Originally written by Chris Chellis.
Black Anvil occupies that corner of extreme metal that has become increasingly hard to define or put a finger on sonically. Celtic Frost influences will do that to a band. So will covering said band on your debut EP. If you haven’t caught on by now, these New Yorkers sit rather comfortably in a dimly lit muddied cave comprised of the very corrosive materials mined by the similarly impure and often genre-blind Goatwhore and Carnage-era Lair of the Minotaur, with some allowance for variability in respect to the quantity of those materials. In other words, this is a pretty bad-ass collection of metal songs, and Black Anvil sits amongst good company. Do the two cancel each other out, or is this debut longplayer worth your much-competed-for $14?
Some bands of this ilk rely heavily on atmosphere to set the tone of a record. There will be about a half minute of keyboard doodling or faux-organ playing, or perhaps the sound of rain dripping from a rusted gutter or the screams of a damsel in distress. Not these dudes. The ambience here isn’t produced so much as it’s birthed, Triumvirate impregnated with the demon seed of riff after caustic riff. Of course, not every baby is a cute one, and there are some gifted with less than stellar attributes, but more often than not the coupling seems to have resulted in notable offspring.
To my ears, “Ultimate Reality” represents most clearly to me where Black Anvil is best able to take its sound. It’s one of the shorter tracks, so its force is more immediate than most of Triumvirate. In fact, the principle riff is laid out within the first 3 seconds of the song. There’s an obvious groove that pulls you in, but it’s not at the expense of substance or longevity. That one principle riff drives the song but there are very clear moments where guitarist Gary Bennett deftly threads in some melodic touches (2:10-2:40, for example). I can only imagine how much this song must slay live. The hardcore influences show ever slightly, and I do mean slightly, making for some notably headbang-worthy moments, too.
The rest of Triumvirate varies. There’s a general sense of having heard this before that holds this release back from realizing its full potential, but the more Black Anvil played with melody the more interested I became. For a bunch of guys with such a strong background in hardcore they sure know how to experiment with trippier elements. Take album-closer “With Transparent Blood” for example. At its core, it’s a simple song. There’s one particularly pummeling riff played through nearly the entirety of the track, but interspersed between all that is one seriously hypnotic passage that pulled me in the same magnetic fashion as “Ultimate Reality.” It starts at about 2:47, and it was such a defining moment for me in evaluating Triumvirate that I really hated looking at the tracklist to find out I had all of 2 minutes left before the original songs were done and over with. Not cool, guys. Not cool.
To be fair, that’s not all the album has to offer. Tacked on to the end here is a cover of a Von tune. I can’t say I’ve ever heard the original “Veadtuck” aside from the instrumental version, but if Black Anvil’s take on this quasi first-wave black metal slab-o-history is anything to go by, I’ve got some serious research to conduct. It’s lethal, immediate and, dare I say, pretty damn catchy. Fitting, no?
Unfortunately, not every tune matches the intensity of a “Veadtuck” or an “Ultimate Reality.” My interest level rose and fell in waves through songs like slightly lengthy “The Evil of All Roots” and “Eliminate.” It’s not that these are bad so much as unimpressionable songs. Choppy and discordant, they’re constructed in a way that leaves little lasting effect. Cool riff here, familiar pace there. Waiting for the song to return to that one cool part can make for a laborious listen. And this is precisely why Triumvirate is a somewhat spotty but mostly highly recommendable LP. You might have to sit through some ho-hum moments, but the peaks are too high and the view too sweet at the top to not make the climb.