Denmark’s Anubis Gate seems fairly unstoppable. After two above average releases in the early part of the millenium, their 2007 opus Andromeda Unchained was a huge breakthrough and one of the best albums that year. 2009’s follow-up The Detached was nearly as good and also one of the year’s best. Now in 2011, they do it yet again with this self titled platter, all the more impressive since they lost the talents of stellar vocalist Jacob Hansen shortly before recording. Anubis Gate specialize in hyper-melodic metal with a fair amount of progressive leanings. To my ears, they always had a strong similarity to Vanden Plas and they excel at crafting memorable and super catchy metallic hymns. Now that bassist Henrik Fevre has stepped in on vocals, the Vanden Plas similarities increase ten-fold since his voice is very much like that of Plas’s Andy Kuntz. This is not a bad thing at all and Fevre does a smash up job as we’re given a whole new set of proggy, melodic metal with the typically strong songwriting these chaps are known for. These guys just know how to write memorable music and I’m happy they maintained their high level of output.
Leading things off with class is the very catchy “Hold Back Tomorrow” and right from the start, Fevre’s vocals impress. He has a great tone, impressive range and a certain melancholy quality to his style that greatly increases the power and emotional impact of the material. Musically, this is right in line with previous Anubis Gate material and pairs impressive guitar-work, omnipresent (but not overblown or overdone) keyboards, soaring vocals and a chorus that impales you with hooks and keep you hanging around. As well-done as the opener is, “The Re-Formation Show” blows it’s doors off with its immediacy and infectious writing. It’s so close to the material Vanden Plas was writing in their Far Off Grace period that it’s virtually a sequel. Choruses on tracks like “Facing Dawn,” “World in a Dome” and “Golden Days” are like steroidal ear worms from outer space and they’ll gnaw at your brain for days on end. When they up the ante and push for a heavier sound akin to Nevermore or older Communic as on “Desiderio Omnibus,” they’re every bit as effective and catchy. In fact, the only track that isn’t ginormously hooky is the instrumental “River.” The rest of the ditties here are pretty much spun gold if you appreciate hyper-melodic metal with proggy elements.
Aside from the spot-on songcraft, I can’t say enough about the vocal performance by Fevre. I was skeptical anyone could step in for Hansen but he does a spectacular job here. His delivery is exceptional and his emotional style is hard to resist. Likewise Kim Olsen and Jesper Jensen really let the riffs and solos fly. Olsen also excels with his keyboards as they run the gamut from spacey to somber to bombastic but are always tasteful, polished and classy. While never excessively proggy for the sake of prog, they manage to weave in plenty of interesting segments without disrupting the flow of what are largely linear and direct compositions. They never lets things devolve into Yngwie-like noodle fests and for that I am quite thankful. The only thing holding this back from a perfect score is the aforementioned instrumental and the fact that the super long closer “Circumstanced” feels as if it runs on past its expiration date a bit. Mind you, these are minor complaints about what is otherwise a stellar album chocked full of melodic metal gems.
If you appreciate the material of Vanden Plas or Symphony X, you would do well to try these guys on for size. While not as heavy as Symphony X, they have that same epic and classy feel to their writing. I hope Anubis Gate never stops releasing albums this good. They truly are like the Energizer Bunny of prog metal and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Pass through the gate!