In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
Ah, the Extended Play. Compact, versatile…few genres really know how to effectively wield the EP like metal does. In today’s edition of Second Circle we take a look at two EPs, used to different ends, but carrying the message of metal loud and clear. So let’s kick things off with the forthcoming tribute from Black Anvil and then cap it off with the early 2019 metal hammer that is the latest from Gatekeeper.
Black Anvil have been steadily churning out some of the best metal to come out of NYC for years, each release subtly evolving their modern black metal sound to something that branches into multiple styles and owns them all. New EP, Miles, is something completely different: a rousing tribute to Selim Lemouchi, the mind behind The Devil’s Blood who tragically took his own life in 2014. The EP does double duty though, not only paying homage to Lemouchi via the title track (for the unobservant: “Miles” is Selim spelled backwards) as well as a cover of the band’s “Everlasting Saturnalia” but also shows just how versatile the band has become, with a ferocious opening track as heavy as anything they’ve ever put out and an absolute KILLER cover of Mercyful Fate’s “A Corpse Without a Soul.”
The clean vocals that poked their head out on 2017’s As Was are rampant here, both on “Miles” with its pushed forward rock vibe and on the cover of “Everlasting Saturnalia” which weaves through eerie corridors of doom and psychedelic haze. But it’s “Corpse Without a Soul” that I keep coming back to. It’s about as straight ahead a cover as you can get, and just speaks to how good Black Anvil are. And at 20 minutes it’s the perfect length, a substantial tribute and a sampler of more of the greatness to come.
It’s been less than a year since Gatekeeper put out the excellent East of Sun, a traditional metal album so good I’m still second guessing if I should have moved it from my “almost made it” list to my main one. After listening to Grey Maiden I’m no longer worried because there’s no way they’re NOT gonna make my list this year.
If anything, Jean-Pierre Abboud’s vocals have gotten even better at imparting a sense of power and epic majesty to the tunes, but the real surprise is how much more the band stands out, a tribute to a better songwriting sense and the cohesion that just comes from playing and recording more. The four tracks here – three originals and a cover of Tredegar’s “Richard III” explore the many ways Gatekeeper are keeping the flame of traditional metal alive better than practically anyone. The opening title track and “Tale of Twins” is full of galloping riffs and rivers of NWOBHM goodness, everything from early Saxon and Maiden to things like Armored Saint. “Moss” is a fragile folk-driven number, wickedly arranged with strings but never feeling like a damp blanket over Abboud’s vocals, which are quite frankly insane on this track. He moves from halting, tentative phrases to full-throated cries of pain…all without any added emphasis from the instruments. “Richard III” brings it back to the NWOBHM and shows the Canadian band’s influences run deep and obscure ( I admit I had no idea who Tredegar was, but I certainly do now) with a ripping rock song featuring twin leads and some monster Steve Harris-type bass lines.
As an EP, it does the perfect thing: leaves me tearing at the bit for more…
Until next time, keep it heavy…keep it safe.