Artist: Anubis Gate
Album Title: Covered In Black
Label: Nightmare Records
Date of Release: 1 September 2017
Whenever I review an album, I always do my very best to avoid the thoughts and opinions of others so that my write-ups are as unbiased as possible and unaffected by third party influence. Unfortunately, it proved exceedingly difficult with this, the brand-new album from Anubis Gate. Firstly, I was late to the party, so I was already behind the curve. Secondly, given the personnel that frequent my social media timelines, it was almost impossible to ignore the comments flying about. ‘Album of the year’, ‘best of 2017’ and many other similarly positive statements were read almost daily.
It was probably impossible therefore to not come to ‘Covered In Black’, the seventh album from Denmark’s melodic power/progressive quartet Anubis Gate with stratospherically-high expectations. Ever since I heard the excellent ‘Andromeda Unchained’, I have always enjoyed the band’s music and certainly look forward to a new release. This time, I was pleading with the record label to grant me access so I could review it.
This might go some way to explain why, for a long time, I felt massively underwhelmed by the final product. I was expecting so much that literally nothing would have sated my appetite. I’ve been here before though and so I knew that there was just one thing I could do: carry on and persevere. When I was getting into prog music in the beginning, the thing that attracted me so much was the need to work hard at the music, not to expect an instant pay-off and enjoy the rewards when finally they came my way. Pain of Salvation, Sieges Even and Vanden Plas are great examples of where my stubbornness worked wonders.
Add to that list ‘Covered In Black’, because my opinion has finally been forced to change. This is, in part, why this review comes so long after its release, but it was worth taking my time for sure.
Sitting here now, it is hard to put my finger on exactly why this record took so much time to infiltrate my affections. However, I have a few theories.
I’m not saying that ‘Covered In Black’ is the most avant-garde or ‘out there’ in terms of progressive music. That said, for my money, it is more overtly progressive than previous Anubis Gate records. In addition, the melodies do not go where I always expect them to. Or, to put it another way, when I first listened to the record, I would hear the melodies and would want them to go one way or another. When they didn’t comply, I was taken aback, slightly affronted. It sounds daft I know but it then took a while for the songs to infiltrate my affections.
A lot has been made by the band, the label and the fans about the darker, heavier tone to this record. Without doubt, this is a significant part of the Anubis Gate sound on ‘Covered In Black’. From the moody cover artwork to the beefed-up metallic elements, this is a more extreme album than just about everything written by the Danes in the past. It’s all relative though and in no way is ‘Covered In Black’ an extreme metal record, but the increased aggression does take a bit of getting used to when you’re used to their ‘normal’ delivery.
Put all these factors together and my initial malaise is perhaps unsurprising. Equally unsurprising now that the malaise has cleared, is the extent to which I have finally warmed to ‘Covered In Black’.
If you are in any doubt about the ‘heavier’ tag, opener ‘Psychotopia’ should dispel them almost immediately. It begins with an unsettling noise that increases in frequency until it is replaced with a strong off-kilter industrial riff that displays echoes of Fear Factory in the way that the drums and guitars and drums align. It takes until the two-minute mark before that familiar descent into more melodic territory occurs, whilst lead vocalist Henrik Fevre sounds pained and troubled throughout. This is now the third album since the departure of Jacob Hansen and on this evidence, Fevre is really making the position his own whilst still playing the bass. The midway point offers a respite with just a delicate piano and acoustic guitar section before the heaviness returns to snuff out any light that was threatening to break through.
I’m still a little undecided about ‘The New Delhi Assassination’. As the title suggests, it is bathed in Asian melodies but has a very dark feel to it. And then, somewhat inexplicably, it ceases to be in the blink of an eye, to be replaced by ‘The Combat’, a personal favourite of mine. Having disliked some of the melodic choices made within this composition, I now really like the way in which it switches between a sense of the epic and a sense of dramatic urgency, made all the more potent and interesting thanks to the many layers of rich sounds, enhanced by the keys of Kim Oleson. The guitar work from Oleson and Michael Bodin is superb, particularly in the construction and deployment of some of the crunchier riffs and expressive leads that only add to the intensity of this wonderfully dark progressive track.
‘Too Much Time’ takes a while to get going although in so doing, the vaguely sci-fi sounds and textures within the minimalist framework do act as a counter-balance to the increased aggression experienced elsewhere to this point. Eventually, the heavier riffs do enter the fray, underpinned by a muscular beat from drummer Morten Gade Sørensen. The sci-fi overtones continue for the duration of what is easily one of the most progressive and arguably least immediately accessible tracks on ‘Covered In Black’. Nevertheless, the speedy lead guitar solo is a delight as is the powerful drumming that sits beneath it.
To redress the balance, ‘A Journey To Nowhere’ delivers a huge chorus after a quiet opening. The guitar tone within the riff straight after is monstrous, whilst the ensuing solo is gorgeous, planting a huge smile on my face.
I assume that the following three tracks are a trilogy of sorts, named as they are ‘Black’, ‘Blacker’ and ‘Blackest’ respectively. The chugging riff, mid-track groove and top-drawer vocals of ‘Black’ make it the best of the three shorter songs, although there’s something intriguing about ‘Blacker’ with its hints of early Bay Area thrash within the riff. I’m not so keen on the heavily effect-laden vocal segment, but the wailing guitars and reprise of the ‘Black’ riff mean it closes strongly.
The ethnic influences return within ‘Operation Cairo’, the band’s nine-minute epic. This time, it is Middle Eastern melodies and flavours that feature, imbuing the composition with an air of mysticism and great, rich atmospheres that are sown in the introduction and grow as the track develops. After a sticky start, I absolutely adore the melodies used within the giant chorus, more so because the music that surrounds it is quite claustrophobic, technical, and intense. This was one of the moments of epiphany that led to a greater understanding and fondness for this record and it just gets better with each spin.
‘From Afar’ closes out this record and does so in a fittingly strong manner. The prominence of acoustic guitars is a great addition and yet another important layer in this complex record. Again, the melodies grow with time and although I wonder whether it ends a little too abruptly, it has some glorious moments within it, such as the bold keyboard sounds, adding texture and further nuance to the material.
I’ll be honest and say that, as I sit here now, I struggle to see ‘Covered In Black’ feature in my top 10 of 2017. However, there is no denying the high quality of music on this record and it is a slick, professional and ultimately rewarding melodic progressive metal album. Mind you, if it continues to work its charms as it has done so far, I may change my mind before the year is out.
The Score of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day