Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh: “I’m a weirdo in a very specific way.”

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  • I’m a weirdo in a very specific way. Unless you ask me questions like you would, I could be someone you’d sit next to on the bus and you wouldn’t know anything.” To call Dave Hunt, vocalist of extreme metal duo Anaal Nathrakh, ‘a weirdo’ is a disservice. Instead, underneath his down-to-earth attitude are a wealth of philosophical and emotional talking points, which he makes no bones about expressing if the right questions are asked. I sat down for two interviews with him, one before their blistering set at The Black Heart [report here] and one straight after, for an in-depth discussion of topics related both to Anaal Nathrakh and his own viewpoints on music, language and philosophy, which I have united in one article.

    What starts out as an innocuous and admittedly sarcastically-tinged question nets more information about new material than I’d bargained for. The duo have a knack for putting out material at a rate that many bands can only dream of: their last three albums have all been released in roughly three years, and it’s been a few months since last record Desideratum, so surely the next one is done and dusted? “We have started to think about it, we’ve got some ideas, kind of mullin’ over. We did think about recording it within the next couple of months, but we knocked it back a bit, have a bit more time to draw things together.

    Anaal Nathrakh are also in a unique position that they didn’t start playing live for the first few years, until one fateful day at BBC Radio 1. The legendary John Peel had them on for a session in 2003,[1] and two years later the band found themselves booked on a Christmas show courtesy of Terrorizer Magazine. The band still don’t play as often as many touring acts, but still it begs the question: has the live element had any effect on the songwriting? “No, ‘cuz the thing is when you’re doing an album, you’ve got to make it the best album that you can. I mean if you’re in AC/DC, then the best album you can is the same thing as the best live thing you can do, because the way the music works, it’s quite simple and can easily be communicated live. Whereas with this, we’re intent on making an album when we’re making an album, then if we decide we want to play one of those songs live afterwards, we’ve just gotta figure it out,” he says with a short laugh. “But that’s the way round it should be, because someone receiving an album should be able to expect it’s the best album that you could make, not one that you compromised because it was too difficult to do at a gig.” He does go on to say that they’ve not failed to pull off live any of their songs thus far, although there are some they are unlikely to play live as they’re ‘too noisy’, as other half of the duo Mick Kenney told me for a different website.[2]

    The other barrier to pulling off some songs live are the guest vocalists Anaal Nathrakh have worked with. With names such as Attila Csihar (Mayhem), Joe Horvath (Circle Of Dead Children) and Rainer Landfermann (ex-Bethlehem, Pavor), it seems unlikely that their tracks [3] are going to be played live. Interestingly, Dave states that even he doesn’t know what Horvath and Attila are singing, as they didn’t provide lyric sheets! “If we’re gonna ask someone to be involved, it’s because we like what they do. So we’re not gonna tell them what to do, because what they do is the reason we asked them to do it.” So even in the case of Rainer, where Dave and Rainer were actively involved in writing lyrics together, it was very much Rainer’s take on Dave’s ideas after he explained it to him. Going into more detail with Rainer “was a good thing, as far as I was concerned. Usually when I do stuff, I don’t explain anything to Mick, or we might have a chat about stuff and then we usually end up watching Michael Jackson videos instead of talking about it.

    Turning to album names, I point out a trend I’d noticed in album names, that the last three had been deconstructed terms: Passion comes from the Greek ‘paskho’, meaning suffering; Vanitas relates to vanity but also a reminder of life’s futility; and Desideratum is a root word for desire, which can have threatening connotations. Is this an intentional trilogy? “It’s not an intentional trilogy, but one of the most interesting things I find in life is the idea that there are facets to things which appear mundane, which aren’t themselves mundane.” Like desire? “Exactly, I think that desire is a fantastically complicated thing, and the issues revolving around it are very far-reaching. I have a tendency to pick out things like that, that you can deconstruct and realize they aren’t quite as superficially meaningless as they might appear to be. I mean, being passionate about your flavor of ice cream?” he says with a bemused look on his face. “You know what I mean? It’s a total debasement of the meaning of the word.

    On a sidenote, for the Nathrakh nerds out there, I had to ask a question regarding the album title of Passion. Dave revealed that there is an original name the band were going to call it, and instead of just scrapping it, they encoded it into the liner notes. “It’s a grid of numbers and the encryption is called The Nihilist Cipher,[4] which is why it seemed kind of appropriate. You need a keyword, and then you can work out what the message is saying. It just looks like a grid of numbers, and underneath it tells you what the keyword is.” Apparently someone/some people figured it out, but the challenge is laid down for the rest of us!

    Moving on from the band, our conversation delves more into the man himself, starting with his music taste. In several interviews, Dave has mentioned his love of harsh noise and power electronics. When asked where this love stemmed from, he says, “It was the same thing that made me listen to metal music in the first place. I had a noise in my head, that I figured was probably out there somewhere. When I was 13 or however old I was, not long before I started listening to metal, I was listening to fuckin’, God I dunno, MC Hammer? Shite like that.” Possibly reveal of the year! “But not long after that, the thing that I could find back then was the Deicide album Legion. Deicide aren’t the harshest death metal band ever, but that album is pretty harsh-sounding, angular and difficult, and I carried on looking for that kind of thing.

