BLACK ANVIL – Next Level Black
The process for authoring and cutting May 2014’s Hail Death – the third full-length from New York City, New York-based metal outfit Black Anvil – was “pretty long, but a pretty natural one.” Inaugural effort Time Insults The Mind had arrived in October 2008 through Monumentum Records, September 2010’s Triumvirate marking the band’s Relapse debut.
“We started writing a long time ago, and sort of put everything on hold,” remembers Paul Delaney, vocalist and bassist for Black Anvil. “I’d say about the halfway mark, we demoed a good handful of songs and sat on them for a while. I remember when it came to the point. I remember the day where we were like ‘Alright, we’ve gotta get cracking here,’ and it just all started developing. Taking our time was something we’ve never done with making a record – it lit a fire under us. We weren’t rushing by any means, but there was always a schedule or something. This time, we just sort of took our time. We really focused on making a better record and a more creative piece of art, I think. For us, we created something that we’ve never done before; I think we stepped outside our box of songwriting, and progressed. We’re still refining ourselves a little bit, so I’m completely happy with the end result.”
The frontman prefers that listeners interpret Hail Death’s lyrical meanderings themselves. “We really don’t like to talk about the lyrics, because they were personal,” he explains. “Obviously you can print out the lyrics sheet, so it’s easy to just decide and interpret for yourself, but they follow the left hand path you could say (laughs). They’re pretty passionate, heartfelt lyrics. There is a concept I guess to an extent, a lot of exploration of ourselves, and death and life – death being the ultimate reality. It’s something that will knock you down to size when it happens, as tough as you can be and as much as you think you can be.
“My grandfather just passed away two weeks ago; he lived a great life. I was holding his hand, and I really felt his last breath. It was a pretty intense, sudden thing. You’re not always there when this shit happens, but I felt the fucking life leave his body. It’s crazy. It’s easy to talk the talk and have views on things, but when it happens, you find yourself in fucking tears sometimes. It challenges you to think about things, and face those things. We just incorporate all this into our music; there’s a big spirituality within the band, and in the lyrics. We urge that people probably sit down and maybe read the lyrics, if you’re gonna buy a copy of the album. I don’t feel like many people do that, but I do (laughs).
“That doesn’t really happen much any more, because it’s so convenient to just… And I can be guilty of that at times too, but you get a digital copy, download it, and you just listen to it and enjoy it. I do really find pleasure and sort of relaxation in just sitting down with the booklet, though; opening it up, thumbing through it, reading the lyrics, and doing what I did when I was a kid. I just sat down and read the fucking lyric sheet, just looking at it over and over again throughout the course of the record. It’s still fun and exciting for me to do that – it’s pretty cool.”
Hail Death was cut during the summer of 2013 with producer J. Robbins. “It was great; it was really great working with him,” Paul enthuses. “I’ve worked with him in the past. Initially, we really had our heart set on making this record with the bass player of Marduk, Devo. It was a big plan, and it was a big part of us just leaving the country and going somewhere else, and just being isolated in a fucking neighbourhood we don’t know, and just being somewhere else and doing something different. Shit in our personal lives got in the way of that, and so we had to record close to home.
“J. was the first choice in our head, but he was a different choice. He’s obviously a bit outside the box, because he’s never done anything as heavy as this, or anything like this at all. We recorded it very organically, and I feel we really needed that to get our point across. These songs have a rock ’n’ roll vibe, and so I wanted the production aspect to fit. It was exactly what I envisioned in the beginning, so it really worked out great.”
Looking back, the lyricist is content with the group’s decision to appoint J. Robbins as producer. “He definitely had as many ideas as we did,” he shares. “I would give him complete producer credit as much as any of us in the band; without him, we wouldn’t have gotten to see our vision complete. He became an integral part of the process.
“A lot of his input had to do with sounds, like with miking the amps, miking everything, getting our sounds, and getting our tones. Not arguing with us, but maybe making some suggestions. We can be pretty ignorant and pretty stubborn with what we want. We have a certain sound. We’re like tyrants; we want what we want and everyone else can fuck off, but at times when you have a pro sort of say to you ‘I do this all the time. Maybe you should listen to me,’ sometimes it’s like ‘Let’s see if he’s right. He does this all the time, so maybe we can turn this knob a little this way.’ It’s just good to have someone with knowledge of what’s going on, to put you in your place a little bit, and maybe open your minds to doing something slightly different.”
In addition to production, J. Robbins has figured among the ranks of various hardcore ensembles over the years. “It’s always intimidating recording with him,” Paul admits. “He’s a great musician himself. His bands are really interesting and talented and technical, and of course I’m like a fucking gorilla with the instrument. I walk in the room and pound on the fucking thing, but I’m always really focused on making the bass sound insane (laughs). I think it’s fun for him to work on that with me. Yeah, there are no complaints. We set my rig up like I do live, and just miked it.”
Hail Death incorporates “clean vocals into a lot of the songs,” the singer cites. “That’s surprisingly the part that comes together really quick, the lyrics, but they’re the most important part of the band I feel. I do feel that after years of playing live though, my voice has become a little… It changes as you get older and you play more, but you get used to it. I feel my voice has gotten more powerful just from using it more, but I think we managed to keep it creative. There’s only so much you can do when you’re yelling, and there’s only so much range you can hit before it’s just the same fucking routine of screaming. I’m trying to find ways of making it work a little more, and giving it some flow.
“There are some songs that have like a hip-hop’y sort of flow to it. It’s weird to use that word, but it’s not. You just try to really make it different every time, to make it sort of interesting and not bland. I think the biggest for us is incorporating some clean vocals though, and it worked. We kept it minimal; we kept it short and to the point, in that department. Lyrically, it’s obviously a powerhouse for us. It’s beyond the last two records by light years – it’s very important to us lyrically, so yeah.
