For any other band, song titles such as "Blood Eagles Carved on the Backs of Innocents," "I Wish I Could Vomit Blood on You… …People" or the pleasantly direct "We Will Fucking Kill You" would be all the wrong kinds of ridiculous. But as anyone who has heard even a 30-second snippet of Anaal Nathrakh's music will attest, it's not just for show.
Anaal Nathrakh fuses an unholy combination of black metal, death metal and industrial metal with grindcore into a horrific concoction that is probably entirely indecipherable to all but the most weathered veterans of heavy music. Put simply, this is the band that truly tests a metal fan's stomach for the genre's most extreme elements, and if you can handle Anaal Nathrakh’s music you can probably withstand anything else the genre could possibly throw your way.
Despite the almost willful inaccessibility of the band’s music, the duo—multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney and vocalist Dave Hunt—are far from some random underground recording project that uses overt extremity as mere a gimmick. The duo, who created Anaal Nathrakh in the heavy metal heartland of Birmingham in 1999, are quite prolific, having released 9 full-length albums in the band’s 19-year history via leading metal labels including Season of Mist, Candlelight Records and Metal Blade Records. That music often involves collaborations with both indie artists and musicians from scene A-listers such as Mayhem and Napalm Death, and the band even performed on BBC Radio 1 with legendary DJ John Peel: not bad for a band whose most popular work includes a song titled “Between Shit and Piss We Are Born.”
Although Anaal Nathrakh started off as a relatively underground, studio-only black metal project that shrieked about goats and recorded Mayhem covers, it wouldn’t be long before the band began to expand, both musically and commercially. Later albums would gradually incorporate elements from other heavy genres into their sound, and while the band isn’t exactly touring the globe, Anaal Nathrakh typically performs a handful of shows every year.
The band has certainly changed over the years: Kenney now lives in California and works actively behind-the-scenes as a producer and artist for other metal bands, and some of Anaal Nathrakh’s recent albums sound more like industrial metal records with blackened influences (instead of the other way around). Regardless, listeners can always rely on the duo to release some of the most evil, uncompromising, and otherwise insidiously heavy music in the genre.
It’s unlikely that fans will have to wait much longer for new music, either. According to Metal Blade, Anaal Nathrakh is currently putting the finishing touches on their 10th album, and given the band's consistent release cycle, it's reasonable to expect the album to drop later this year.
With that in mind, there's no better excuse to dig into the band's discography. It can be daunting to find a jumping off point for what is undoubtedly one of the most grueling bands in metal history, so that’s why I’m here! Here are four starting points for the band whose stated mission is “to be the soundtrack for Armageddon.”
So you want to get into: Terrifyingly Intense Uber Heavy Nathrakh?
Alright, let’s cut to the chase. Anaal Nathrakh is many things, but the band’s primary selling point is their earsplitting intensity. You could easily select a few of the band’s songs at random and end up with a playlist that could be considered sufficiently intimidating, but there’s a select handful of tracks that will rightfully scare the everlasting shit out of even the most grizzled metalheads.
Although Kenney’s instrumental talents should not be understated—"The Lucifer Effect's" earth-shattering breakdown is more intense than pretty much all of the breakdowns ever written in actual hardcore, combined—the bulk of Anaal Nathrakh's notoriety is undoubtedly owed to Hunt's monstrous vocal performances. Tracks such as “Pandemonic Hyperblast” or the aforementioned “Blood Eagles Carved on the Backs of Innocents” boast vocal performances so decidedly feral, we can only assume that Hunt lit himself ablaze during the recording sessions, while the legitimately horrifying shrieking in "When Humanity is Cancer's" first half are a sign that Satan himself was hired to record guest vocals.
Anaal Nathrakh’s debut LP, The Codex Necro, still holds up as one of the band’s most sinister releases, but it was 2009’s In the Constellation of the Black Widow that truly separated the band from their contemporaries. In the Constellation of the Black Widow is the musical equivalent of a nuclear bomb, with all of the destructive power that that entails and with the utter lack of subtlety to match. While even Anaal Nathrakh's most accessible work is thoroughly intimidating by most measures, In the Constellation of the Black Widow is a legitimate metallic tour de force that has no qualms about bludgeoning the listener half to death. Nearly a decade and countless listens later, I can't help but feel somewhat shell-shocked after spinning the album in its entirety.
