Review Summary: Shrouded in disarray.
After Anubis Gate promoted Henrik Fevre to bass player and lead vocalist (previously backing vocalist), the band managed to produce two of their more competent albums; 2011’s Anubis Gate
was tried-and-true while showcasing a sense of rejuvenation, and 2014’s Horizons
took the formula a step further by embracing a more atmospheric backbone. Thus, the Danish group presented themselves with a decision: continue building upon the beautiful soundscape they’d created, or diverge from said route and elect for experimentation. If neither the title nor the minimal, accompanying artwork for Covered in Black
spills the beans for you, then any one of the ten tracks will. Despite this overarching shift, Covered in Black
is far from a focused affair. In fact, it can become downright disjointed at times.
Before we get into what makes Anubis Gate’s seventh studio album such a ragtag slab, we must first consider what the band were trying to accomplish in the first place. Setting aside the usual “darker and more complex” comments we hear about every single upcoming metal album, the band mentioned pre-release that they took inspiration from “classical chamber music, 70’s prog, Eastern influences and all kinds of metal.” These influences are instantly evidenced with track names such as “Psychotopia,” “The New Delhi Assassination” and “Operation Cairo.” Coincidentally, these are among the album’s chief cuts, yet even they can momentarily slump in the apparent interest of style and direction. This is an area Anubis Gate have normally had a solid grip on. Even if the objective quality of their albums was in question, their dedication to fulfilling the thematic elements was usually in check. And while Covered in Black
has a nice batch of ideas in hand, it struggles to clench and embrace them in a way that feels worthy, be it to the band or collective subject matter.
The problem Anubis Gate have run into isn’t a question of whether this new direction was the wrong one to take, but rather a question of realization. Covered in Black
undoubtedly wants to cast a variety of shadows upon us, with snippets popping throughout the album in an attempt to cast such illusions. These often appear in the form of samples, breaks and bridges, be it in-between or during individual tracks. For instance, the album has been edited in such a way that the tracks seamlessly blend into one another, such as the melodically spoken words which close “Too Much Time” and open “A Journey to Nowhere.” Furthermore, Covered in Black
’s eponymous “Black Suite” (“Black,” “Blacker” and “Blackest”) strangely concludes in the same vein before slowly building to the penultimate grower, “Operation Cairo.” One could argue this is meant to make the album feel more connected or interwoven, but the “Black Suite” is such a tonal departure and ends on such an awkwardly abrupt note that this repeated inclusion only feels out of place. Amplifying this sense of troublesome transition is how the album decides to play out from start to finish. While variety is often a desirable trait in music, it needs to be handled in a way that makes sense for the album. So when Covered in Black
opens in a way that begins to evoke industrial metal a la Fear Factory, only to follow up with an oriental break akin to Myrath, before sidewinding to a bit of electronic post not unlike Katatonia’s Frank Default tracks, and then end things in a way that sounds more like straightforward Anubis Gate, it does more than leave a slightly sporadic impression. And yet, for all of these influences, few go further than a skin-deep level. The best moments on display are the ones that sound like Anubis Gate in their natural state, yet they often feel compromised or shrugged aside.
Given the very nature of progressive music, the experimental facade on Anubis Gate’s latest isn’t terribly surprising. The results are disappointing, but it’s easy to see and therefore understand what the band were aiming for. One can walk away with the impression that the group wanted to craft a collage of darkness and madness, a picture that wishes to paint many shades in various regions. And while disarray might make sense on paper, it doesn’t necessarily translate to a sound listening experience. As soon as Covered in Black
begins to commit to one vision, it only backtracks and stumbles about onto the next. It’s a dynamic that instills plenty of curiosity, but evokes very little confidence.