One word that does not come to mind when I think of the music put forth by the Danish progressive melodic metal band Anubis Gate is “simplicity.” Since their first album Purification in 2004, they have pushed the envelope with complexity…and not only for complexity’s sake, but also to make intricate, experimental, satisfying songs that keep the listener coming back for more. They provide hard-hitting metal songs with catchy melodic sensibilities and lush harmonies and countermelodies. With savvily-placed key changes, sneaky time signature changes, complex rhythms, intricate chord progressions, and even style/instrumentation fluctuations, their latest offering, Horizons, is no different. This is truly a tight masterpiece that the Danish metallers have produced once again, even after a 50% change in lineup for this album. Longtime members Kim Olesen (guitar, keyboard) and Henrik Fevre (vocals, bass) welcomed drummer Morten Gade Sørensen (Pyramaze) to replace departing drummer Morten Sørensen and guitarist Michael Bodin (Third Eye) to fill in Jesper M. Jensen’s spot for the current Anubis Gate lineup. Jacob Hansen again joins Kim Olesen in producing as well as mastering another well-balanced album.
The first song on the album, Destined to Remember, is a terrific opener song for the album. This song may be familiar to listeners, because this teaser track was chosen to include on the 3-song EP Sheep that Anubis Gate released in October 2013 along with the cover songs Sheep (Pink Floyd) and Broken Wings (Mr. Mister) as a holdover until Horizons’ postponed released in Spring 2014. (You can download this free EP here.) This song has very melodic hooks to reel the listener in from the start, beginning with ethereal keyboards but soon pushing to a paced but driving continuation of the song with various riffs that keep the song moving. The layers of harmonies and countermelodies throughout the song keep it interesting until it trails off into the ethereal keyboards again. The second track, Never Like This, starts off very hard-hitting from the beginning, but as the verse begins it cuts back to a more techno background feel to the vocals. Then, as the chorus begins, the hooky, solid beat and riffs return to push the song along until the explosively – almost abrupt – end to the track.
The third track, Hear My Call, is a more straightforward metal song in tempo, time signature, and beat. However, the vocal lines remain very melodic, and the bridge portions of the song make you want to bop your head along with it, and the chorus is very catchy. There is an interlude with a clean guitar that uses chord progressions that you think shouldn’t work, but yet somehow they do, and then a beautiful Spanish/Flamenco-influenced acoustic guitar line comes in for a divergent sonic break before it leads right back into the driving riffs that define the song.
The fourth track, Airways, starts off with a lovely acoustic guitar melody that is not often utilized by Anubis Gate’s sound, though it is very effective. The vocals that come in are electronically manipulated, but with just the one vocal line and acoustic guitar, and a little piano that sneaks in, it is a very intimate beginning. However, this opening is almost like a ruse before they sonically blast you about 1:18 as if another song decided to hijack the folksy beginning. It’s an adjustment, but it still works for the song as it compels you forward into a more modern sound for most of the rest of the song, with a few sneaks of the acoustic guitar with the repeating motif cropping up throughout until the acoustic ends the song.
The fifth track, Revolution Come Undone, is very much a power metal song with a fast beat and rhythm, but not without its progressive elements with time changes throughout that keep it engaging. About three and a half minutes into the song, the vocals have an almost 1950-60’s sound to it like the barbershop quartets (or even “Mr. Sandman” came to mind) that makes you tip your head and wonder if you really heard such a thing in the middle of this driving song, but not long before the fast pace of the chorus returns and continues throughout the song. The spacy synths at the end carry the song to completion as it lets down the beat gently, segueing into the next song.
The sixth track, Breach of Faith, begins with a completely different feel altogether with a lone, tinkling piano playing a haunting melody like something you might hear in an old film or something like “Schindler’s List,” which is a departure from Anubis Gate’s usual sound. Before long, however, the trademark ethereal keys, clean piano, and guitars take over to introduce a well-layered, melodic groove with a catchy chorus for the first half of the song, until a reprise halfway through the song, when the piano and its haunting melody return only to then be picked up in the guitar solo, which I feel is one of the finest guitar solos on the whole album. It segues back into the piano with the melodic theme about ¾ through the song, but soon builds into a confident end. For a song over 7 minutes, it seems to actually go by pretty quickly, which to me says that its length does not belabor the musical themes.
The seventh track, Mindlessness, begins with a more techno sound that soon gives way to blasting guitars, and very much reminds me of the style from their 3rd album, Andromeda Unchained. The chorus is catchy and clever, and is one of those songs that you could replay in your mind all day, like a pleasant earworm to hum to yourself to keep your day moving along. The album’s namesake Horizons, the eighth track, is a compelling song with catchy, driving melodies and skillfully crafted lyrics. A brief nearly a capella section in the center of the song shows off the vocals nicely until the instruments jump right back in to keep the song moving along, while later another section briefly features the solid drumming and strong vocals only. The guitars and keys return back into the catchy chorus until the guitar fades the track to its end. One would be hard-pressed for your foot not to tap along to this one.
Most of the songs on this album hover around 6-7 minutes long, but the ninth track, A Dream within a Dream, is the heavyweight of the album at just over 14 minutes in length. This song uses repetition well – both with the lyrics and melody in the vocals as well as the current of the musical themes throughout the song that ebb and flow. Starting off with confident and smooth vocals over a synthesized accompaniment, the solid techno beat begins soon thereafter to establish the moderate tempo with a very listenable groove. There is a small breakdown in the middle with an almost Middle-Eastern beat undergirding a sax in the background, then ethereal keyboards, and then back to the driving guitars and drum rhythms as the song continues. These little interludes give the song character, breaking it up with interesting segues that keep the listener’s attention.
The tenth track, Erasure, is almost like a postscript to the album as a final track and the shortest at about three and a half minutes. This track is sparse in comparison to the other songs, starting with only an acoustic guitar and a raw-sounding vocal melody line, almost like it was recorded in someone’s basement as they were composing a song and capturing it in real time. This is not to say that the song is necessarily primitive or simplistic, but this approach gives it an intimate, raw feel that is much different than the usual Anubis Gate finesse. As the song progresses, the rawness of the vocals and guitar smoothes out, and later with the addition of the electric guitars/bass and drums it turns into a type of slow ballad, only to return to the raw vocals and acoustic guitar to end a powerful album on a light note.
Anubis Gate is one of those enigmatic bands that cannot really be categorized within a predictable formula, but rather they think outside of the box and are defined by their own standards. This, I feel, is one of their greatest strengths as a group. They have a very tight sound that fits many layers together masterfully. Morten’s drumming is solid, yet creative with a great sound, as is Henrik’s bass in tandem; the interplay with Kim’s and Michael’s guitars is seamless and complementary; Kim’s double duty with the keyboards is beyond just the stereotypical paralleling the guitar lines with a back-and-forth method and brings a whole other world to the songs; and Henrik’s outstanding lyrics and richly crafted melody/harmony lines and countermelodies all make for a perfect storm of creative excellence. I am frugal with my 5-star ratings, but I believe this album truly deserves a top score. This is one of those albums I could spin many times before tiring of it while still discovering new things upon each listen, all the while being proud to share it with the neighbors or fellow commuters while listening. If you are a fan of melodic/progressive/power metal, Horizons is a “must have” album in your music collection. It is time for these highly gifted Danes to receive significant global attention for their efforts. If a 6th studio album like this (along with its predecessors) doesn’t put Anubis Gate prominently on the progressive metal genre’s radar with other heavyweights, I honestly don’t know what will.
Read the author’s interview with the band here.