If one was to survey the annals of Heavy Metal history, scanning for the bands that made the largest impact, it would soon become clear that such bands marched to their own beat so to speak. When a band eschews fanboy and genre elitist requirements, choosing to write the music contained within their soul, they ultimately craft albums that hold up longer, making a greater impact upon the scene. The key ingredient is honesty. People can spot insincerity from miles away. Everyone has been to a show at some point and seen the guitar player or singer who is only half-performing when not rolling his eyes disengaged from the crowd, not to mention his bandmates. The honesty-bred originality being described here can be referenced by bands like Carnivore, Celtic Frost, Crowbar, and myriad other bands with names not beginning with the letter C.
When taking a deeper look at New York’s Black Anvil, it soon becomes clearly evident that they compose and perform music from their souls with honesty, credibility, and integrity. When forced to fit them into a label for categorization, most would deem them to be a Black Metal band. With that label, though, comes a lot of hassle as a band has to face some of the strictest standards of genre and perhaps the most militant fans. Just look at the blowback that Deafheaven faced when they blew up – despite the fact that they insisted on not being a Black Metal band. Being a fan of Black Metal definitely helps in appreciating Black Anvil, but perhaps not as much as simply being a fan of Heavy Metal in general.
What sets this band apart from the masses of singular-focused outfits is their devotion to the art of Metal in general that seeps through into their music. One can hear the mark left by Black Sabbath, King Diamond, and Black Flag in addition to Venom and Darkthrone in their music. This steadfast approach has earned them slots on many high-profile tours as well including jaunts with Watain, Eyehategod, and the show I was able to see – Black Anvil opening for Immolation and Mayhem. Brutal. Having such a broad, unique take on style affords the band the privilege of fitting in well with a multitude of touring arrangements.
Black Anvil’s last release was 2017’s As Was. After the touring and press cycle for that release, the band has now released a four-song EP titled Miles. Thus far in their career, this may be their most diverse release yet. While some purists will rebuke them for this, I find it to be intriguing that each song sounds entirely different. Alas, those purists most likely were never truly loyal anyway.
“Iron Sharpens Iron,” the first track, launches the album with nuclear volatility. Frantically-played blast beats are the foundation upon which the song is based. This track is their dark, Black Metal side. With that in mind, they clearly put their all into it. Chainsaw guitars perform diminished chords frozen with vile hatred while the beefy bass grinds away underneath destroying all in its path. At two seconds shy of three minutes, the song is constructed so that it is abrasively intense all the way through – all killer and no filler. There are no extended clean interludes nor are there any keyboards. Instead, this is an exercise in sheer brutality reveling in extremity. All the while, though, a heightened sense of musicality pervades, particularly in the solo played toward the latter part of the song. Black Anvil certainly knows how to make an entrance.
The title track follows and as previously mentioned, is starkly different. in keeping with the theme of diversity, one of the major advantages they have is P.D.’s (bass, vocals, and live member of the Cro-Mags) ability to stretch the boundaries vocally between clean and unclean. Clean vocals have always been a part of their sound, but it was on As Was, their last release, that they became realized as a key element. Used more and more on that album, they expanded an already spacious sound adding yet more melody. On this track, there are only clean vocals – and it works! In fact, there seems to be a connection made between their current sound and their roots in Hardcore (Black Anvil was formed from the ashes of NYC’s Hardcore/Punk band Kill Your Idols). There is a very distinct main riff that has a forlorn, somber quality to it, but the verse section is the more Punk/Hardcore sounding part. There are plenty of hooks adding new dimensions of accessibility as well as some killer nimble-fingered guitar solos toward the end. One is left with a feeling similar to that gained from listening to the debut album from another NYC band, Life of Agony’s River Runs Red – aggression, passion, hooks, and infectious melody. Songs as such truly hold up and stand the test of time.
Usually, when reviewing albums, I don’t mention every song so that the reader can find out on their own what the remainder sounds like. Discovery is such an enriching, valuable experience. An exception must be made in this instance, though, because the final two songs are a unique circumstance, an eye-opening glimpse into the band’s truly remarkable, expansive palate, though I will keep it brief. Both are covers. The third track is an absolutely soul-baring evocative rendition of “Everlasting Saturnalia” originally performed by The Devil’s Blood. What more can be said about that? The final song is the true shocker that caused me to do a double-take to make sure I’d not changed albums by accident, a searing cover of “A Corpse Without Soul,” originally performed by Mercyful Fate. Fate is sacred territory, an area not to tread when selecting covers unless it can be really pulled off. Black Anvil earned a ridiculous amount of cred by absolutely slaying this cover. Everything from the guitar tone to the solos to King Diamond’s vocals are reproduced with clarity and pristine fidelity. it does not get more Metal than that!
Ultimately, Miles is undoubtedly a triumphant accomplishment. A band that is based upon a wide range of influence and gifted with a plethora of skill has managed to expand their sound even more. The only downside is that it is but four songs, but this release along with their four previous full-lengths should be substantial to tide us over until their next effort sees the light of day. Black Anvil, like their own musical heroes, are a band rich in ideas, skilled in the craft, and hungry to carve out their very own territory from the land of Metal. They have had a prodigious start, and now it seems they are hitting their stride. This is essential listening material.