Black Anvil’s fourth album release promises similar ferocity to its three predecessors with added atmosphere and melody which New York bands in general aren’t really known for. Normally I’d expect gritty reality and broken teeth. “As Was” is not like that.
“On Forgotten Ways”, which opens the album, has a befuddling mix of atmospheres. Black metal to the core, it starts attritionally before expanding into haunting, pagan-like choruses, brief thrash and majesty evolving from a doomy frame. These transforming atmospheres are a feature of the shorter but more impacting “May Her Wrath Be Just”, which follows. With the echoing guitar and carefully developing structures, it’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into these dark odes. As I listened to the title track, I was reminded of UK’s Fen in the way that the music is bleak and the vocals represent the darkest of scenes. Yet then there’s a straight and simple passage before the band’s atmospheric black metal world returns. I did wonder if Black Anvil were trying to do too much with the vocals, which at times water down the majesty they are clearly seeking to create. “Nothing” is uncompromising and ugly, building up its black clouds impressively before breaking away into a softer tone and then into a traditional heavy metal passage – it was ok, but I didn’t get the continuity of this track, which seemed to have three distinct elements. “As An Elder Learned Anew” again takes a while to get going after working through various dark iterations. Just as it was getting interesting, I noticed there were 28 seconds left and it faded out. There’s so much here that it could have been split out and re-mixed into at least two albums. But the philosophy seems to be to merge and blend styles and passages. The nine minute “Two Keys: Here’s the Lock” starts in lush fashion but by now I was braced for a switch in atmosphere. The build-up is good, Pink Floyd like in fact but in a black metal framework. I don’t think there are any fens in New York but this impressive piece, supported by a haunting chorus, is the music of the wilderness. The drums keep up the momentum. To their great credit, Black Anvil keep us on tenterhooks throughout “Two Keys: Here’s the Lock”, and maintain a level of excitement which made this track the highlight of this album. The short instrumental “The Way of All Flesh” allows us to catch breath before the final episode “Ultra”. Mobile, haunting, bordering on psychedelia at one point and ending with a satanically-inspired Latin chorus, “Ultra” provides further evidence of the diversity and imagination that Black Anvil bring to the table.
For me, “As Was” didn’t always hang together well. There are too many disparate and conflicting elements. At times it’s as if it were created for people with short attention spans. I’d have preferred to linger a while over some of the passages. Yet I appreciated this album for the fact that it has lots of ideas within it, is played with power, passion and great technical skill.
(7/10 Andrew Doherty)