Sitting on a couch in the Underworld (second home to Anaal Nathrakh in terms of live performances) – frontman Dave Hunt is his usual blend of amiable, calm and earnest – a far cry from the madman unleashed on the stage later that evening. [Our report here] Whether discussing the minutiae of the band’s upcoming ninth album The Whole Of The Law or tackling grander topics regarding their ideology, his responses are measured and well-considered – and he doesn’t shy away from outright disagreeing with the question in certain circumstances.
We kick off with discussing the band’s recently completed and sold-out tour of Japan, their first time there and “amazing” by Dave’s account. The crowd responses filmed by a band member  certainly gave the impression of an enthusiastic audience to the band’s aurally-decimating experience.  I asked if there were any qualms playing ‘In the Constellation of the Black Widow’, a song which deals with the atrocity of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Quick off the mark, Dave asserts that there were no such qualms, for the simple fact that the band themselves were not involved in this part of history: “It was a different generation of people. Much in the same way that I can discuss World War Two stuff with Germans without there being any problems,” or even to play ‘The Final Absolution’ in Germany – a song about the suicide of Hitler.
Speaking of live shows – this year is the 15th anniversary of the band’s first album The Codex Necro, which saw websites marking the occasion.  Very often bands will organize anniversary shows and play an album in full, but fans shouldn’t hold their breaths in this case. “I don’t necessarily see them as a bad thing – and I understand that sometimes people wanna see ’em – but it’s not something that I’d go mental to try and make happen.” He references KISS as an example of a band wanting to recall their “glory days” (“God knows when the last KISS album came out!”), but it doesn’t fit in with Anaal Nathrakh, for two reasons. One, “It seems to me to invalidate what you’ve done since [that album],” although he is aware that there are a vocal minority of fans who prefer the Codex to subsequent albums. There is a secondary reason, however – “Many of the songs we’ve never played live, and several others would be questionable choices for a live setting. Some songs work better than others live.” The track ‘Paradigm Shift – Annihilation’, for instance, would involve “us largely standing there with samples playing,” he says, laughing at the absurd image. “I’d never say never. But it’s not something that I’d jump at doing.”
Turning to the new album, we first of all bring up the artwork – ostensibly Dante and Virgil in Hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, although Dave is quick to point out that the image is cropped from that painting and features neither of the titular characters. “I saw it in an art gallery in New York and mentioned about it to Mick [Kenney, the other half of the duo].” Mick then edited the image and washed it in black and white tones – a continuation of the band’s black-and-white themes for the last few albums.
Getting to the songs themselves, the track ‘In Flagrante Delicto’ catches attention – a term used to describe being caught in the act (also sexually) although “it can be translated slightly differently.” One of the translations on the internet is “in blazing offense,” although it remains to be seen in which context this is used in the song. Also of note in the tracklisting: the song ‘We Will Fucking Kill You’ could be considered a throwback to the band’s first unreleased demo of the same title. However, it is not a reworked song as has been done previously  but a summation of part of the band’s worldview – and was initially to be the album title, before the duo changed their minds. “We will fucking kill you shall be the whole of the law,” to quote from the lyrics.
Although not as pervasive on The Whole Of The Law, the band have used a number of samples from films and TV shows over the years – including Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and An Inspector Calls, to name a few. As these clips are usually out of context of the show they’re taken from – ‘The Destroying Angel’ starts with a clip of Blackadder laughing maniacally shouting “Kill everybody in the whole world!” – how is the listener to interpret the use of these audio snippets? “At face value, for the most part. There’s no point using something unless it’s in service of what you’re trying to do at the time.” However there is a difference between the band and the people involved. “In terms of the band, it’s quite earnest most of the time. But as individuals we’re a lot more self-deprecating and normal people.” So referring to Blackadder or Fawlty Towers, it’s intended “partially comedically, but it should make sense within the context that you come across it.”
To wrap up on the album, there was the question regarding the band’s cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘Powerslave’ which was featured on the latest Kerrang! tribute album, and is a bonus track on The Whole Of The Law. The song was submitted to the tribute album before Dave and Mick had had chance to hear it fully – “the stuff that we were using just all went to shit.” I asked whether it would be remixed for The Whole Of The Law: “No, not really, because we were reasonably happy with the way it turned out. The fact that the equipment broke [was unfortunate]but we’re happy with it so it’s gone out as it was.”
Much has been said about Anaal Nathrakh’s refusal to release their lyrics – and Dave provided a complete answer in his interview with Spinal Tapdance.  However, the lyrics of other projects he has been involved in – notably Mistress and Benediction – are freely available. With Benediction it’s a different kettle of fish – continuing a legacy of a band Dave joined at a later date – but the difference between Anaal Nathrakh and Mistress is, simply, “The Mistress stuff was intended more like poetry. I wouldn’t be quite pretentious enough to literally call it poetry.” I argue that lyrics are poetry in themselves. “Not necessarily particularly good poetry,” he retorts, “but that’s the idea.”
