Black Anvil Returns to Primordial Chaos on New Album 'As Was'
Stream the NYC black metallers' savage new album, and read bassist/vocalist Paul Delaney's thoughts on mysticism, Metallica, and Trump
Paul Delaney figured out Skype just for us. As the vocalist, bassist and all-around mouthpiece for New York City black metal outfit Black Anvil, Delaney is used to doing interviews over the horn. But because we just cancelled our land line and have terrible cell reception, we asked him if we could talk via Internet phone. "I've had Skype for a year or two, but I haven't actually logged into it," Delany laughs. "I figured it out at the 11th hour, though. At least now I won't look like a moron when some Dutch dude wants to do an interview."
On January 13, Black Anvil will unleash their fourth full-length, As Was. Packed with evil riffs, vicious grooves and an uncharacteristic abundance of soaring clean vocals, the album marks their first without full participation from longtime guitarist Gary Bennett, who recently split to focus on Kill Your Idols, the hardcore band he founded in the mid-90s (both Delaney and Black Anvil drummer Raeph Glicken were also Kill Your Idols members). Bennett has since been replaced by guitarist Travis Bacon, who will join Delaney, Glicken and guitarist Jeremy Sosville when Black Anvil hit the road with black metal overlords Mayhem and Inquisition next month.
We're streaming the album in full below; crank the volume and read on for Delaney's thoughts on hardcore, Metallica, and growing up in Queens.
Did you approach As Was differently than the last few Black Anvil records?
Paul Delaney: Yeah, in a way we did. I always want our records to be different than the last, but there was no real agenda. I didn't think, "I want more of this, more of that." It just sorta flowed. But I knew getting into it that it felt different. We actually wrote a song a couple of years ago, way before we started working on this record, that was a tribute to [The Devil's Blood mastermind] Selim [Lemouchi] and that song was way different. We sorta shelved it for a little while because we figured it would make more sense if it came out after the next full-length because it's such a drastic fucking difference. So yeah, I don't like repeating ourselves. I spent years doing the same fucking shit so it's nice to be liberated from the shackles and just create.
Tell us more about the Selim tribute song. What's going on with it?
At this point, I wanna have Tore [Stjerna] remix it because the dude did such a fucking monstrous job on the new record. I don't wanna jump the gun with it, but Jim [Dokter] from Urfaust mentioned [the song] to Sven [Dinninghoff] from Ván so hopefully it'll come out on Ván, which I'd be completely fucking happy with. It'd have to be like six months after the record comes out, but that would be the perfect home for that because that dude's layouts are insane. I already have crazy artwork for it, so if he's up for it, I'm fucking psyched. I'm not trying to get too psyched, though, because the guy's probably busy.
What's the story behind the title of the new album, As Was ?
It was a pretty simple thing. When we started writing, we were talking about where we should even start, title-wise. I wanted it to have something to do with what comes after death. Raeph just busted it out: As Was. And I was like, "Sold." It made a lot of sense to me. Even though it sounds bigger than anything we've ever done, it sounds more organic and primal. It's a return to primordial chaos. So it's a very different approach and mindset and yet also a continuation of the last record.
There are a lot more clean vocals on this one.
Yeah. You know, some of the music just opened the door. We'd hear shit there and it made sense. At first, I was making a face in my head, you know? [Laughs] We were looking at each other like, "Is that too much?" But then it was like, "No. Why is it too much? Fuck everyone."
Are you doing the clean vocals, or is that Raeph?
It's me doing everything on this one. Normally it's Raeph and I, but the recording process on this one was a little different. Gary left the band, so everything fell to Raeph and I. On the recording, I ended up playing bass and a lot of the guitar. Our other guitar player, Jeremy, did all his parts. Gary played on three songs. It worked out at the end of the day, but it was stressful. We didn't have a lot of time, so when it came to vocals I was like, "I know all the parts, so I'm just gonna do it." The guitarists are gonna be doing most of the clean stuff live, so it'll still be a joint effort.
"Two Keys: Here's The Lock" is a cool song title. What's the story behind it?
Well, put it this way: That was the last song Gary wrote. Jeremy's our guy now. It's been the three of us for a while now. I don't know how [Gary] didn't figure that out, but it's about him. A lot of our songs are like that. It's like hip-hop: Almost every song is about someone we know or something around us. But there's duality to it, too. They have two different meanings.
It does seem like you guys have a layer of Watain-esque mysticism going on that maybe adds that second meaning.
Yeah, for sure. And especially in that song, there are some Kabbalah references and stuff. It's in there, but pretty faintly.
How deeply are you invested in Kabbalah?
It's one of the hardest things I've ever tried to dig into. It's years of work, and it's easy to be lazy. [Laughs] I grew up Catholic, but I had that shit sort of forced down my throat. Obviously getting into heavy metal and punk afterwards, it's like, "Fuck religion." But then, later on, in my 20s, certain bands made me look deeper into shit. And I love reading; I love learning. There's a huge spiritual aspect to what we do, but it can't really be put into words. The best things can't be told.
Besides lyrical inspiration, what do you get out of religious exploration?
Just a liberated feeling from the typical mundane shit in life. Anyone into punk can say that they're an outcast from society, but I feel that much more removed. But I mean, I have an iPhone. I have a day job. [Laughs] I'm as much a part of society as I need to be. But I'd like to do away with that at some point in life if I could. But I like Instagram. [Laughs]
There's an instrumental interlude on the album called "The Way Of All Flesh." Was that inspired by the famous Samuel Butler novel?
