Anubis Gate – Going PlacesThursday, 29th May 2014
Circa 2014, progressive metal is what anyone makes of it. The obvious parties aside, the term presently stands to encompass an entirely different grouping of bands than it did a decade ago, showing just how formidable one little description is to a group’s scene position. And we can argue and huff and puff until the cows come home about the merit of certain bands rubber-stamping themselves as such, but the real progressive-minded usually have the characteristics of a band like Denmark’s Anubis Gate. Technically competent in all phases, adventurous, and most important, forward-thinking, the Danes are exactly what a progressive metal band should be in this environment, further supplemented by excellent singing, something of a lost art these days.
The band has hit its creative stride via this year’s excellent Horizons, an album flaunting song-for-songs, gorgeous vocal lines, and the nimble, flexible approach sure to appease those in around the Dream Theater/Symphony X camp, and beyond. Even more impressive is how the band improved upon their iffy 2012 self-titled album, an effort that saw bassist Henrik Fevre promoted to the lead vocalist slot after the sudden departure of long-time throat Jacob Hansen. Fevre, along with his bandmates have made exponential strides with Horizons, something we were sure to point out when the vocalist, along with guitarist/keyboardist Kim Olesen connected for a chat. Read on…
Dead Rhetoric: To start, I will freely admit that I wasn’t too into the self-titled album two years ago. Understandably, you were dealt a tough hand when Jacob left, so I’m curious: Did that have a profound effect on how the album turned out?
Olesen: Not really. When Jacob left, all the music was recorded and all vocal melodies and lyrics were close to finished. Henrik stepped in and recorded the vocals in a matter of weeks. That’s how close it was to being finished. Henrik did so with great confidence and with the full trust of Jesper, (old) Morten and I. Henrik did an awesome job. Of course a different vocalist gives a different feel to an album but apart from that, the self-titled album would have been largely the same.
Henrik Fevre: It was all written assuming that Jacob’s voice would be all over it, and that’s different from Horizons where we all knew that I was going to sing it. Perhaps I could have sung it differently if I had been prepared for it earlier and done a more detailed work on the demos that pre-dated the final recordings, but that wasn’t the case. I’m very satisfied with both albums.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you still keep in touch with Jacob?
Olesen: Oh yeah. He has produced all our albums with me as co-producer since Andromeda Unchained, including our last one. I saw him just a week ago because he uses me as session keyboard player when his productions need keyboards. So actually we see each other quite often. There was no drama/bad blood when Jacob left. He left because he was too busy, and it was not that easy a decision for him, because he loves the band. We are all still friends. In fact all ex-members of the band are still friends with us. I talk to all of them on a regular basis. They have all heard the new album and like it. So that’s how little “drama” there is between us.
Dead Rhetoric: Henrik settling into the vocalist role is definitely one of key aspects as to why Horizons is such a good album. Describe his growth and development into the spot.
Olesen: We knew he was a great singer because he stepped in for the live gigs after Torben [Askholm] left and before Jacob joined. So him succeeding Jacob was a natural choice. Indeed if we hadn’t had the obvious replacement within the band we would probably had broken up at that point. Henrik is a conservator educated vocalist, so he did with great confidence. And now this is the second album with him singing, so it’s only natural that he feels even more settled in as a vocalist.
Fevre: On the self-titled album, I was thrown right in the studio the day after Jacob left. As mentioned before, on Horizons I knew from the start that I was going to sing it, so I had much more time to shape it, down to the last detail. The fact that I’ve now had a few years to find my true identity as a metal singer is probably where this growth and development come in. I was a pop singer who slowly adapted to the role as a metal singer. Nowadays, I actually have the feeling that it was always meant to be and that metal has become my primary language – so to speak – as a singer.
Dead Rhetoric: Having several songwriters in the band – does that make it tough to choose which songs go on the album?
Olesen: Not really. Usually the songs we end up working on are the ones that make the album. The bad stuff has been ironed out before they become full-blown songs. If a song has good parts and not so good parts, the not so good stuff will be stripped off and the good parts will be used to finish other songs. I don’t think we have more than three finished songs that didn’t make an album throughout our whole career. And the last of those was from the Andromeda Unchained sessions.
Fevre: Some bands record 20-25 songs for an album and ends up picking the final 10 or 12 from hours of recordings. In Anubis Gate, every great bit of composition ends up on either the present album or the next one. We’re not the kind of band who has 30 finished songs in the vaults.
