Endarkenment by Anaal Nathrakh

Release date: October 2, 2020
Label: Metal Blade Records

There has always been something special about Birmingham’s masters of ‘necro’ noise Anaal Nathrakh, and ever since randomly picking up The Codex Necro all the way back in 2001, just because the cover looked gruesomely appealing, the duo and their unique and bitterly volatile brand of extreme metal have held the top spot on my favourites list. Kenney and Hunt have put Nathrakh through a considerable amount of evolution over the years, which must have come naturally considering the many pointed teeth they can bite with, from black and death metal, industrial and grindcore, their sound can shift and shimmer from outright brutality to a powerful theatre of grooving melody and assaulting orchestration, all executed with the same vehement vitriol they have been known for throughout their long and illustrious career.

This ever-changing shift has often seen them step outside of the metal comfort zone, introducing the polarizing ‘clean’ vocals for example, electronics, more melodic and experimental tracks and breaking away from the straight-forward blast-beating norm, but no matter how far out of these extreme metal boundaries Nathrakh go they never fail to deliver a punishing release peppered with interesting nuances beneath the spitefully abrasive music. It’s safe to say that you can take your guesses as to what a new Anaal Nathrakh album will sound like but the end result is often more surprising and eclectic than you first thought.

In these harrowing times of petrifying uncertainty and bloodshed the need for a caustic and biting set of songs is greater than ever and the arrival of a new Anaal Nathrakh album may be the cathartic stab in the eyes and ears we all crave. The band’s 11th studio album Endarkenment comes amid the Covid shitstorm and considering it was recorded before it hit full force it seems oddly portentous. Opening title track ‘Endarkenment’ introduces us to some of those monstrosities with a politically charged salvo of foreboding riffs and blast-beating salivation. It’s trademark Nathrakh and once the stunning chorus kicks in it’s clear that they have returned in a grandiose cyclone of furore with fists raised at certain pathetic individuals and the harsh reality that this world is truly fucked.

 

The stop/start insanity of mini rager ‘Thus, Always, to Tyrants’, is a more to the point contrasting song with its urgent speedy riffs, waves of flailing tremolos and spasmodic lightning blasts. 2nd single ‘The Age of Starlight Ends’ storms in with a rampant intro of blastbeats and a familiar echo of A New Kind of Horror, with its monumental chorus as one of the albums most volume-cranking moments of grinning metal satisfaction. A sublime listen and the rare honour of being Nathrakh’s first lyric video.

Not to be ruled by going by the book a band like Anaal Nathrakh never fail to shake things up and will rarely look back in time to past triumphs but rather forge ahead into progression, viewing each release as an advancement to their sound. It’s safe to say that over the years Kenney has been more free-spirited with the music he so prolifically creates, giving their songs a more complex layer, which seems to often accentuate the violent aspects of the music more clearly. Blasting for the sake of it is easy (as much as we all love that), but injecting a heavy dose of melody and uniqueness into their extreme metal takes balls of steel to go against the grain of music that is so fiercely protected by its fanbase.

Nathrakh will gladly throw you a curveball now and then, ‘Libidinous (A Pig with Cocks in its Eyes)’ is this albums ‘Extravaganza’, haunting in parts and the slowest and most ‘out there’ of the ten new tracks, but perhaps the most intriguing. The King Diamond-esque falsettos return to proclaim “a pig with cocks in its eyes, masturbating to the end of the world” preceding a memorably spot-on chorus. The pace picks right back up with screamer ‘Beyond Words’, one of the albums best and certainly most devastating tracks. Featuring a killer chorus and gorgeously ominous guitar shredding, rabid necro attacks, pig squeals and Atilla Csihar-esque grunts from Hunt in fine snarling form, it’s an all-out track that is most like what you expect a Nathrakh song to be.

Anaal Nathrakh have never been a band to measure extremity in BPM or how much distortion spews back into your ears, but rather gauge it more so in terms of subject matter. Take the pulsing brilliance of the At The Gates heavy ‘Feeding the Death Machine’ and its connections to the heartbreaking stories that took place at Auschwitz. Thematically it’s crushing, but musically isn’t one of the albums audible ragers. Go back further to Desideratum‘s stunning ‘The Joystream’ and its deeper meaning of the fact that each day 29,000 children needlessly die from diseases that could be prevented. Against the blastbeating interludes the melodic and highly emotive chorus sections speak volumes about the severity of the themes that Nathrakh cover and the fact that they, like other extreme metal acts such as Napalm Death, are a band who stand up for the oppressed and recognise the atrocities that plague our world.

There are purists who think they know what Nathrakh should sound like and still hang on to The Codex Necro like the plastic-wrapped corpse of a loved one, awaiting in hope that the band will return to that crushingly raw mayhemic sound which brought classics like ‘Pandemonic Hyperblast’ and ‘Submission is for the Weak’. The beautiful thing about Nathrakh is the next album may be full of these tracks but for Kenney and Hunt though there is no discernible difference, they just simply do what they do without fear, and whatever feels right in the moment is what sticks. They expel whatever needs expelling and are no less harsh about doing it, the biggest difference though is the Nathrakh of now are perhaps a little more matured in how they expel and create, giving a release a more varied feel and not following the expectations of a standard blast and scream metal album.