No, it was just a title I liked. You know where I think I got that? I was listening to Michael Savage. He's like a conservative radio guy in San Francisco and he's out of his fucking mind. He's so far one way that he's completely the other. He's nuts. He's a Jew from New York who's really witty and entertaining. I don't agree with a lot of his shit, but I do enjoy him. He was talking about religious stuff on one of his shows and he said, "This is the way of all flesh." It just instantly grabbed me and I jotted it down. I instantly knew it was a title.
Whenever you guys put out a new album, people love to talk about how you all used to be in the hardcore band Kill Your Idols. Obviously, Black Anvil sounds nothing like Kill Your Idols, but do you see any parallels between the black metal world and the hardcore world?
Yeah, completely. The people that we've met doing this band and the reasons we've bonded with certain people in other bands is no different than the people we met growing up in New York in the hardcore scene—Madball, AF, that whole world of bands. And now I've got brotherhood-type friendships with people we've met through Black Anvil because…well, I like to say real recognizes real, as cheesy as that is. But it's not that cheesy. We got into hardcore because we found something animalistic. And hardcore was different back then, before the Internet. There's something real there, and it's the same way with black metal. Obviously the ideologies are nowhere near the same, but hanging out with Madball or hanging out with Watain, it's almost like the same fucking thing. There's really no difference between the types of people in those bands: They're great dudes who will do whatever for you. They're real.
Before the election, you told an editor here at Noisey that you were planning to vote for Trump. You were just kidding, right?
Yeah. [Laughs] I love that. But it's one of those things: The second I mention that I don't like Hillary Clinton, I get attacked for being a Trump supporter. But I don't think either of them are a good choice. Trump's been a dick his whole life. And Hillary has been a dick in politics her whole life. There's more deaths on her hands than his, but it's all shit no matter how you serve it. There's war in the US over these two people but there's so much more involved than just them. It's gonna affect health care, birth control, all sorts of shit. I get that. But I just wanna remove myself from it. I know people might get pissed at me for saying that, but the whole thing is a headache.
Last time we talked, you told a story about going to Japan with your mom when you were a little kid. She was buying and selling toys. Is that how she made a living?
No, my mom works for the FAA. She still does. She's a secretary in the accounting division. But her boyfriend at that time was heavily into Japanese toys. So they went over just to buy a bunch of shit because they had some connections. I was eight so I don't remember much about it, but I remember being there and getting a bunch of cool shit. But yeah, I grew up in Jamaica, Queens, which is right near the airport, so my mom works for the FAA and my stepdad works for an air freight company. The airport is seven minutes from our house. When I used to live there and friends would fly in, I'd say, "Let me know when you land. I'll leave then." And I'd still beat them to the curb.
So you grew up with planes flying over your house all day long.
Like straight up flying over the house. Loud as hell in the summer. When the Concorde was still happening, the house shook at 6PM every night. It was weird and annoying. I lived there into my early to mid-20s because I was touring so much with Kill Your Idols and None More Black. I didn't want to rent an apartment because I was gone half my life anyway. You learn to tune out the noise, though. When you're trying to watch TV in the summer and the windows are open, you gotta put the volume way up. But we're right under the flight path. It's crazy. My mom still lives there.
You like to torture your bandmates by playing Metallica's Load and St. Anger albums in the van. What else do you annoy them with?
Oh, wait 'til the tour in January. [Laughs] I've got the new Metallica right here. There's only two clunkers on there for me—two duds. I like it for what it is. I wanna like it, so of course I'm gonna. We had one guy filling in for us at one point—I won't tell you the band he's in. Okay, Absu. [Laughs] He hated that last Dissection record, Reinkaos, but I think it's brilliant on so many levels. It's not Storm Of The Light's Bane, but if you sit in jail for a thousand years, you probably wanna do something cool and creative. So I put it on and he was like, "What is this? Dimmu Borgir?" And I was like, "Okay. I'm gonna play this everyday. I'm gonna punish the hell out of you with this." [Laughs] And I did. St. Anger, too—everyday. To the point where Raeph would just start laughing and put his headphones on.
What's the general music policy in the van? Driver's choice?
Yeah, but sometimes when I'm sitting shotgun I'll just take over. Or Raeph and I will go nuts on hip-hop—early to mid-90s type shit. It always starts off with something like Brand Nubian or Onyx, which opens up a whole can of worms as far as songs and playlists and then three hours later we're all sitting there in silence because we're burnt.
Next month you're touring with Mayhem and Inquisition, both of whom are elder statesmen in the black metal universe. Did Black Anvil take any inspiration from either of them when you were starting out?
Not directly, but in the grand scheme—yeah. I'd see the Mayhem logo in magazines along with the Bathory goat and the Venom black metal face on like the T-shirt ad page. Growing up, that was my introduction to that stuff. When I was younger, I didn't totally get it. I'd be like, "This sounds like shit." [Laughs] And I'd go back to Master Of Puppets or some shit. It wasn't until I got into punk and hardcore that it made a little more sense. But I felt like I needed to like it, so I'd force it on myself. So in that regard, it's super important. But because we did this band later in life, it wasn't a direct influence. By time we started, there so much more going on.
Cover photo by Lani Lee