Review

ANUBIS GATE Covered in Black

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
adg211288
Well look what we have here, they finally managed it. Managed what you say? The Danish progressive metal act Anubis Gate finally managed to go more than two albums without changing lead vocalist, which was the trend across their first six albums. It shouldn't really be a surprise though, it was obvious ever since bassist Henrik Fevre took on the role for the self-titled Anubis Gate (2011) album that, despite two great vocalists going through their ranks before him, the band were finally how they were always meant to be. Further line-up changes on their next album Horizons (2014) that left the band technically having no original members were a surprise but ultimately did little to stop that from being true. It's been a few years since that album but the four piece are now back with their seventh effort Covered in Black (2017), featuring the same line-up as Horizons: Henrik Fevre on vocals and bass, Kim Olesen and Michael Bodin on guitars (also keyboards for the former) and Morten Gade Sørensen on drums. As usual the album was produced by Kim Olesen with the band's former vocalist Jacob Hansen.

Covered in Black represents Anubis Gate's attempt to create a darker album than their usual output. A theme record opposed to a true concept album like some of their past releases (Andromeda Unchained (2007) and The Detached (2009)), some songs are nonetheless tied together into mini-conceptual arcs, the most obvious of these being the 'Black Trilogy' consisting of tracks 6-8, Black, Blacker and Blackest. According to the liner notes for the first part it is a true story. The tracks The New Delhi Assassination, The Combat and Operation Cairo (tracks 2, 3 and 9) are also part of a linked storyline, with the first and last parts being tied musically as well as lyrically, also featuring melodies tailored to allude to their settings. The remaining tracks appear to be stand alone, dealing with themes such as mental illness (Psychotopia) and being too stuck in the past to live in the now (A Journey to Nowhere). The final song however, From Afar, appears to close the album on a more hopeful note, a reminder that even when you're at your lowest, things can get better.

Dark themes and metal music have gone hand in hand for a long time, but Anubis Gate isn't the kind of band I expected to intentionally make an album embracing such themes given how their music sounds. Though firmly in the metal side of prog (opposed to being progressive rock) their music is based near entirely on melody over aggression (though they can certainly be heavy when they want to be) and they've long favoured a polished production that's right up in the power metal levels. They make accessible music, as far as both prog and metal go. The band has a sound that I'd describe as bright and vibrant, a complete contrast to the moods that Covered in Black is written to portray. Does this mean that the band have embraced the gloomier metal genres like gothic or doom metal? Are the vocals harsher? Are they using extreme metal elements to make things seem more grim?

Well, the answer is no, no and no again. And I have the utmost respect for Anubis Gate for that. A lesser band would have done something cliché to ram home the point they were trying to make, but not these guys, who've stayed true to the sound that they've been making their own ever since the Purification (2004) debut. Not to say that said sound isn't a little bit different this time around; the touches of power metal and symphonic elements that they've used in the past have been all but completely stripped away, but their base melodic progressive metal style has been left very much intact and if anything is more focussed on being progressive than ever. Anubis Gate has never been as complex as say, Dream Theater at their most technical, but they've certainly had the craft of being subtly progressive worked out long ago and are certainly more deserving of the distinction than many artists that get saddled with the prog tag. On Covered in Black though the progressiveness seems a bit more overt, much like the case with The Detached album. The faster power metal fuelled parts as used in tracks like the previous album's Revolution Come Undone are an absence that is felt a little bit, but not for long, as it doesn't take many listens to get into the album and for the songs to start asserting themselves as being as good as anything the band has ever done.

There are highlights of course. I find myself particularly drawn to Psychotopia and the linked The New Delhi Assassination and Operation Cairo, along with closer From Afar. The thing that makes Anubis Gate albums special though is that each song is able to assert its own identity after only a small amount of listens and that's mostly true here too. That does bring me to the one quibble to be had over Covered in Black though; it's that the Black Trilogy may have worked a bit better as one continuous progressive metal epic than the three separated and unimaginatively named individual parts it ended up as. It also seems like it's begging for a more epic conclusion in the Blackest part than is delivered. With that said, I would count the initial Black part among this album's highlights. The other two parts are also decent but do tend to stand out more as a continuation of Black than as separate songs, hence my opinion. A bit of tweaking into one track and it may have even been 'the' highlight of the album for me. As quibbles go I'd say that's relatively minor, certainly not something that harms my listening experience. Otherwise the band just continually manages to impress, delivering another album that I can give many repeat spins without getting tired of it. Anubis Gate are the kind of band where if I play one of their albums, I'll likely end up going through their entire back catalogue again, a desire no less inspired by Covered in Black. Deciding where this album fits into a ranked list of their discography isn't easy though. The Detached is definitely a top 10 of all time album for me, so that's always number one, but the others except perhaps Purification, which I'd say is a classic example of a 'finding their sound' album, all have a claim on second place. I believe they are actually the only band who I've given four consecutive five star ratings to in my reviews and I see little reason not to make that five for Covered in Black.

I know the sceptical out there will question that simply because no band can be that good right? I'm sure there's a few reading this review and thinking 'He's obviously a fan. He's bias!' and they'd be half right. I am a fan of Anubis Gate. I'm proud to say that. Does that make me bias? I don't think so. No reviewer can ever do anything but give their own opinion on album, something which I find is often sadly misunderstood. That said I've given Covered in Black far more listens than is normal for my reviews to make sure I can give it the most objective appraisal that I can and even genuinely tried to find a reason to pick holes in it and come up short. I will say that I've found it to be a bit less immediate than some of their other releases but over half a dozen listens later it continues to open up and grow in my estimations. Despite its dark theme it's an album that can't help but put a smile on my face. It's new Anubis Gate music after all, and the world could always use more of that. The album may be called Covered in Black, but it's made of gold.
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adg211288 wrote:
14 days ago
I think if it wasn't for the fact that I still consider Into the Electric Castle my favourite album of all time Anubis Gate would have supplanted Ayreon as my favourite prog metal act by now.
Nightfly wrote:
15 days ago
Well said Adam. Only had one listen so far but was immediately impressed. Where it sits in terms of favourite remains to be seen.
666sharon666 wrote:
16 days ago
Excellent review Adam. Just ordered this one this morning.

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