Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law

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Take your seats, one and all! The show’s about to start.
Anaal Nathrakh – ‘Extravaganza!’

What a show it is. The number of extreme metal bands who turn out vicious music champing at the bit across nine albums is growing increasingly small; even smaller are those who continue to outdo their previous efforts. Anaal Nathrakh are counted within that circle. While the tagline of ‘the soundtrack for armageddon’ seems a tad played out in an age where every band thinks they are the most extreme entity, there is still a strong element of truth in the British duo’s maelstrom. Their last two albums Vanitas and Desideratum caught flak for being relatively ‘safe’ outings of electronic-tinged extreme metal, but The Whole of the Law rides roughshod on those claims, and detonates from the first moment until the last.

Anaal Nathrakh often reference literature in their music – the album title In the Constellation of the Black Widow being one of many [1] – and one of the pieces selected this time is from Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran – entitled On the Heights of Despair. [2] The title sums up Anaal Nathrakh’s dichotomy between the pits of depravity and peaks of (ultimately futile) triumph. To quote Hunt in an interview, “You could call it a teleological nihilism. There is potential significance, there is the possibility of something positive; a goal. It’s just that it won’t happen.” [3] The band’s style of music is a blend of black metal, grindcore, industrial and plenty else besides, but instead of permanently wallowing in the mire of humanity’s depravity, both vocals and music reach euphoric heights at key moments, only to then crash back into the pit.

Hunt’s vocal performance is often a talking point of Anaal Nathrakh’s oeuvre – as well as his other bands Benediction and the sadly-defunct Mistress – and he lays down a scorching performance on The Whole of the Law. From the reverberating cleans that pepper off ‘Depravity Favours the Bold’ to the monstrous growls in ‘The Great Spectator’, the maniacal shrieks in ‘And You Will Beg for Our Secrets’ or the special type of singing in ‘Extravaganza!’ – more on that later – he cements himself unquestionably as one of the most versatile vocalists in metal. The ‘title track’ is – in a roundabout way – Anaal Nathrakh’s signature song. To quote: “We will fucking kill you shall be the whole of the law.” This is not a reference to LaVey’s Church of Satan, but the band’s own ideology, as well as a reference to the band’s unreleased first demo. The lyrics ebb and flow in intelligibility; certain lines pop out, such as “I would fan the flames of this revolution into such a blaze” on ‘In Flagrante Delicto’ – though there are many parts of the record where the vocals descend into demented shrieks and snarls that will have fans frantically scribbling guesswork at the lyrics. [4]

The Whole of the Law Anaal Nathrakh

The other half of the duo – Mick Kenney, who writes and produces all the music – has clearly had fun writing the riffs and melodies that make up The Whole Of The Law. The record spans all ends of the band’s spectrum of emotions – as abrasive as The Codex Necro or In The Constellation…, and delving headfirst into the extreme electronic genres that the last three records flirted with. The gabber-speed drums [5] in ‘Hold Your Children Close…’ are but one example, as is the Streetcleaner-era Godflesh-esque grinding industrial of ‘We Will Fucking Kill You’, which echoes Mick’s previous sentiment that just because something’s fast doesn’t make it extreme. [6]

However, the album also rivals Vanitas’ flirtation with classic metal melodies (c.f. the end sections of ‘A Metaphor For The Dead’ and ‘Of Horror, And The Black Shawls’). These melodies have also infiltrated into the guitar solos – an area where Mick usually explored wild, off-the-wall solos akin to early Slayer beforehand (see: ‘More of Fire than Blood’). Now we have much more conventionally heavy metal – almost Iron Maiden-esque – solos such as in ‘On Being A Slave’, which are welcome divergences amidst an otherwise unrelenting record. The sore thumb of the record – for better or worse – is ‘Extravaganza!’, with its nods to heavy metal legend King Diamond in the screeching falsettos that Dave reaches, leaving listeners incredulous in his path. The whole debacle could soundtrack the black magic circus act scene in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The only other area of weakness in The Whole of the Law come down to the dense use of choral arrangements – such as in ‘Depravity Favours The Bold’ – and the same choral is used across several tracks, which leans towards homogeneity on initial spins.

Speaking of ‘On Being A Slave’; Nathrakh have never shied away from controversial topics. [7] However, the chorus line of this song is distinctly uncomfortable as Hunt sings “On being a slave, whose breath smells of the master’s cum.” It remains to be seen in what context this line is to be taken. The narrator is unapologetic in their ideological stances, and here is where the important distinction between band narrator and individual must be made and explored [read our interview with Hunt for more on this]. Meanwhile, the famous and over-quoted speech from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is firmly decimated in ‘The Great Spectator’ (“The hate of men will not pass,” to quote Hunt) as a diatribe to humanity, [8] and in an odder moment on the record, the nursery rhyme ‘Wheels on the Bus’ plays in a creepy fashion at the end of ‘…So We Can Die Happy’, its purpose open to interpretation.

To touch on the bonus tracks, the band have provided two cover versions which were already floating around in the ether – a cover of UK ska group The Specials’ ‘Man At C&A’, which was part of the Decibel Magazine Flexi vinyl series, and Iron Maiden’s ‘Powerslave’, included on Kerrang!’s latest Iron Maiden tribute album. These covers provide two important insights: one, into the band’s tastes in music outside of extreme metal, and two, into how they tweak their formula to work in other parameters. While the ‘Powerslave’ cover in particular is a little middle-of-the-road compared to the band’s original works of insanity, both are well-executed and work well as appendices to the album proper.

The Whole of the Law proves Anaal Nathrakh are still one of the best in the extreme metal game; the duo are consistently bringing fresh ideas to the table, and each album pushes the boundaries of the last. Not only one of the best albums this year, but one of the best of the band’s near-untouchable discography.

For further reading, check out our writing on Anaal Nathrakh.

Footnotes:
1. A line taken from Moment of Freedom by Jens Bjornebøe, GoodReads link here.
2. Link to GoodReads, also it’s on ‘We Will Fucking Kill You’.
3. Spinal Tapdance interview here.
4. There is a new Facebook group dedicated to guessing the band’s lyrics here.
5. Gabber is a style of extreme electronic music with programmed drums at ridiculous speeds. Examples of gabber and aggrotech (a related genre) can be seen in ‘Monstrum in Animo’.
6. A link to Mick Kenney’s interview with Echoes and Dust.
7. Famous examples include ‘The Final Absolution’ on Hitler’s suicide, ‘The Joystream’ about child mortality rates due to poverty-related causes.
8. For similar twisting of literature in the lyrics, look to ‘When The Lion Devours Both Dragon and Child’ and ‘So Be It’, which both reimagine Biblical scripture.

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Founder, editor-in-chief and general busybody of Broken Amp. Listens to almost every genre under the sun, but tends to enjoy most forms of metal, various sections of rock and punk, and a smattering of ambient and rap.

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