If “On Forgotten Ways”, the opening cut on this latest release from NYC metal messiahs Black Anvil, were released all on its own and were left to stand as the latest, greatest statement, there’d be more than enough to appreciate and talk about for the next four-five years. Grand, darkened guitar figures announce the procession of all that is unholy over the next eight minutes. Riffs and growls that would make Venom’s Cronos quake in his boots, switches in mood, tempo and vibe that suggest Black Anvil has as much in common with Mayhem as it does Dream Theater. More than that, Black Anvil reminds us that black metal is about freedom and power in at least equal measure, a grand declaration that’s on display from the unsettling opening of this track to the very last enigmatic echoes of “Ultra” much later in the night.
A word of caution, though: There’s still plenty of room for a relentless, caustic barrage of darkness via “May Her Wrath Be Just”, with Raeph Glicken skull-kicking drums paving the way for the razor wire riffs of guitarists Travis Bacon and Jeremy Sosville to overwhelm the listener with waves of noise frightening and ferocious. There, too, as on the titular piece, Black Anvil’s greatest compositional strengths remain in its ability to surprise: Nothing ever progresses in the fashion you think it might as light and dark and juxtaposed in ways that make it nigh on difficult to distinguish one from the other or to even find a definition that fully encompasses either.
Though it’s more than a little cliché to use war machine metaphors in describing heavy and unholy metal, the band does indeed have the power of a World War II-era tank rolling over the landscape during “Nothing”, a song that sounds exactly air escaping from the mouth of hell and turning spark into flame. “As An Elder Learned Anew”, deepens Black Anvil’s sense of adventure as the track inches its way toward radio-ready commerciality and evening a swing-ish/Celtic thing that for a blip of a moment might summon the spirit of Dropkick Murphys (and not in a bad way). By the four-minute mark, things have gone full-on, drive-time radio with a martial beat and, shortly thereafter, a Hall of Flame-worthy guitar solo.
“Two Keys: Here’s The Lock”, a nine-minute journey that adds impressive dimensions of fierce independence and uncompromising seek, stands as a critical example of how meticulous this outfit is at writing and arranging monstrous sojourns into the heart of darkness. There have been few examples of acts that can write such sprawling material with laser focus since the glory days of Metallica, but Black Anvil indeed sits in that rarified class, high atop a throne of brilliance that will leave fans begging to hear more long after the final notes of this effort ring out. (This may also feature some of Paul Delaney’s best bass playing on the entire set.)
If As Was doesn’t transform Black Anvil into one of the most-discussed metal acts of this decade, then it’s unlikely anything will. But the fates seem to be on the quartet’s side, though one should consider that this isn’t a group leaving much to chance. The smart, sophisticated writing, the fully-committed performances and seamless movement from one musical continent to another bodes well for the future. We’re lucky to have a band this gifted and wise making music at this moment in time and making albums that demand we sit with and learn from them. This sets a new standard for metal of any kind, be it black, death or doom.
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