Black Anvil have slowly been separating from the unpolished ode to early ’90s death and black metal that was present on their debut Time Insults the Mind. Since then, they’ve branched into arm-swinging heavy metal, hardcore madness and progressive nuances. Each album has pushed the band from traditional black metal, as they grow in extraordinary strides.
Hail Death was the summation of all that work, a bountiful departure with outrageous scope not yet heard by the group up to that point in their career. It was bulky and a tad too long, but the ambitious intent was in place. While they double-down on the boundary stretching on As Was, there’s a refinement and polish that wasn’t as prevalent on the last album. This refinement and polish has them at a creative high only glimpsed at on Hail Death.
As Was won’t sway those perturbed by Black Anvil’s expansion, with an increased presence of singing and a bleakness that doesn’t feel manipulated by artificial circumstances. Every song, save for the understated instrumental “The Way of All Flesh,” has at least one section where melodic vocals take over. At times, they harmonize with raspy croaks, echoing each other in an uneasy momentary truce.
The varied vocal approach comes off great, with the singing delivered with a confidence that lacked in the weakened tones on Hail Death. That variety continues in the constantly unsettled tempos, calm introductions to “Two Keys: Here’s the Lock” and the title track, and the tighter song lengths. As Was is about 15 minutes shorter than the previous album, and that snipping avoids any of the songs being stretched too far out.
Even with the tweaks and subdued aspects, Black Anvil remain a raging monstrosity occasionally held in check. They can maneuver into a blurring series of riffs and noise in a flash, as they do in the midst of opener “On Forgotten Ways” and the brash follow-up “May Her Wrath Be Just.” The latter proves how catchy the band can be when they want to, also one of the qualities of “Ultra.” The chanting that goes on near its conclusion is prime crowd participation material for future live shows.
As Was is a distinctive album, one that stands out from the rest of their catalog; a trait that Black Anvil have followed since their early days. Every album brings something unheard from them to the surface, and instead of letting it be a one-and-done deal, they expand upon it. This expansion is never a half-hearted affair or one built with the end goal of mainstream success, but a necessity that gives the band an advantage on the majority of current USBM groups.
(released January 13, 2017 on Relapse Records)