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Black Anvil – Hail Death

“Still Rebirth,” the first song on Black Anvil‘s new release Hail Death, feels like an entire universe unto itself, constantly unfolding into riff after riff of blackened chug, accentuated with tricks the old Black Anvil would never have toyed with — acoustic guitar arpeggios, stacked dirty-and-clean vocals, and a progressive song structure that reaches for the 10-minute mark. Each of these songwriting ideas is as self-obsessed as the murk that sank its predecessor, Triumvirate — but now the band is endlessly rehashing ideas I actually like. At first listen, it’s the best thing Black Anvil have ever written, and most of Hail Death is as good, if not better.

Essentially, Hail Death is an attempt at writing a classic Metallica record. Black Anvil are just one in a long line of bands to attempt this undertaking with varying degrees of success. They’re hardly the first black metal band to try it, either: Watain pretty much took the same route on their last two albums (though that might be attributed to their intent on actually becoming Dissection, the original Metallica-but-evil band).

Musicians continue to try and find that sweet spot between progressive songs, arena hooks, and mosh-able riffs for a reason: it works. Hail Death is evidence attesting to the fact that good music, even in black metal, is born of memorable tunes with distinct parts. The album has more to offer than mood and aesthetics. In fact, it almost has too much to offer. At 70 minutes long, Hail Death lands closer to the self-indulgence of …And Justice For All than Master of Puppets. However, the group earns its fat: moments like the gleam-then-churn that opens “Seven Stars Unseen” fill up time, but also offer beautiful and meditative moments. Actually some of the overlong songs feel more fleshed-out than their six-minute counterparts. For example “Next Level Black” builds from moans and grooves to a full-on hailstorm before dissolving into a crystalline bridge. It comes back for one titanic breakdown and then fades away into feedback. It’s one of the best album-closers of the year (its competition: Behemoth’s “O Father O Satan o Sun,” Lord Mantis’ “Three Crosses”).

The question is, to what extent does Black Anvil succeed in their endeavor? The most successful ersatz-Metallica album I can think of, Machine Head’s The Blackening, made an instant-fan out of me whereas I didn’t care a whit for the band before. Hail Death has a similar reaction on me. Prior to this, I thought the group’s first album, Time Insults the Mind, packed a few good songs, but its followup, Triumvirate, left me completely cold. Now I’m interested in what Black Anvil has to say, even if it’s not particularly original.

— Joseph Schafer

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