Anubis Gate - Horizons - (8/10)
Published on April 2, 2014
It’s often the most difficult part of a review to write a compelling introduction, so I’ll just cheat and summarize the extent of my feelings towards the band right away: Anubis Gate are the most criminally underrated working band in progressive metal today. It’s a bold statement to be certain, but I’m sure many of the bands fans would tend to agree. Following the done-to-death prog-power trend, Anubis Gate have managed to accomplish what so many of their contemporaries have failed to do; that is, making melody sound interesting in prog metal. When so much attention is paid to a band’s shredding ability or quasi-autistic technical prowess, it’s painfully common for the melodic staple to get lost or discredited. Having been amazed by Anubis Gate’s amazing ability to invert this trope on past albums (particularly their 2007 opus Andromeda Unchained), this year’s Horizons has been among my most anticipated of 2014. By all means, the end result has not disappointed; lively musicianship, a mature execution and an exceptional integration of melody into a progressive metal framework makes for one of the first stand-out records I’ve heard this year.
“Destined to Remember” I heard on their free-for-download Sheep EP some months ago, and in spite of that engrained familiarity, I still find myself blown away by the song. Although the only noticeable change between the two songs is the extension of the song’s bridge section, “Destined to Remember” feels like an essential demonstration of everything that makes Horizons so great. So many ideas are tossed into the structure, but it still manges to sound compelling and filled with hooks. The only shorter progressive metal song I can think of that managed to accomplish such a feeling of completion in so ‘short’ a time was Circus Maximus’ “Abyss”. If you’ve at some point shared doubts as to whether melodies could be successfully worked into prog metal without a cost to ambition, set aside what you’re doing and take the five minutes to hear this song. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Airways” is built around some incredibly clever melody writing, and the chorus is a prime example of this; the chorus presents a simple melody, and reinvents it entirely right after by pairing it up with a different chord. Although the melody stays the same, it has a much darker atmosphere the second time around; I know it’s a minor detail in context of the album, but it’s an amazing demonstration of how Anubis Gate integrate melody into their music. Horizons‘ other highlights include “Never Like This” (an incredibly hooky tune with moments that recall Devin Townsend!), “Breach of Faith”, and the concisely structured title track. Regardless which song is put under the knife and analyzed on Horizons, it’s virtually guaranteed that Anubis Gate are doing something to impress me at the given time. The release of the album was delayed from 2013 to this year as a result of their perfectionism, and the attention to detail is apparent in the end result.
While Anubis Gate stand out as incredible songwriters, the craft and structure of the album itself is a lesser success. The flow doesn’t stand out as good or bad for the most part, but there is rarely the sense that the song order compliments the enjoyment of the songs themselves. Many of these songs build up a fierce emotional momentum, only to have the momentum mostly washed off by the next song. This is most apparent in the album’s closing segment, the part-epic/part-medley “A Dream Within A Dream” and its acoustic denouement “Erasure”. “A Dream Within A Dream” takes the melodic hooks from songs prior (“Never Like This” and “Airways” in particular) and gives them a more mellowed, atmospheric overhaul. Although the ideas themselves are great, the track feels less like the epic it tries to make itself out to be, and more an attempt to bring the album together as a whole. The slight disappointment of it falling short of a true prog metal epic aside, “A Dream Within A Dream” would have been an effective closer to the album, and by all means is one, if you don’t count the acoustic “Erasure” that comes after it. I get that “Erasure” is meant as a sort of ‘exit music’ to the album, but it bears no emotional connection or shared momentum with the fourteen minute track that precedes it. As a result, the album ends feeling a tad underwhelming, and the disregard for a momentous climax sadly robs Horizons of some of the overall impression it was set up to have.
Even having become very familiar with the album, the flow still stands as a problem for the album. Then again, when looking at the album as a whole, it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise incredible product. Anubis Gate’s songwriting may be what make them so worthy of praise, but even their production and performance manage to stand out. Instrumentally, Anubis Gate are excellently professional and accent these songs with dynamic performances throughout; even if there are few sections here where it sounds like the band are playing to their limit, their chemistry and quality as musicians is never in question. As has been the case with my past experience with Anubis Gate however, vocalist Henrik Fevre remains the most impressive part of the band. The production style shares this enthusiasm for the vocals and melodies, upmixing Fevre’s performance just a little bit more than is usual for metal. His high register and impressive range may come as second nature for the prog-power style, but his delivery seems to go that extra mile. There is passion and intensity in the performance, not just from Fevre, but the band as a whole. It’s not the sort of dynamic presentation you would expect from a band that’s so unashamedly melodic, but there you have it.
Writing about Anubis Gate and this latest album, I’ve come to realize something; whereas with most progressive metal bands I might tend to focus on the skill of the execution and other more ‘objective’ aspects of the product, I don’t feel limited at all to discuss the softer elements of Anubis Gate. The songwriting and musical direction has been constructed with a clear sense of purpose and regard for feeling. They have taken memorable, cleverly delivered melodies and married them with the genre’s infamous penchant for technique and skill. Although they’re far from alone in this goal, Anubis Gate are among the few who can make the end result compelling and challenging. Horizons is no exception to the band’s proud history; whatever weaknesses are here are far outweighed by their skill and thoughtfulness as musicians and songwriters. It’s enough to dispel my suspicion of modern progressive metal trends, if only for a while, and it’s my hope that this latest album will earn them a broader fanbase and heightened exposure they so justly deserve.