(DGR reviews the new album by Anaal Nathrakh.)
It’s probably telling that, lately, Anaal Nathrakh’s discography has become the soundtrack to just about everything that I’ve done. It’s the drive to work soundtrack, and the drive home after the shitshow routine is completed eight hours later. When people portray heavy metal as music consisting of catharsis, Anaal Nathrakh immediately springs to mind as a band whose very reason for existence is to let anger out — both from the musicians in the band and from the fans around them — in one expulsion of energy. A gamma burst from a dying star of utter negativity.
Anaal Nathrakh have built their career out of being as abrasive as humanly possible. As a latecomer to the band, it has been fun to go back through their career and experience the inordinate amount of inhuman noise and utter abstract madness that this duo have unleashed since their formation.
It has been fun to listen to the band starting out, building a fanbase out of being as raw and caustic as possible and scaring the ever-living hell out of people who couldn’t handle it — only to then make a turn for the more conventional, becoming the hybrid death/grind/industrial/black metal band they are now, especially with the most recent trio of albums — Passion, Vanitas, and the upcoming Desideratum.
Desideratum could be portrayed as Nathrakh’s most accessible record yet, and the band here a friendlier and more approachable version than how they have appeared before. Of course, we must keep in mind that “approachable” is a relative term that must be taken with a grain of salt the size of a cruise liner, and that AN are “friendly” in the same way that someone might warn you before they punch you in the face when you’re tied to a chair with a mouth full of broken glass.
In other words, Anaal Nathrakh are still a blisteringly violent entity that re-awakens every other year or so to let loose all the negativity of the year in one explosive outcry. Desideratum is a continuation of that tradition.
Naming the second song on Desideratum “Unleash” is probably the most apt act of titling that Anaal Nathrakh have ever done, because it not only spells out the format for much of the album, but it is also a heavy descriptor of the band’s sound on Desideratum in general. Coming almost two years to the date after Vanitas, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that the disc doesn’t stray that far from its predecessor — but its appearance has been altered enough to come off as a sort of mutant offspring of Vanitas.
Desideratum is more playful with the electronic elements in Nathrakh’s sound than before and includes multiple instances that I’m personally rather curious to see how people react to. As someone who feels that the industrial elements of the band’s sound were the next logical step in inflicting pain upon the listener, it wasn’t too shocking to hear those elements coming across a little bit more in this album.
When the massive wall of guitars, drums, and animal noises that purport to be vocals become “conventional”, then the next section to receive an upgrade in ferocity was likely to be the programming side of the band’s sound — usually a little bit subdued, but not this time. They too, have been upgraded to run at a million miles an hour, making Desideratum sound like Anaal Nathrakh engaged in a life-and-death struggle with an aggrotech industrial band — including multiple and bona fide bass drops across the first two songs.
The one in “Unleash” that takes place halfway through is pretty spectacular, as the vocals on top are gurgled across and so distorted to hell and back that it sounds like they almost aren’t there at first, until you attempt to follow the lyrics and realize that previous line was leading right into it.
The band still don’t make it easy on the listener on that front, although I can confirm that, at the very least, it is easy to identify the good-sized burst of words in the song “Monstrum In Animo” — which has a pretty fantastic following line accompanied by a deliciously high shriek after those initial three words are uttered. You can also identify a lot of what is going on in the title track, which is working its way up as my favorite — if not for what follows the spoken audio sample that ends with, “…and anguish”.
It seems unintentional, but one of my favorite things about Desideratum is that there is a heavy dose of misdirection in the intros to each song, making it seem as if the band are going in a completely different direction before dropping back into their stock-and-trade explosiveness. “A Firm Foundation Of Unyielding Deep Despair” features an industrial groove that you almost wouldn’t be shocked to hear out of the late 90’s before the band proceed to then beat the life out of it with a sledgehammer for the rest of the song. The section that follows immediately afterward is a super-dark blast of guitars and drums that just grinds the very concept of that section into a fine paste.
“Sub Specie Aeterni (Of Maggots, and Humanity)” keeps the misanthropic streak alive, but does so with an intro of punk guitar and drumming, complete with Disfear-esque guitar solo — before once again completely obliterating it, resuscitating it halfway through the song, and then annihilating it again. This happens multiple times throughout the disc, giving each song its own identity within the giant white-hot furnace that the whole album slowly melts into.
When they’re not blasting away or being shredded at light speed, the guitars and bass both have these massive, monumental grooves to them, but most of the disc still sounds very much like the slab of music that Nathrakh have carved out for themselves. Each song still has an insane amount of blast beats and quickly picked guitars, and Dave Hunt still finds the time to break out multiple faux-operatic vocal sections in between the tons of screeching that he does to get through each song. (He does come through a little more clearly on Desideratum, hence my joking about actually being able to understand some of the lyrics.)
Mick Kenney still sees fit, as the man behind the music, to commit auditory destruction throughout all of the songs, wrecking whole vocal lines with electronic samples and distorted programming on top of just blasting everything to bits musically. Sometimes, he sees fit to salt the earth of a previous melody line, and at other times the only apt description for what he gets up to on Desideratum is the sound of industrialized decimation.
Desideratum, like every Nathrakh album before it and especially like its predecessor Vanitas, is a destructive force that moves by so quickly that it’s like the wall of fire from the alien attack in Independence Day, sweeping up cars and buildings like dust bunnies and lint and throwing them clear across the city. It’s not exactly a “step forward” in terms of sound for the band, as it’s still relatively within their comfort zone, but the willingness to distort and destroy on this disc makes it feel more like “grab by the neck and pull to the right”.
Desideratum serves as the mutated brother to the duo of Passion and Vanitas before it, and the three together produce a mass of fury like no other. Desideratum, especially, thrashes about like a chained animal as it searches for new ways to keep the noise level ratcheted through the roof. It includes songs that are going to feel instantly familiar and be exactly what people are looking for, such as “Idol” and “The One Thing Needful”, and then there are songs that very much run in line with those but in which the industrial element comes through more harshly than ever before, so as to make sure that things don’t settle into a groove.
Desideratum is Anaal Nathrakh once again throwing down the gauntlet against all the bands who would make a play at being pissed off. It is a calculated butchery of sound that still comes off as intensely raw, and people owe it to themselves to check it out — if only to make every band they considered “heavy” before this seem like a bunch of sissies.
Desideratum will be released in North America on October 28 and on October 27 in most of Europe. Pre-order information is available through the links below. One song can be streamed below; others can be heard here and here.
I still can’t believe how they make their sound so goddamn catchy.
“distort and destroy” needs to be an AN song title sometime in the future.
I looked at this band on paper and said “I am definitely going to hate this. Grind, industrial, and most black metal isn’t my thing.”
Thank fuck for me being wrong and giving them a chance.
My only regret is that I haven’t listened to this album more yet so far. I plan to rectify that.
Also, kudos on not using the dreaded ‘D’ word.
Disco? What D word?