I haven’t exactly been keeping up with Anaal Nathrakh. Sure, I’ve heard a track here and there over the years, but the last time I actually listened to a full album was 2004’s Domine Non Es Dignus. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in the band, in fact quite the contrary, I absolutely loved the balls-to-the-fucking-wall slab of filth-grinding extremity that was The Codex Necro, and the aforementioned Domine… received a glowing review from yours truly when I was writing for my college paper. But the way Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt continuously crank out albums, especially when the music is so patently assaultive, is extremely overwhelming; I have a hard enough time keeping up with metal as it is. So, here I am revisiting Anaal Nathrakh with Vanitas after missing four full lengths, and damn it feels good to be back.
Anaal Nathrakh’s mash-up of black metal, grindcore and industrial/electronic music is surely one of the most unique approaches in metal; granted they aren’t the first to do industrial black metal, but they are without question one of the best, if Vanitas is anything to go by. Being that I haven’t heard the immediately preceding albums, I can’t say how it stacks up against them, but I can say that Anaal Nathrakh have certainly refined and sharpened their attack since the last time I fully immersed myself in their world of grime. Whereas The Codex Necro was impressive but felt a little one-dimensional after a few listens and Domine Non Es Dignus felt like an ambitious transitional album, Vanitas sounds like a band that is at last comfortable in their own skin.
To say that Anaal Nathrakh have become accessible isn’t exactly accurate, but the tracks on Vanitas each possess their own distinct character, and some of them are downright catchy. Vocalist Dave Hunt continues to wield some of the most sickening death-vomit vox I’ve ever heard, but there are also quite a few moments where you can actually understand what he’s saying, and his Ihsahn/King Diamond-esque clean singing has obviously only gotten better over the intervening years since I last checked in with the band. In fact, he might be one of the most versatile vocalists in modern black metal. Mick Kenney, who is responsible for guitar, bass and drum programming, continues to pull from a wide range of influences, setting Anaal Nathrakh apart from other drum machine-driven black metal hordes. His guitar-work is impeccable, whether busting out slow, grinding riffs, hyper-blasting tremolo or mosh-inciting chug; the guy knows how to make heads bang and can also shred with the best of them. Hunt and Kenney compliment each other so perfectly at this point that it’s practically frightening.
Don’t let the previous paragraph lead you to believe that Anaal Nathrakh have lost any of the ferocity they exhibited in their early days; Vanitas still finds the band setting things to liquefy at all times. Hunt and Kenney do manage to let off the gas and give that undoubtedly overheated drum machine a rest from time to time, but they still sound like they want to beat you down to the fucking ground and put their boots on your throat. Guitars slice and slash, inhuman drums pummel relentlessly and vocals spew hydrochloric acid. Indeed Anaal Nathrakh dominates with overwhelming intensity and force, the musical equivalent of a curb-stomp. At the same time, there is something epic about Vanitas; Anaal Nathrakh may be filthy, but their compositional sense is far more reminiscent of Emperor than Darkthrone.
As much as I’m enjoying this, it appears I have my work cut out for me going back through Anaal Nathrakh’s back catalogue. In the meantime though, Vanitas is one hell of a satisfying album, a glorious clusterfuck of blackened grinding electro-insanity that almost makes you wish the world was going to end this month, so you could blast the living shit out of it while awaiting total annihilation. I can’t think of a better soundtrack.