Date: April 20th, 2015
“150 Anaal Nathrakh fans walk into the bar where the band are playing.” Sounds like the start of a sadistic joke where limbs start flying like popcorn in an excitable microwave. Fortunately this was only partially true, but the destruction wrought by the Birmingham, UK duo (backed by a tightly-wound live band) still left smatterings of bodily fluid on the walls of The Black Heart. The sold-out show, with support from London’s Voices, was destined to be a cataclysmic event.
If the attendees thought the bar downstairs was warm with the heaters turned on, they certainly weren’t prepared for the sweat-fest upstairs. Even with a band like Voices, whose music is not the most mosh-conducive, people were reaching as much for water as they were for alcohol. Voices are certainly an acquired musical taste, and what does well for one set of ears [read our review of their second album London here]does not necessarily work well for another. They draw partially from Akercocke’s sexualized and Satanic black metal tendencies, but have reared back from the Satanism in favor of more ‘urban’ stylings than their predecessors.
Unfortunately, their intentions are mostly drowned out in the PA, and the swirling and atonal riffs that make up ‘Endless’ or ‘The Fuck Trance’, their two opening tracks, are turned into a muddy muddle with choppy drums from the usually pristine David Gray. Vocalist Peter Benjamin is the controversial cherry on this cake, weaving a tortured tapestry of howls and snarls, with more than a few melodic parts, but even they have an edge of mania and terror, like in the penultimate ‘Vicarious Lover’. The fans up front seem enraptured by the band’s performance, headbanging and singing along with equal fervor, but further back the crowd are as static as the band onstage. It’s a bewildering effect from a bewildering set, and leaves one only to shrug and exclaim ‘different strokes for different folks.’
It is a considerable roar that greets Anaal Nathrakh as they mount the stage to decimate it. The opening rumble of ‘Acheronta Movebimus’ soon flips the switch to devastating groove, and thunders into the assault of ‘Unleash’ and ‘Monstrum In Animo,’ vocalist Dave Hunt bellowing and snarling into the microphone, at least until the triumphant singalong chorus of the former kicks in. The five members look a little crowded on the small stage, but not as crowded as the moshpit, which dominates half the room at its wildest points, which combined with a number of eager crowdsurfers makes for a human-powered maelstrom. It’s a miracle no-one’s trampled, as people scrabble to pull up an unfortunate crowdsurfer who missed his crowd.
Anaal Nathrakh are loud. Even with earplugs in, the grooves and blasts are simply deafening, and while the crowd are visibly singing along (especially during the call-and-response of ‘Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes’ between Hunt and bassist Duncan Wilkins), they are virtually mute under the volume. Mercifully Dave’s voice is not drowned out, and he lays down his usual incredible vocal performance with the vitriol that underscored his stage name for so long. But more than that, there’s a noticeable change in his demeanor onstage from years past; he appears more comfortable in front of the hordes of nutcases, and calmly banters back and forth with the more inebriated ones. He’s full of quips about the songs he introduces, from the visually literal ‘Of Fire and Fucking Pigs’ to the symbolic ‘Idol’, as he points towards the earth and exclaims “Do you think this is Satan?” before laughing and launching into the song’s infectious chorus.
The other musicians onstage must also be mentioned, not least Hunt’s partner-in-crime Mick Kenney, who throws out riff after riff while nodding his head, lost in the cacophony. To his left is Duncan Wilkins, who when not screaming into the backup microphone is cranking out the bass parts with ardor, and on the other side of the stage is James Walford, who covers the more melodic lead parts, head thrown back in musical ecstasy. At the back, buried under his kit, is Steve Powell, who is stunning in his execution of the punishing drum lines Mick conjured up in the studio. The 50-minute set is utterly relentless, and while it understandably leans on last year’s Desideratum, there are nods to their past: live staple ‘Between Shit And Piss We Are Born’ goes down a storm, as does finale ‘Don’t Speak’ (“We don’t do encores,” Dave reminds the crowd emphatically). The biggest surprise, however, is in the live début of ‘The Joystream’, a track with potentially the hardest-hitting subject matter the band has written to date [read our interview with Hunt on the subject here], concerning the 29,000 children under the age of five who die every day of avoidable poverty-related causes. You can almost tangibly feel the rage from Hunt as he screams “What have we done? Nothing, nothing, nothing!”
Rounding out on the 1984-inspired classic ‘Do Not Speak’, the band put in one final blast of energy, ending on a blazing high as the crowd melt towards the bar in puddles. It might have been a sweaty bundle of human flesh for nigh on an hour, but for many in the room this was exactly the kind of communion required tonight. As the room emptied out, there were more than a few shocked but satisfied faces, the band members included. A pleasure as always, Anaal Nathrakh.
For further reading, check out our interview with Dave Hunt here.
1. Dave Hunt’s stage name used to be (and possibly still is, although it has not been used for a while) V.I.T.R.I.O.L.
2. Hunt mentions this in a blog for Terrorizer, which you can read here.