Bland Old Dad-Prog
There is a rather broad gradient between pure progressive rock and pure heavy metal, with scores of bands falling somewhere along the spectrum. Danish outfit Anubis Gate fall definitively on the side of progressive rock. Their sixth full-length album, Horizons, is a release that aims for greatness through complexity and depth, but fails to distinguish itself on a number of levels.
As a band, Anubis Gate are skilled, experienced musicians who know their way around a studio. The mix is full and loud, maintaining balance between the many elements at play in Horizons’ crowded compositions. However, these songs lack distinction. As much as Anubis Gate vary their approaches across the album, they project a basic sound. Unfortunately, this sound is a sort of heavily processed, non-threatening, clean-vocals-only Dad-metal. The songs are almost uniformly busy and layered, yet lack surprise and character.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t highlights. It’s hard to overlook the arresting, sublime chord changes in the second chorus of the chugging, syncopated “Hear My Call.” Same as well for the vocals that cascade in after the guitar solo on the thrashy “Revolution Come Undone.” Notable as well is the dreamy Pink-Floydian drift in the early section of “A Dream Within A Dream.” There are other ear-perking moments throughout, some memorable for their similarities to established sounds. The intro to “Breach of Faith” sounds shockingly like the one from “Where The Streets Have No Name.” The neo-classical thing that blossoms later in the same song sounds far too familiar to be original. Sections of “Airways” sound uncannily like Opeth covering “Kashmir.”
Perhaps Horizons’ greatest weakness is that the musicians just don’t show off enough. People don’t listen to prog for unselfish teamwork—they want fireworks! Who can forget Neil Peart’s swift drumming on “YYZ”? Rick Wakeman’s poignant piano on “South Side of the Sky”? Andrew Latimer’s ebullient guitar solo on “Lunar Sea”? Let alone the shocking and unnatural things whole new generations of progressive metal musicians have done with meter, genre, virtuosity, and concept.
In this light, Horizons just doesn’t stand up. The pedestrian guitar solos, the unjustified song lengths, the dearth of memorable melodies and riffs—there’s something self-serious and cautious going on here, and it inhibits the swagger and experimentation that could have made Horizons a standout.
Album closer “Erasure” reveals one version of what could have been. Here Anubis Gate actually pull back and let the music breathe. Vocalist Henrik Fevre leaves his vocals naked, singing earnestly over gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios. Electric guitars crunch in briefly, but don’t overstay their welcome. The song ends as it begins, honest and intimate. Where was this sensibility when the rest of Horizons needed it? Horizons is a listenable, pleasant album, but as one considers what has been done in progressive music, and what other bold experiments are out there, Anubis Gate’s musical blandishments inevitably end up sounding like missed opportunities.