New York black metal band Black Anvil have worked long and hard to shed the ties to their hardcore past, the urbane roots of their masculine primacy still to be found amidst the gang shouts on third album, 2014’s Hail Death, which focused on slashing at your throat with the sharper edge of blackened death and thrash, even if the Watain worship was at times little obvious.
The band sounded hungry and full of purpose, a momentum that’s carried their evolution surprisingly far on follow-up As Was, a record that utterly eschews any traces of their past. On Forgotten Ways strikes a balance between reverence and savagery, an opening statement of intent that offsets rasping intensity and relentless pace with an utterly surprising wellspring of melody, clean, baritone vocals reminiscent of the likes of Ancient VVisdom combining with a sumptuous chorus hook in a manner you just do not anticipate. You may find yourself wondering if this is even the same band. Their ambition throughout is laudable, each track nuanced in their exploration of tone and influence – all parts of an integral whole, expressing different aspects of a diverse and much matured sound infused with heart and sincerity. The six minutes of Nothing start out with rampaging double bass and rapacious fury and culminate in the kind of fist- pumping 80s metal classicism that brings a tear to Fenriz’s eye – by way of sombre solitary piano and surges of apocalyptic synth. All fashionable sounds to play with in 2016, but they pull it off with finesse, sounding polished and huge.
The record, however, continually begs the question of identity; the band are perpetually on the cusp of forming a singular voice out of a melange of well-combined influences, but never quite there. Thankfully closing track Ultra pulls it all together in a hymn of reverent blasphemy. It all finally clicks – the darkly soaring melodies, the fervent black metal, the atmospheric dynamism, synched together with an irresistibly deft verse riff; a sharpened meat hook that digs deep. After a long search Black Anvil may have finally found their identity. Now they need to hone it.