‘Create Art, Though the World May Perish’ sees Nathrakh take a more angular approach with dissonant guitars playing through the main meat of the song juxtaposed with a more melodic Maiden-esque chorus of weeping riffs. ‘Singularity’ raises the game once more with a tidy face-melter with fits of severe and caustic riffing again with more melodic parts scattered between rages. ‘Punish Them’ restrains the blastbeats, pulling back on an all out assault, and gives Hunt some animalistic vocals to spit wildly.

Anaal Nathrakh know how to end an album and it’s usually on a grand scale with a firey and dramatic blackened scathing epic of gargantuan riffs and soaring blast sections, and closing number ‘Requiem’ is no different. There’s some clear ‘Of Horror and the Black Shawls’ vibes here with Kenney’s music so beautifully conducted it feels as though a full-blown orchestra booms in the background. The beautifully dizzying main riff cleverly plays on Verdi’s ‘Dies Irae’ as frenetic blast beats and clattering cymbals carry the music into an orgiastic mass to drop to your knees for as Hunt’s raspy proclamations of Latin text flay away all remaining flesh that the may be clinging on. Hunt almost adopts another persona during these lauded outro tracks, flexing his more black metal vocal chords, which has always played well with the musical direction. Appreciators of sweeping melodic guitar solos will be enamoured with Kenney’s brilliant and touching climax as ‘Requiem’ and Endarkenment draws to a satisfying and reflective close.

In the press preceding the album Hunt said that Endarkenment “burns with light rather than glowers with darkness” and that statement couldn’t be more true. I cannot explain but there is a throbbing energy throughout these ten new tracks that is similar to that of Desideratum. It’s not bleak like A New Kind of Horror was, but speaks about the bleakness of the world with an almost, dare I say, radiant positivity whilst still maintaining Nathrakh’s visceral nature, and that’s mainly down to the fact that Endarkenment features heavily on melodic moments, but not so much that it drowns out the brutality completely. The exhausting debate about infusing extreme metal with melodic sounds will perpetually go on and is really only grumbled about by the ‘Trve’ cultists, but the fact is that it just works well in a complementary way. Melody and violence seem to contrast so wonderfully.

There is enough of what you expect from the band to satiate the urge to throw horns and headbang but also enough of what you didn’t expect. The duo of Kenney and Hunt continue to raise the bar and challenge our conceptions of an extreme metal blueprint. Kenney inspires masterfully behind the scenes putting out some of the bands tastiest riffs and undeniably catchy hooks whilst Hunt has never sounded better and his cleans are a source of beaming joy, especially in the title track. Sure, Nathrakh have a ‘sound’, and one that has been defined more clearly over the past few releases, but no two albums sound quite alike, and that’s testament mainly to Kenney’s incredible song writing and ability to store away a specific feel for future songs between albums, which I’m sure allows for a more focused and speedy recording. The next album is likely taking shape in his head right now, and until the world stops turning and churning out its sickness lyrical ideas are likely already being penned by Hunt… and sincerely, I do hope he writes a book one day.

Endarkenment sees the band channelling their energy into a clean and crisp production, which is unsurprisingly outstanding and full of neat little touches. If you listen carefully enough you will hear throwbacks to previous albums such as Hell is Empty…, Passion, and In the Constellation of the Black Widow, giving this a touch of familiar nostalgia. The band will never change what they do but rather evolve a little of the how they go about doing it. More importantly Nathrakh are a band who have earned the right to hone their creativity into something a little different, and Endarkenment is very different whilst remaining true. The complexity that boils beneath the surface of each track is really quite breathtaking giving the songs a fluidity and dynamic… the aggressive aspects have a harmonious underlying feel and the melodic flow that perfectly complements the utter devastation still has a twisted darkness to it.

Bravo boys. Endarkenment is everything I imagined and more and well worth the Covid delay. It’s furious, but layered and has unbelievable clarity to it. It’s melodic but doesn’t stray into the experimental. The album seethes as does its makers yet manages to keep a balance to its abrasive chaos. It’s an album full of soul, full of heart and a truthful reflection of the state of the world and what they see it as, from its teeth-breaking music to the visceral uncensored cover art of a pig’s head with cocks protruding from its hollow eyes. Anaal Nathrakh are not just there to vent your rages to but a band to open your ears to and praise for what they do and the walls they passionately break down. Regardless of what you may think of the choices and direction the band has taken over the years there is no denying they can put out a beast of an album that hooks the listener in. There is simply no band quite like them.

As the finger still hovers over the red button of doom and we are drawn into a maelstrom of unending suffering, Nathrakh have left one question unanswered… which cock belongs to Hunt and which belongs to Kenney? All joking aside, Endarkenment is a thrill-ride of unexpected twists and classic Nathrakh all combined to unleash a thoroughly devastating, inspiring and thought-provoking album. We may have to go through a horrifying age of endarkenment to reach any glimmer of enlightenment, but one thing is for sure Anaal Nathrakh will continue to be the soundtrack to the apocalypse and a band near and dear to my heart.

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