Can it really be over a decade since Anaal Nathrakh released debut album “The Codex Necro”? So few were prepared for the sonic barbarity of that seminal recording, which so disfigured the face of black metal forever, proving that snowy mountain vistas in the Norwegian countryside are infinitely less scary than a dank urban underpass. Convention and complacency were washed away in a torrent of bile and blastbeats, and the Brummie brutalists haven’t looked back since.
Fiercely productive, as well as creative, they’ve returned barely a year after the hit-and-miss “Passion”, an album that most bands would give their eye-teeth to have recorded, yet didn’t quite hit the creative heights of other releases in the bands’ back catalogue. Seventh full length release “Vanitas” clearly has no intention of succumbing to a similar fate, as Messrs Kenney and Hunt have upped their game significantly, delivering a record that shows just how much hatred and anger still flows through their blackened veins.
The scything riffs, concussion inducing percussion and inhuman noises emanating from Dave Hunt’s mangled throat that make up album opener ‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ may scream “Business as usual!” but it’s an enterprise that works oh-so-well, and emphatically re-affirms Anaal Nathrakh’s place in the pantheon of extreme metal. That they sound so fresh and relevant with only a smidge of fine-tuning after ten years of releases is testament to their burning talent, and it’s this fire that makes “Vanitas” feel as shocking as downing a shot of lighter fluid, with the glorious wide-screen chorus of ‘Forging Towards the Sunset’ emerging from the triumphant bombardment of riffs like some smirking devil on the hunt for fresh souls.
The improvement in both songwriting and technique will be clearly noticeable to long term fans; Kenney’s riffs cut deeper, his leads spiral higher, and the all out fury of the drumming that forms the bedrock of the bands’ sound is still there, but now knows when to ease up on the gas. It’s not all just frostbitten tremolo picking either; the mid-paced, mechanised lurch of ‘Feeding the Beast’ calls to mind Italian mentalists Aborym while the pummelling death metal thrusts of the brilliantly named ‘You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying’ shows just how effective head shots can be in place of mindlessly spraying the place with bullets. That said, the Marduk-on-PCP carnage wrought by the likes of ‘Of Fire, and Fucking Pigs’ and ‘Make Glorious the Embrace of Saturn’ are what we know and worship Anaal Nathrakh for, and these more familiar numbers are a sizzling balm to the soul.
Dave Hunt always appears to be in the throes of undergoing a violent exorcism on every Anaal Nathrakh record he features on, and “Vanitas” is no different, with his gargling-with-powdered-glass throat noises, caco-demonic screeching and chest-beating roars comprising a voice that truly can be described as an extra instrument in itself. And we haven’t even touched on the soaring, arrogant grandeur of his cleans, elevating the music to a higher plane entirely, where it deserves to sit.
Anaal Nathrakh have once again demonstrated how they are still the most important and devastating band in the UK, and their continued presence serves as a reminder that everything is not ok, be that in society, the economy, and certainly not in the underground music scene. If they weren’t still so furious as to keep on administering twisted masterpieces such as “Vanitas” directly into our battered eardrums, we’d have become complacent sheep without realising it, and that will never do. Long may they reign!