    It was actually Shane Embury of Napalm Death who switched him onto noise music, via Embury’s Japanophilia. In an interview, he mentioned the prolific Japanoise musician Merzbow, whom Dave checked out. “It wasn’t enough. For the risk of using a catchphrase of Roy Walker, ‘It’s gud, but it’s not right.’” His impression of the Northern Irish TV presenter is uncanny. “So I set out to try and find if there was something more than that, and I came across Masonna, which is what Japanese noise should sound like to me.” Those unfamiliar with the deranged individual are in for a treat.[5] “And then I found Whitehouse and all that kind of thing. All of that was a different edge of the noise in my head in the first place. It wasn’t as if I found extreme metal and thought ‘Right, I finally found it.” It was more ‘that presses the right button, but that’s a different thing than having the perfect encapsulation of it on an album.’

    When not blowing his ears out with noise, specific metal bands he mentions are Corrupt Moral Altar, whose t-shirt he was wearing onstage, and a couple of Brazilian bands I recognized: “One’s called Facada. Means ‘stabbed’,” and the other, with almost the same lineup, is Monge, whom I interviewed for a magazine years ago. “I mean if English is your native language, then the name of the black metal incarnation is a little unfortunate really. ‘We are Monge!’” he bellows. “It lacks a certain something. But I’ve really enjoyed listening to their stuff. So it’s not like I don’t listen to metal, I do. I’m just not interested in it as a phenomenon in the same way. I like noises.

    Click the tab at the top of the page to read the second half of our interview!

    Footnotes:
    1. The tracks are on the 2006 re-release of début The Codex Necro. Example: ‘Pandemonic Hyperblast
    2. My interview with Mick Kenney at Echoes And Dust
    3. ‘Atavism,’ ‘Genetic Noose’ and ‘Tod Huetet Uebel’ respectively.
    4. The Nihilist Cipher on Wikipedia.
    5. Masonna performing live.

  • We turn from music to language: Anaal Nathrakh’s discography contains no less than 6 different languages used [1], and that’s just the ones I’ve managed to unearth. I ask him where his interest in foreign languages comes from. “It’s not foreign languages, actually, it’s language as a phenomenon, full stop. I think that’s fascinating. Partially because language mediates our experience of the world, it’s kinda like a colored pair of glasses that you can never take off, because your eyeballs themselves are colored or something like that. And we subvocalize many thoughts, we don’t necessarily think in words, but the only way our thoughts are intelligible to us is if we put them into words. So if those words have any effect on the way we think at all, then that is language affecting thought. Language is very fundamental to human experience.

    He goes on to point out that language has power, referencing a module he studied at university called ‘Die Verbrannten Dichter,’ the writers who were burned by the Nazis. “So yeah, that’s the reason we mess about with language a lot. it’s not always the case, sometimes if there’s a song title in a foreign language, it’s because it relates to the source of it.” Case in point, the song title ‘In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas’ is taken from Arthur Schopenhauer’s diary, and ‘Le Diabolique Est L’Ami Du Simplement Mal’ is a bastardization of a quote attributed to Voltaire. “If you were to stumble across the Voltaire quote, maybe on Wikipedia, you get some idea of what was going on with the song, therefore I didn’t translate the title. I believe it’s attributed to Voltaire, it might be erroneously so.

    Since he brings up Schopenhauer and others of the nihilistic, solipsistic mindset, [2] I ask him to what extent he agrees with these strong sentiments, and to what extent he’s putting them out for critical thinking and debate. “It’s more the latter, but usually I sympathize with the mindset that would lead to thinking those things. I genuinely do think that most of culture is some crass attempt at manipulation for power, but to put it into the Anaal Nathrakh mindset, you would jump from that to ‘behead the people who did it.’” Anaal Nathrakh is then an extrapolation of certain ways of thinking that he holds. “I don’t think that all humanity is cancer [in reference to song title ‘When Humanity Is Cancer’], but I do sometimes struggle with things which, if you were to extrapolate them, would end up saying that.” He also mentions David Benatar, who wrote the book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence: “He took Schopenhauer’s ball and ran with it, and even he isn’t advocating actually killing people, and it’s more of a result of a logical argument that he has, but nonetheless you can end up with some pretty strong statements, if you go down that rabbit hole!

    Well down the rabbit hole we go, into one final area of philosophy. My question is simple: if he were to run a course on Anaal Nathrakh 101, what would he put on the reading list? His answer is measured, with pauses for consideration: “It would be a philosophy course, because that’s what interests me, academically speaking. There would be a couple of lectures on 19th century German stuff, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and stuff like that. But I would like to angle it towards contemporary results of that kind of thing. This is the thing, I *do* academia, so one day I might genuinely have to answer that question!” He say the point of the course would be whether or not life can be meaningful. So including the two names mentioned above, it would also use Benatar, and draw on moral error theory,[3] which he explains. “One of the constituents of living a good life is whether or not you’re a good person. Given the definition of what it is to be a good person, morality creeps in. So morality is relevant to the meaningfulness of life, in a way.

