Prog metal can be an off-putting proposition for some folks. With all the odd time signatures, tempo shifts and efforts to show how talented the band is, sometimes the songs themselves are abandoned along the highway of wankery. Power-prog has always been a bit easier to stomach for yours truly, taking the basics of power metal and jazzing it up some, but not too much. In this sub sub-genre of music, Denmark’s Anubis Gate have long been my favorite due to their ability to craft mesmerizing, impossibly catchy melodies and emotional songs that resonate from the very first listen. Albums like Andromeda Unchained and The Detached were brilliant, and their self titled 2011 opus was also masterful, introducing the vocals of Henrik Fevre. Horizons was one of the most anticipated releases this year at the Steel house of Druhm and now that I’ve spent time with it, I have to say, it’s a mixed bag of nuts. There are some flat out amazing songs, equal to or exceeding the heights of their stellar back catalog, but a few don’t live up to the lofty standards of the Anubis Gate name. Is it good? Hell yes! But it isn’t all great and I’ve come to expect greatness from these chaps.
First the good news. Songs like “Destined to Remember” and “Never Like This (a Dream)” are so unbelievably catchy and ear wormy, they may give some people conniptions of aural joy. Henrik’s clear as a bell, soaring vocals pair with tasty melodic keys and punchy riffing to create songs that could garner big radio airplay if radio didn’t suck so much ass. These tunes can stand with any the band ever released and hold their own. “Hear My Call” ramps up the heaviness in the riffs, but Henrik keeps everything slick and smooth with his uber melodic vocals.
“Airways” is more offbeat with darker moods and textures and a more noticeable Vanden Plas vibe. Even better is the super-mega-catchy “Breach of Faith” which borrows a big page from the Threshold book of catchy anthemic chorus writing (and the piano line from Mozart‘s Concerto No. 23). If this one doesn’t sink into your grey matter, you must have an aluminum foil hat on that’s blocking the notes. The coup de grace is the 14 minute “Dream Within a Dream,” which breaks the rule that songs over 10 minutes tend to get old. Basing itself around the refrain from “Never Like This” the song expands on it in all directions, making for a surprisingly fluid, captivating and emotional ride that never feels overdone or tedious. The song flows from mood to mood and Henrik outdoes himself with some passionate, and at times, quite plaintive vocals (especially at 5:45 onward). This should be a case study on how to write long songs that don’t feel long. Amazing stuff.
And now, the less amazing. “Revolution Come Undone” is a good song and the most aggressive on the album, with fast, aggressive riffing and a heavier edge. It’s hardly skippable and doesn’t bring down the flow of the album, it just feels weak compared to the monster cuts that precede it. “Mindlessness” is better and has that classic bouncing style from Andromeda Unchained, but also falls a bit short of the better songs. The big wet noodle here is closing track “Erasure,” which is a soft acoustic ballad that doesn’t do a thing for me and ends a powerful album with a whimper instead of a big, satisfying bang (get your mind out of the gutter, you pervo!).
With this being the second album featuring Henrik on vocals, you can really hear him growing and coming into his own. While he sounded great on their last album, he feels more in command and nuanced here. Considering I didn’t think former vocalist Jacob Hansen could be replaced, the band has soldiered on very well thanks to Henrik’s talent. Likewise, new guitarist Michael Bodin acquits himself very well here, providing tons of polished and smooth riff work and a heavy edge when needed. All together a very tight band that has this style down cold.
If it wasn’t for the underwhelming ballad and a few good, but not amazing cuts, this platter would be another prog-power monsterpiece. As is, it’s still a rock-solid slice of infectious metal with some truly stellar songs. If you love bands like Threshold, Vanden Plas and old Dream Theater, this is a must hear.