“With the first one, three of us were in a band prior to Black Anvil. We’ve done a shit ton of bands, but we were all in a band together for a long time, and we had all left that band at certain times. When we ended it, only two of us were involved; Raeph (Glicken) the drummer wasn’t a part of the end of it, which was a little disheartening – without being disrespectful to who was in the band at the time. Gary (Bennett, guitars) and I had started playing together in different projects, and it just sort of led to this. I had this idea in my head, and I pushed for it. Me and Gary got together one day, and I was sitting behind the drum set. I was like ‘We’ve gotta fucking call Raeph, man. I can’t play drums.’ I had the vision, and I made these two guys…
“I just sort of made it happen, and the first record was a product of that. It was just us really excited to be back in a room together and be creative, but this time it was different in a way, because there were a different set of priorities with the meaning of what we were doing. There was a very natural understanding, also. With the first record, we hadn’t even played one show before we recorded the record. We then toured a bunch and played a lot, and so when it came time to write the second record, we were sort of really hungry and wanted to just bang out a quick record. We had all the ideas; we were in the mode, the second record mode where you just wanna do it and you’re excited. Like I said, we had time constraints before. This time, there was no rush. We were able to just step back, and process it all. And… I don’t know. Having the extra time just made us experiment a little more, but that was actually the quickest process surprisingly, was putting the words to everything.
“I think a third record for a band is really important; it’s sort of like the make or break. It’s either like ‘Okay, these guys are doing something,’ or ‘This is the fucking same shit. I’ve heard it twice before. What else is coming out these days?’ I feel that the first two records were important for what they were. In a sense, they got us here. I probably don’t want to play the old music any more, but I’m very happy with those two albums. They were all steps that we needed to take to get here today. That’s how I view all three of them, in fact – walking up a flight of stairs.”
Hail Death’s cover artwork was designed by Valnoir of Metastazis. “I wish I could tell you more about it,” Paul chuckles. “Valnoir from Paris, he’s sort of like the fifth member of the band – he’s done all of our records. We contacted him years ago, and on top of working with each other, we’ve actually developed a great relationship. He’s been to New York a few times, and we’ve seen him overseas. He’s found a way to express our albums visually. He usually asks me questions, so a situation like this is hard, because this is the first and only time we’ve given him complete control. We trust him, because we know that the end result is pretty great. We just gave him the lyrics and the music. There’s normally questions from him to us, but we really let him do his thing, and so he just created a universe for us – it’s a lot of things.
“He’s really into the urban element of where we’re from, which I respect. He’s not just trying to do what you feel would fit, like trees or whatever the fuck. We just sort of let him go, and so there’s a lot going on on the front cover. I still look at it and I’m like ‘Is this guy out of his fucking mind?’ It’s very dense and heavy, but it definitely depicts death. I get from it; when I look at it, I take things from it. My interpretation of his artwork is maybe not the best, because I look at it, and it’s just fucking striking. I don’t know why he created that, but it’s art. That popped into his head, and it was a genius idea. It’s a little controversial, but fuck it. He’s the genius behind that; he’s a great artist in everything that he does, so it’s good to have that guy on our side.”
Deluxe edition versions of Hail Death include a cover interpretation of ‘Under The Rose’, originally by Kiss and included on November 1981’s Music From “The Elder”. “It should only be on the deluxe edition and iTunes edition – special editions and stuff – but it seems to be on the version that everyone has,” the composer notes. “It’s not on the regular CD, because the record ends with ‘Next Level Black’. Lyrically the record ends there, but we always do a cover song of sorts. It’s always something that I like to hold meaning. We did ‘Dethroned Emperor’ by Celtic Frost for example (on Time Insults The Mind), and that was a song that we used to soundcheck with in our old band – just because one guy had a guitar, and he would start playing that – so years later we thought ‘Let’s do that’. ‘Under The Rose’, the album’s a record that I love, and I’ve always loved it. I got it when I was very young. It was hard to get, because it was only available through import. It stuck with me. For the most part I don’t think it’s a brilliant record, but it’s really underrated – it’s a pretty solid record.
“It’s got very good songs, but I’ll say that there are some songs that I don’t think are that great as well. On CDs, there are usually some songs that you like and some songs that you skip. That one is more special to me because I was like eight or nine when I got that; it wasn’t available in the US, so I wound up getting it on Japanese import. I wanted it so bad, but most record stores just didn’t have it because it flopped. It probably just wasn’t being carried, so I think that was more the song when I was younger where I had my heart set on getting every Kiss record. It was funny, because it was my obsession that made me really dive into that record. Luckily, years later it still stands the test of time, because it’s still meaningful and I still appreciate it.
“I was playing it in the car one day. There are records that I like that other guys in the band don’t like, like Metallica stuff. I will beg to differ with everything that they dislike (laughs), just because fuck ’em. I try to change minds. I had The Elder on, and when ‘Under The Rose’ was playing, our drummer Raeph just said in the back of the van ‘We should cover this.’ The second he said that, it was a done deal. It made sense. I think we pulled it off in a way that it fits the big picture – lyrically, I interpret that in a special way. It was just a good way to pay homage to a band, because that was sort of one of the reasons why I’m into music. Kiss was really important to me growing up, but at the same time I was lucky to be able to find a song that we could even pull off, because it’s easy to just cover any old shit and do something (laughs). I don’t know how many of their songs are about partying and girls, and so it would obviously have not meant something to us in the band. We’re lucky we found the perfect song to do, and then we got to do it.”
Hail Death was released on May 23rd, 2014 in Germany, Benelux, and Finland, and subsequently in the rest of the world on the 27th, all via Relapse Records.
Interview published in May 2014.
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