Black Anvil is one of those bands you always expect to break through on their next record. Formed in 2007 by members of New York hardcore act Kill Your Idols, the black metal quartet’s 2009 debut Time Insults the Mind and 2010 follow-up Triumvirate initially seemed poised to break the group out of the underground with their infusion of Watain-style riffing into a sweaty hardcore aesthetic. Sadly, the riffs weren’t too memorable, and the songwriting possessed a frustrating “almost-there” quality which ultimately left those records collecting dust on my shelf. It wasn’t until 2014’s Hail Death that Anvil really stepped things up, incorporating latter-day Behemoth riffs and hefty chugs into longer, more adventurous compositions. It should have been the album that made them a household name – instead, Death seemed to be largely dismissed as a 67-minute slog whose songwriting couldn’t support the seven-minute song lengths. Three years later, will As Was finally give Anvil their big break?

That certainly seems to be what the band’s hoping for. Right from the first minutes of opener “On Forgotten Ways,” it’s clear we’re in for a wholly different beast than past records. Sure, the melodic black metal riffing and swamp-hag rasps are still here, but the monumental chugs of Death have largely been replaced by ample use of airy singing, resonant leadwork, and progressive interludes. Take the title track, which supplements the trudging build of its verses with wailing clean vocals, before moving into what sounds like a major key progressive rock section, and then concluding with a stomping melodic finish. Even the blastbeats and twisted tremolos of “May Her Wrath Be Just,” the shortest and most direct track here, lead to a conclusion of harmonized cleans.

On the whole, this is easily the lightest record Black Anvil have yet produced, but that doesn’t mean the band has forgotten how to write a decent riff. Second-half highlight “As an Elder Learned Anew” sounds like an old Rotting Christ song with its addictively simple, ritualistic progression, while “Nothing” features a conclusion of swaggering cock-rock riffs and wahhing solos which betray the group’s apparent affinity for hard rock.1 But the real standout performance is the drumming of Raeph Glicken. As heard on “Nothing,” Glicken can blast with the best of them, but he really shines when he deftly shifts into a peppier tempo on aforementioned “Anew,” or incorporates thrumming buildups on tracks like “Two Keys: Here’s the Lock” and album highlight and closer “Ultra.”

Yet while the band’s shift toward more experimental territory doesn’t bother me, there are some irritating things about As Was that prevent me from scoring it higher. At 8 tracks and 51 minutes in length, Was is a long record, a fact exacerbated by the fairly mellow second half and occasionally unfocused songwriting. Take aforementioned “Two Keys,” which features an opening that recalls acoustic Opeth, before meandering for nine minutes without ever landing on a memorable riff. While songs like “Ways” use a rough verse-chorus format to good effect, on the whole these tracks don’t ever feel like they really climax or explode like they should – instead, they simply float along, one decent idea after another, with just a whiff of unfulfilled potential.

Still, front to back this a well-arranged and enjoyable album, and the ritualistic vibe generated by the cooing singing and sinister, haunting guitars gives As Was a hearty dose of atmosphere. Fans of the band’s more savage past works may be slightly disappointed, but it’s hard to fault a band for experimenting and expanding their sound. In the future, Black Anvil would do well to hone their songs by focusing on the truly biting riffs and cutting out the obviously inferior ones, as well as varying the delivery of their melodic singing. For now, As Was is a competent and enjoyable progressive black metal record, that, once again, has me thinking they’ll really come into their own on their next record. Fingers crossed.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: January 13th, 2017

Show 1 footnote

  1. They did record a Kiss cover for their last album, after all
Share →
  • Diego Molero

    Black Anvil is Black Anvil is Black Anvil

  • Oberon

    Any band with anvil in their name i practically cursed

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Those guys were brave to make that journey across the ocean.

  • Benevolent Sun

    I’m not too familar with their past work but I really dig this album. Good review but I personally score them around 3.75/5 if not even higher. This is one of the first memorable records of 2017 to me.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I could have sworn the footnote for “the group’s apparent affinity for hard rock” was going to read “not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

  • Reese Burns

    I’ve always had a soft spot for their albums, looking forward to grabbing this one.

  • Scourge

    That band pic is one epic press conference.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Most likely about the global markets rising prices of tattoo ink.

      • Dead1

        And the problems of packing ever fatter dead hookers into ever smaller boots of modern cars.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          I don’t know… they kinda look like they drive a cargo van. No windows.

  • I liked Hail Death a lot, and the cover of Kiss’ “Under the Rose” on the deluxe edition is one of my favorite covers ever. Looking forward to checking this one out.

  • brklyner

    Two weeks into the new year, I am already quite certain that “May Her Wrath Be Just” is going to be in my personal list of most infectious songs of 2017. I’ve seen these guys play a few times and they never really grabbed me, but on the cursory first couple of listens I found quite a few interesting and memorable moments on As Was. Good production, too! DR8!

  • El_Cuervo

    I like that sample. I’ll have to give this a go.

  • I am liking this more than I thought I would. I don’t know if this will hold up another 11 months to make it to a year end list, but this is the first new album I’ve heard in 2017 that has caught my attention. Bravo!

  • Dagoth_RAC

    I thought this was average when I first heard it, but it is growing on me and now I really like it. I enjoy how the bass is distinct and audible, which is rare and exciting for a black metal band with dual guitars. And the clean vocals seem like they should be monotonous but there is something kind of mesmerizing about them. The band photo gives me a vibe of trve/kvlt/brvtal while the actual music is surprisingly crisp and mature and well thought out.