Urban, Disciplined: Black Anvil’s Hail Death
Black Anvil are from New York City, and they want you to know that. The artwork for their third and latest album, the succinctly-titled Hail Death, is a series of Max Ernst-esque collages merging New York sights with classical demonic artwork—a giant serpent constricts the Empire State Building, while Gustave Dore’s Lucifer plummets from the World Trade Center. But it’s not simply the band’s imagery that speaks to their hometown. On Hail Death, Black Anvil have boiled their brand of muscular black metal down to a venomous reduction, creating a grinding, cutthroat sound that has more to do with hard concrete than the freezing moon.
While many would see Black Anvil’s sound as indicative of the members’ collective past—three of the band’s four members were once part of classic hardcore outfit Kill Your Idols—the music present on Hail Death shows more similarities to the new breed of driving blackened metal it sprang up around, acts like Cobalt or Trap Them, whose vibe is similarly stark and urban. The atmosphere on the record is huge and diabolical, but in no way the gothic or romantic path of the genre’s Scandinavian forefathers. More so, the band has refreshed themselves through groaning riffs, echoing gang vocals, and slamming percussion, making the album far easier to remain interested in throughout than 2010’s sometimes-repetitive Triumvirate. As a whole, Hail Death possesses music that is bother tighter and more diverse than that of its predecessors, which is no easy task within black metal.
Opener “Still Reborn” wears its Big 4 thrash roots on its sleeve, complete with a break-“TWO THREE FOUR”-solo progression. “Redemption Through Blood” has a strong stomping pace, addictive guitar work, a kickass chorus, and modern-day-Watain-ish moments of anger and sorrow. “Eventide,” the album’s first single, is punchy and driven, though maybe a little less nuanced than the tracks before it, while “Seven Stars Unseen” is slower, plodding forward like a battle march but broken up with gloomy moments that showcase sorrowful guitar leads. “G.N.O.N.” is a tough mid-paced track, but its follower, “Until The End,” is the album’s gem, an abyssal slow-burner heavy with shadow and melancholy. “My Hate Is Pure” and “N” stay the course with perhaps slightly less punch, though the former has some rollicking fast sections in its middle, and the latter has some solid lyrics and vocal chants to go with its groaning, Celtic Frost-ian guitars. “Next Level Black” is the album’s eleven-minute epic, packed with nonstop riffs and huge cries to the heavens. The closer, a cover of Kiss’ “Under The Rose,” is decent, though feels a little out of place after such a punishing record.
Perhaps I’m unreliable in my love of Black Anvil’s emphasis on where they’re from, being a proud New Yorker myself. That said, the stripped-down gut-punch of Hail Death feels perfectly melded with the band’s surroundings and imagery, a coalescence of both the harsh right angles of sharp edges of the cityscape itself and the pragmatic alienation and longing that often fills those dwelling herein. The band makes their message loud and clear: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. If you can’t, fuck off and die.