If there was anything to learn from 2017’s As Was, it was that Black Anvil’s refined handle of melody and attention to dark psychedelic atmospheres were honed as sharp as their enlightened take on black metal. The group sounded revitalized and played with purpose in all aspects of their sound, capturing black metal at its most peculiarly earworming and forward-thinking without sacrificing any bite. Their upcoming EP, Miles, was written recorded around the same time (between 2014 and 2018), it’s clear that it came to fruition from a similar headspace. There’s little doubt that all of Miles’ four tracks would’ve fit nicely alongside the rest of As Was, but there’s something about this 20-minute collection that feels special on its own. Rightfully so, too, given that the EP is dedicated to the loss of founding The Devil’s Blood member and band friend, Selim Lemouchi. Simply put, it’s a great homage.
Opener “Iron Sharpens Iron” kicks things off with an energizing burst that one-ups the intensity found across the entirety of As Was. Rapidfire blasts and grindstone tremolos largely carry the track before a choir of eerie, culty chants slow things down and amp up the atmosphere. It’s a tidy ripper that’s cleaned up by a gnarly little guitar solo, making it an attention-grabbing and exhilarating start. There’s really no time to fuck around on a 20-minute EP, so it’s nice that they cut to the chase and let shit fly. The title track that follows falls on the other end of the spectrum, diving headfirst into an infectious meloblack take on anthemic hardcore. It’s an almost too-saccharine foil to the bile-conjuring opener, but the invigorating energy and hooks make it nearly impossible to not double-back on it. Not to put so much on just one song, but it’s a reminder of how confounding it is that Black Anvil haven’t become a household name.
The final two tracks demonstrate a similar complementary range through two covers. Their spin on The Devil’s Blood’s “Everlasting Saturnalia” is a beautiful rendition of the moody haze found on the original, rounded out by some surprisingly great brooding and ethereal vocals that best Farida’s on the original. Not only does this track pry open the mind to the possibilities of more bewitching occult atmosphere building in the future, but more importantly, it’s a wonderful tribute to a lost friend. Honestly, I wouldn’t have pegged Black Anvil as the group to nail a Mercyful Fate cover, but “A Corpse Without Soul” is about as true-to-form as one could hope. On paper it seems like a super ballsy cover for a group that hasn’t really been about color and fun, but it just takes one spin to feel that this track fits right in their comfort zone. It plays really well to their trad metal strengths, but the vocals are a total surprise and really, really well-executed (part of me thinks this is actually King Diamond, it’s that good). Most importantly, it hasn’t become some bastardized version of the original. The production is spot on, right down to the drum fill that opens the bridge around the 2:00 mark and the distinct Marshall heat that wafts from the guitars.
Often ripe with the “almost” or just too one-off or b-side-y in feel, it’s tough to make an EP feel truly satisfying. Just about anything short form opens itself up to criticisms of lacking this or that, or somehow being “incomplete” based upon its relatively brief duration. This package, though, feels well-rounded and complete. Despite the abbreviated runtime, Miles is a rare case that showcases range while offering up some interesting experimentation through the cover tracks. Further, these covers are actually really good (how often does that even happen?), giving me hope that this look back may actually give us a glimpse at the future.
Miles is available digitally on March 4, with physical sales beginning March 9 via STB Records.