I swore before sitting down to this keyboard that I wouldn’t make any sort of reference to my being “far from an expert in the progressive/power heavy metal field.” Isn’t that pretty much expected from American ‘zines at this point? The idea that, apart from a relatively small portion of our population, US metal fans and journalists have done a hell of a job ignoring (or purposely panning) this genre since…perhaps No Exit? Maybe a little further into the early 90s? And if you ARE ballsy enough to deliver a progressive/power metal album in 2011 to American soil, you’d better A) not look like the characteristic power/prog band (the new long-hair standard in America is measured in beard length, so adjust accordingly), or B) have some good connections to the European market where there’s not as much emphasis placed on trends.
Which brings me to my next point: a significant portion of heavy metal fans are full of shit. Or at least a quarter-full, if not wholly.
We all have a wealth of good reasons why we strayed from popular music to more extreme waters, but every grim moonhowler out there with the entire Satanic Warmaster discography proudly displayed on their shelf has that secret Songs from the Big Chair squirreled beneath some delicates in some inconspicuous drawer. Why? Well, it’s clear why he’s hidden the Tears for Fears album: He’s afraid his friends will put his tit in a ringer for a month if they ever found it. But as far as why he periodically returns to that smarmy, tantalizingly gooshy record — it’s not just for nostalgic “parents/sibling(s) listening to it as he was growing up” purposes, but also because it very simply satisfies a person’s elemental love of a pleasant melody that makes you feel nice. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel nice, even in a world that includes lyrics that poeticize knife-boinking and blood-gobbling. And that, my lovelies, is the grand appeal of an album such as this.
Trying to properly box Anubis Gate‘s sound is a little more difficult than it might seem. On the surface, they deliver exactly what’s expected: progressive/power metal. But woven delicately into the fabric of the band’s futuristic and dark yet weirdly animated melodic metal veneer is a pop sensibility that ear-worms hard into the brain. The band’s two previous works certainly crossed into this realm, but this fifth full-length further strengthens the formula a few shades and cranks the contagion level to eleven. “Facing Dawn,” “Oh My Precious Life” and “Golden Days” all flash a sweetness that borders on ‘guilty pleasure,’ but it’s so deftly delivered, it’s difficult to feel self-conscious about enjoying the honeyed brew. Fluid vocal melodies hook; moody, melodic guitar work soars; and everything gets swirled together with fairly ample inclusion of blippity-blooping sci-fi atmospherics to give the overall effect a bit of an Ender’s Game feel — like Wesley Crusher’s go-to soundtrack for cranking out Advanced Relativistic Mechanics algorithms.
Perhaps the idea of all this sugariness will ward off a few long-time fans afraid that the band have completely washed away any semblance of heaviness. And the fact that Jacob Hansen has officially (and very amicably) stepped away from his vocal duties to fully focus on production work (including this record) could be troubling as well. But Anubis Gate flashes just enough of a more aggressive, modern Meshuggah-chugga-chugga riffing & rhythm to ensure that the album doesn’t drown in a saccharine sea. “Telltale Eyes” and especially “Desiderio Omnibus” re-level the playing field in terms of headbangability and represent some of the heaviest material yet to spring from these Danes. And I’d emphatically state that long-time lyricist/bassist Henrik Fevre more than adequately fills the crooner shoes with a superb range that never ends up sounding too sappy.
So, for those already established as fans of the power/prog genre, I’d say this album is unquestionably worthy of investigation. In terms of bands playing the style with a ‘futuristic’ slant, it’s the most infectious thing I’ve heard in quite some time. I can’t recall an album that more seamlessly balances light and dark elements and maintains a syrupy goodness without being overly corny. And for those passing because of a long-standing bias toward the genre, Anubis Gate is more than just a typical power/prog record; very simply put, it’s just great music that makes you feel good, and that’s something that shouldn’t be missed.