“Always the surrogate, never the prize
There was never a reason but always a rhyme
Voices always speaking but nothing ever being said
Listen out for bed springs creaking
Nails in the coffin of hope so fleeting
Just a matter of time till you’re out of control
And out of your fucking head”
Mistress – ‘Static’
Conversely, “The Nathrakh lyrics are more of a question of not wanting to give people easy answers. It’s not necessarily being willfully obscure, it’s saying that this stuff’s important enough that – there are references you can think about and go look up – but I wouldn’t want to hand it all over on a silver platter, because it’s worth thinking about. To make absolutely everything available immediately, I think, devalues it.”
In our previous interview, we discussed the boundaries of ‘extreme’ in terms of lyrics within metal. In a similar vein this time round, I brought up an article written by China Miéville regarding the separation of the artist’s politics and their art.  Anaal Nathrakh themselves have discussed some very controversial topics in song lyrics – Dave has once described the band’s outlook as ‘teleological nihilism’ – so with that in mind, can he (and does he) separate art and artist? “Not necessarily by default, but I think it is possible for there to be a particular artistic viewpoint that an artist comes from in the context of the art – which isn’t necessarily the same thing as the individual themselves.” In most cases these are interlinked – art is often deeply personal. “For example, I do struggle a bit to listen to Burzum stuff, and similarly with other likeminded people behind bands. BUT.” He emphasizes the word carefully. “I think that’s largely to do with the fact that they choose to reflect their personal standpoint in their artistic output.”
So how does this tie in with Anaal Nathrakh? “I certainly wouldn’t want to personally endorse some of the things I come out with in Anaal Nathrakh, because the idea is mirroring – with a certain amount of sadistic glee – the things that I/we see out there in the world. Highlighting, touching upon, discussing, but not necessarily endorsing, and not endorsing from a personal standpoint.” He informs me that the liner notes includes a note to similar effect, that the duo as people do not endorse what they as a band are creating ideologically. That’s not to say the band are enforcing right-wing politics as some in extreme metal are wont to do – Dave has stated categorically that he will have nothing to do with right-wing ideology – but that the views of the narrator of Anaal Nathrakh go further than those of Dave Hunt the person. “If musically or in painting or whatever it is, if you’re conjuring up this screaming demon, you’ve still got to go and get your groceries afterwards.” This has led to some personal friction before: “When I first started going out with my girlfriend.” He chuckles at the memory. “She wanted to talk to me straight after the gig and I wasn’t really fit for human consumption at the time.”
We circle back around to Anaal Nathrakh’s very premise, with a first for my interviewing experience: a guest question, from my friend Tom Brumpton at Polymath PR. The question verbatim: “Black metal in the beginning wasn’t about Satanism, but about rebellion and going against the grain. Do Nathrakh continue in that ideology, in that they’ve never been afraid of whatever they’ve wanted to do musically?” Dave immediately starts by disagreeing with the premise of the question. “I do remember early on that for example Emperor were not considered a true black metal band, and I think – although I’m not sure – that was because they didn’t want to promote devil worship. I might be getting the historical picture wrong, but I think that was why – so to say that it was never about Satan, I don’t think is quite accurate.”
Nonetheless, the rebellion aspect of black metal has been clear from the start. “And yes, I would say we still do that – partially by refusing to conform to the norms of the genre. If you take black metal to mean what Tom says it does, the best way to be a black metal band is not to play black metal, if that makes any sense.” He refers to an interview he read with Darkthrone’s Fenriz, around the time the band had shifted to a punkier style. “He was saying, ‘Yeah, doing something different and pissing people off and not doing what you’re supposed to do is the whole point, that’s what we started doing. So how can you say we’re not longer ‘true’’ or whatever people were accusing him of at the time. And I’d say a similar thing [about Anaal Nathrakh].” It is definitely true that the band have never conformed to any expectations – despite a vocal minority who voiced concerns when the band signed to one of the biggest metal labels at Metal Blade. However, whether one likes the music or not is irrelevant to this point – Anaal Nathrakh still make intense and challenging music without compromise. To quote from ‘Submission Is For The Weak’ on their first album, “never surrender.”
Thanks to Dave for his time, and Andy for the opportunity. Check out the band on Facebook here.
1. Link to a video from the Facebook page.
2. There is low quality footage of a full set online here.
3. For instance, Metal Injection’s revisitation of The Codex Necro.
4. Necrogeddon (early version and Eschaton version) and Satanarchrist (demo version and In The Constellation version)
5. Interview with Spinal Tapdance, Dave’s answer to the first question.
6. China Mieville article on politics in art.