Dead Rhetoric: On the flipside, it has to make you guys awfully productive. Are there any leftovers that can go on a new album, or EP?
Olesen: No leftovers in the forms of full songs. A lot of abandoned ideas. And those are abandoned for a reason. We do however always record a couple of cover songs, just for the fun of it. This time we released them as a free downloadable EP that you can get here. There is an alternative version of “Destined to Remember” along with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Sheep” and Mr. Misters’ “Broken Wings.”
Fevre: Usually we have at least one leftover from previous writing sessions. That is great ideas or main riffs/melodies for a song that for some reason can’t be finished for the album for which it was written or hasn’t found its “zenith” yet. “Waking Hour” hadn’t found a satisfactory shape when “A Perfect Forever” was due, so it ended up being reworked for Andromeda Unchained. “Out of Time” was originally a 1-minute song named “Replaced by Comfort” from the Andromeda Unchained sessions that ended up being a 5-minute song on The Detached (not the lyrics apparently) and “Facing Dawn” was likewise a song that didn’t fit into The Detached, but showed up rearranged on the self-titled. “Erasure” was written for the self-titled, but didn’t fit in and ended up on Horizons, very true to its original version, but with the added metal piece in the middle, courtesy of Kim. Strangely, on Horizons, every bit was used, so our seventh album will be made all from scratch.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like this is your most ambitious album since The Detached? It sure feels that way.
Olesen: I wouldn’t say the self-titled was unambitious – the day we do an unambitious album we will call it quits – but coming after our attempt at “The mother of all concept albums,” we kinda had to step aside and pretend we had never made The Detached. It was such a momentous album that if we kept thinking about it we would hold up all we came up with against it and be afraid we couldn’t live up to it. So we (or at least I) ignored that there ever was an album called The Detached. Now The Detached is five years away and the thought of having done that album doesn’t “frighten” me anymore. Albums live their own life when creating them, this album just turned out more complex than the self-titled did. There is never a plan behind it. Actually every time we plan on doing something, we end up doing something else anyway. We trust in the process. If we keep working hard enough we will end up with a worthwhile result.
Dead Rhetoric: Some of the vocal choices on “Destined to Remember” and “Revolution Undone” are simply fantastic. For you, what’s the key in combining such great vocal lines with the riffs and arrangements?
Olesen: Henrik writes the vast majority of vocal lines and I can’t speak for him. The ones I did write on this album usually comes to me while playing the chords of the piece on the piano and singing along. So in a way, I ignore the riff and just go for a vocal line that is good on its own. Sometimes I have the vocal line before I have any music. The chorus for “Never Like This,” I just had in my head and I wrote the music to fit the vocal line instead of the other way around.
Fevre: I hope the hardcore metalheads will forgive me for officially announcing that I am actually a pop music writer in metal disguise. I love well-crafted pop music, especially when blended with other genres, preferably jazz, so my inspiration comes primarily from these genres. When I started in AG my secret agenda was 1) To try and make decent pop songs out of whatever riff the guys came up with. I wanted to turn the most dark and heavy track into a musical language that I would like to listen to as a guy that normally listens to non-metal and 2) I wanted to put in jazz harmonics wherever possible, ’cause I thought that would make it really exciting and perhaps even groundbreaking. I guess that’s what I do still.
Often the music is written by the others, so I receive some music and I just try to make an accessible pop tune on top of it. If I’d like a little more harmonics in the chord structures I usually make a couple of backing vocals to go with the lead. That’s about it. I don’t have a scheme of which chords or which time structures are being played, it’s all intuitive and by ear. Kim has played a lot of jazz and is also educated on the Conservatory, so many of his chord structures are in fact jazz-related. This combined with more traditional metal virtues makes interesting music in my book. Actually we once talked about making a full-blown jazz/metal album, just the two of us, when we get old. We’ll see about that…
Dead Rhetoric: What will the approach for live shows be in support of Horizons? Any tours, or just festivals?
Olesen: Tours are a rip-off of the support acts. And we have had been ripped off enough – by our old record company Locomotive Music who stole every penny of our royalties since 2007 – so we don’t have any money to tour off. Which means we don’t tour. Playing the right festival here and there is what we do.
Dead Rhetoric: Finally, what’s on the agenda for the rest of 2014?
Olesen: Getting the new line up in live shape, and after the release of Horizons, we will have a fundraiser for the re-release of our first four albums plus a CD of rare and unreleased recordings as a boxset.