    His particular interest in this theory stems from its claim that “moral discourse, the way we talk and behave in a moral way, what you might think one *should* do and what I think you *ought* to do in a given situation, those have an impact on the meaningfulness of life, because having done something that you think you ought not to have done, that will in some way have a negative impact on the story that you can tell yourself about your life.” He picks his words carefully, putting emphasis on each one as he lays out the thought process, with a nod to his supervisor who continually criticizes him for the use of the word morality: “‘Too indistinct, doesn’t mean enough, you have to be more specific,’” he quotes. He continues: “Moral error theory talks about us, as a society, having these standards that we think apply, and actually they don’t. So it’s kind of undermining that whole potential.

    We draw back into metal briefly when he mentions an old Entombed lyric: “A lie is built unto itself, a throne in your head” from ‘Living Dead’. “They actually took that from a book which is *deeply dodgy*. ‘Might is right’ kind of thing. [4] Nonetheless it’s a great line, and that kind of sums up the moral error theory way of looking at things, which — we have this institution that we think is an absolute objective *fact*… and it isn’t!” He grins at that thought. “Nonetheless, without it we can end up doing horrible things that on some level surely we shouldn’t do. So it’s not that morals aren’t important, even if they’re not true.” To get back on topic: “Were I to be doing a course, I’d like to do something that sort of led up to that. You said 101, well actual error theory, that’d be…505.

    To round out on these in-depth interviews, I bring up the notion of ‘extreme’ in metal lyrics and whether it can go too far. It’s a term he rejects after a lengthy pause: “I disagree with extreme being a spherical term. By which I mean, being too extreme in one direction as opposed to another, but that’s not just because the level of extremity is too much, it’s because it went too far in one direction.” He brings up the age-old debate of neo-Nazism, an ideology that is rife among much of extreme metal either in lyrics or in views that scene members hold. Dave, however, is not keen on it: “Just don’t hold with it, wouldn’t have it in the house, don’t wanna know. So, for me, you won’t catch me doing that.” He affirms that there is a certain level of extremity which can be surpassed, but queries whether ‘unacceptable’ is the right word to use: “‘Unacceptable’ is a bit tricky, because then you get into the realms of censorship, and I’d be careful. Rather than having a strong opinion on it, I’d be careful around that, but I certainly wouldn’t want to involve myself.” So once it rides against his own personal beliefs, that’s when it becomes too extreme? “Exactly. I can happily have something that’s extreme in terms of being explicit, because I don’t think that really affects anything. Have ever read early Broken Hope lyrics? There’s a song called ‘She Came Out In Chunks.’ I don’t find anything objectionable about that. Moronic, you might be able to accuse it of being, but I don’t think the extremity of it is troubling, in particular.” So where does he draw the line of extremity, if notions of vulgarity or crudity don’t faze him? “If it has a real effect in the real world, or at least is designed so to have, then yeah I do think there are limits that don’t help anyone. Having said that, I am willing to say some pretty fucking extreme things.

    I must ask, then, what’s the most extreme thing he’s talked about in his lyrics? “Oh God. For me personally, probably the stuff around Abu Ghraib[5] or possibly the stuff that’s mentioned in ‘Volenti [Non Fit Iniuria]’.” The latter deals with the uncomfortable notion of every culture having an unavoidable flipside: ‘For example, you have the American Dream, that commits you. It’s not an unpleasant byproduct of it, that millions of people live in poverty and the people on the other side of the world are gassed. It’s not a shame, it’s *part of it*. That is why those bad things happen, because you have attitude for the good things. There is a necessary corollary of it, and to me that’s pretty harsh.” And speaking of poverty, he brings up “a song we may play tonight” [which they did], called ‘The Joystream’, in which Dave quotes WHO figures that 29,000 children under the age of 5 die every day from avoidable poverty-related causes. “Many more die than that per day, full stop. But these are victims of poverty, basically. To me, ‘Fuck Your God’ or something like that, that’s fun in comparison.” The way some bands express this anti-religious sentiment almost seems comical when placed next to this, and I point this out. “Yeah, I mean it has its place, its use and everything. But if you’re looking for the really hard stuff, it’s that kind of thing that I think is truly upsetting.

    We wrap up the interview on a handshake, and Dave heads off with the rest of the band to grab a midnight dinner. Anaal Nathrakh as a concept still remains an enigma, but I walk away from the venue with a deeper understanding of both the band and Dave Hunt as a person, and a firm reminder of why they’re one of the most fascinating bands to have emerged in the last couple of decades.

    My thanks to Dave for his time and Andy for setting up the interview.

    Footnotes:
    1. Bastardized French, German, Latin, Italian, Aramaic and old English.
    2. ‘Paragon Pariah’, for instance, is taken from Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum.
    3. Moral error theory on Wikipedia.
    4. After doing some digging, my guess is it’s from Ragnar Redbeard’s Might Is Right book, or from Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, which contains sections of the former text.
    5. Perhaps referring to ‘Sub Specie Aeterni (Of Maggots, And Humanity)‘.

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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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