harmonious, as are the vocals. "May Her Wrath Be Just" for example, is very light on the ears and doesn't present any grating, jarring rhythms like there were in Hail Death
. Instead, we're given a very easy-going sound, one which is comfortable to sit with and almost hum along to, until that harsher vocal style and fast-paced battery intervenes. Only then can you understand the level of versatility at work in As Was
. This musical idea proves more effective in "Nothing", which begins with a sound as if taken from one of Black Anvil's first demos, such is the grittier, more maniacal hardcore influence until clean vocals shatter such thoughts. What really works here is how tightly-knit and fluent everything is however. The instrumental components sound clean and not at all hesitant in delivery, and the two differing vocal styles repeatedly seek to impress, but what holds it all together is a solid albeit slightly brave songwriting force which demonstrates a penchant for perfection most of the time.
This said, As Was
is unfortunately hard to actually get stuck into at times. Whilst the ideas behind the likes of "On Forgotten Ways", "May Her Wrath Be Just" and closer "Ultra" are all very effective and prove the point well, it never seems to be quite enough to really grasp the listener's attention. A lot of the songs on the album depend on this very easy-going, almost soulful approach to songwriting and musicianship. However, this comes at the cost of not only losing fans who have been there for Black Anvil since the band's beginning, but also losing relevancy in the very sub-genres the group are claiming to be influenced by. Because of the length of most of the songs here (averaging between six and seven minutes apiece), there's a lot of room for excessive noodling and repeating the same idea until it unfortunately grows weary and tiresome. For example, the title track is so simplistic that it doesn't need to be seven minutes long: a four minute version would be ideal. On the flipside, "May Her Wrath Be Just", whilst it definitely doesn't seem rushed, wouldn't be any worse had it been extended and featured more of the versatility that "On Forgotten Ways" and "Ultra" displayed. Thankfully, that closing song brings the band's musical ideas into effect and it finally begins to make sense for those who haven't heard any of Black Anvil's material before.
It's largely evident that As Was
will be looked upon as the record when Black Anvil shrugged off their hardcore leanings. This certainly runs the risk of the band losing fans and relevancy of their place in extreme metal, but it's a brave move that largely reflects where Black Anvil were heading with Hail Death
. It's just that this time, the shift in style is more accentuated and has more evidence of tearing free from the shackles of the past.