I’ll confess that this is the first Anubis album I’ve ever heard. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never heard their other albums, even though I’m well aware of them and I’m a fan of guitarist Douglas Skene’s other band, Hemina. That said, I’m happy that I have finally heard something from them, as there is a certain pleasant texture that soaks their music that you won’t hear many other places. Their new album “The Second Hand” is an immersive prog experience.
Anubis hails from Australia and consists of Robert James Moulding on vocals, guitars, and percussion; David Eaton on keys; Douglas Skene guitars and sitar; Dean Bennison on guitars; Anthony on bass; and Steven Eaton on drums and glockenspiel. It seems that the whole band provides vocals of some sort, and there are also many guests (some just friends of the band or in the prog community) that also add vocals or dialogue to the album. You might have guessed that the album is an immense affair from all of this, and you’d be right. In fact, the list of instruments on this album is huge and I actually edited down for the sake of space. It’s safe to say that this album is eccentric and has a huge vision to it, and you can tell them from the very start with the elaborate dialogue and sound effects. You’ll hear plenty of those throughout the album.
To start with, there is obviously a grand concept behind “The Second Hand”. It has something to do with some great, sweeping apocalypse that spreads across the world, at least I think it does. There is some kind of plague, but there also seems to be much more going on than that. There also seems to be a central figure in an elderly man that is in a coma, so perhaps this is all in his head. I can’t be sure yet. However, the album seems to be at least partially a commentary on the modern refugee and environmental crises around the world, and the music does an excellent job of making you truly feel the urgency and fear.
Case in point: “While Rome Burns” might show all of this the best. It has these feelings that can be described using adjectives like looming, imminent, and impending; and the sweet keys really swell this inside your chest. You can feel the frightened pain and the desire for flight in every lingering key or emotional guitar solo. I only mention all of this because the whole album has these same feelings, and it’s rather striking and prominent.
One of the reasons for this striking tone is the prevalence of great performances. Robert’s vocals are smooth, clear, and melodious; and the backing vocals are all appropriately mixed and placed. Robert has this fantastic ability to craft memorable choruses with humongous hooks and dire feelings. Apart from the vocals, the instruments are all noteworthy, too. David’s keys linger and swell, haunt, and soar. His use of synth, organ, piano, and mellotron creates a huge range and dynamic of sound. There are some many tones and textures in his work that it’s difficult to describe exactly how important his sound is to the album.
Guitars here are also of utmost importance. Various members play them, but Douglas and Dean handle most of them, apparently. The styles crisscross all over the place, making it sometimes difficult to detect who did what. This album has lots of bite, though, mainly because of the hefty riffs and distortion that feature through some the faster parts. A standout, too, are the many and sometimes very lengthy guitar solos that are often used to drive the feelings of impending doom and climactic force. Anthony’s bass and Steven’s drums offer a further buttress for this. Anthony’s bass is particularly funky and trippy, and the mix is so good that you can hear every note.
Overall, the whole album passes like a synth trip with lots of melody, tons of great choruses, and seriously good bass lines. There are certainly points in the album where there isn’t much happening and it may lose you slightly (just like with any sprawling story), but the album ultimately has bite when it needs it, but knows how to mellow out often, too. A good example of this is the massive “Pages of Stone”, which features immense and lengthy guitar solos over top of some looming and potent themes. It’s quite fiery and vigorous at times, bringing this real fear of the end spelled out in music, rather than words. It also features plenty of melodic moments that feel like calms in the storm. It’s really something to hear.
My favorite song, though, is the three track recurring suite “These Changing Seasons”, which is quite evocative and melodic in nature. The second track especially, but the whole suite also, has this pop feel to it, more so than the rest of the album. The suite is led by haunting piano much of the time, and it winds as if the song were a spiral staircase to greater heights and beauteous melodies. I’m also a big fan of the title track for its striking chorus, “Fool’s Gold” with its arresting second half, and especially “The Making of Me” with its synthy tendencies and feel of flow.
So, my first encounter with an Anubis album has been positive. While there are definitely some lulls here and there, the album overall feels forceful and deeply creative. After you hear the album, you will most likely be left thinking about the memorable choruses and gorgeous keys and solos, but what will stick with you the longest will be the urgency and calamity that well up inside your chest as the album progresses. It takes serious skill in composition to achieve something like that.