The same can be said about much of Anaal Nathrakh's music. The black metal-focused The Codex Necro might have a more measured pace, but has more than its share of terrifying moments, while Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here, the band's most "melodic" album, has more than its fair share of pummeling tracks. Timid listeners, beware. Or, as Anaal Nathrakh would say, “Hold Your Children Close and Pray for Oblivion.”
Playlist: “In the Constellation of the Black Widow” / “When Humanity is Cancer” / “Depravity Favors the Bold” / “Pandemonic Hyperblast” / “Until the World Stops Turning” / “Hold Your Children Close and Pray for Oblivion” / “The Lucifer Effect” / “Castigation and Betrayal” / “Blood Eagles Carved on the Backs of Innocents”
So you want to get into: Unexpectedly Melodic, Almost Listenable Nathrakh?
Describing Anaal Nathrakh's music as "melodic" might seem like a misnomer, but the band has more than a few surprisingly decipherable tracks that provide something resembling a breather. Admittedly, none of these songs are "melodic" in the traditional sense, but they all boast some mixture of reasonable pacing, relatively simple structuring, and bountiful clean vocals or choruses that prove that Anaal Nathrakh is capable of more than just single-minded brutality.
Even on many of the aforementioned superbly violent and heavy songs, there are hints of melody, beats, and otherwise discernible song structures tucked behind all the sonic menace. Those traits are emphasized in the following songs, which can help make even Anaal Nathrakh's most aggressive albums somewhat manageable and coherent.
"We Will Fucking Kill You" and “Der Hölle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen," despite having decidedly unrelaxed song titles, are quite manageable listens by extreme music standards but are still more than lively enough to keep things interesting. The latter track is an easy standout in the band's discovery, thanks to Hunt's frequent and phenomenal clean singing and a killer guitar solo in the song's outro. Hunt even breaks out a falsetto on several tracks, which serves as a wildly unexpected but certainly welcome contrast to his usual inhuman howling and guttural roars.
The mention of clean singing might seem surprising, but it's actually a fairly common element in all but Anaal Nathrakh's earliest music. Even many of the band's angriest tracks tend to feature clean singing, but it's rarely a detriment to the music's intensity. Still, when Hunt and Kenney want the music to soar instead of scorch, they're more than capable of making it happen. Tracks such as "When the Lion Devours Both Dragon and Child" and "Extravaganza" have their crushing moments, but they also prominently feature easily digestible riffs and solos, while their clean singing segments sound like straight power metal cheese in the best possible way.
Playlist: “Der Hölle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen” / “We Will Fucking Kill You” / “Virus Bomb” / “More of Fire Than Blood” / “Volenti Non Fit Iniuria” / “When the Lion Devours both Dragon and Child” / “Extravaganza” / “This Cannot Be the End”
So you want to get into: Frosty, Cult Black Metal Nathrakh
Anaal Nathrakh differs from the typical black metal band in a variety of ways. For one, the band usually deemphasizes traditional black metal atmosphere for sheer intensity, references to Satanism are infrequent and seem more metaphysical or allegorical—though it can admittedly be hard to tell, as the band does not publish their lyrics—and the duo dresses like normal human beings during live performances. While Anaal Nathrakh shifted to a noticeably less black metal-oriented sound on 2006's Eschaton, it would still remain an integral part of the band's music.
Regardless, The Codex Necro and fan-favorite sophomore record Domine Non Es Dignus do forbiddingly unholy and frostbitten music just as well as the best musicians from the genre's second wave and feature some of the band's most popular songs. Total Fucking Necro, a compilation of the band's first two demoes, also boasts some of Anaal Nathrakh's grimmest work, and is no less essential to its discography.
Song titles such as "Ice Blasting Storm Winds" and "The Technogoat" aren't winning any points for creative naming, but they are fantastic throwbacks to black metal's glory days, and boast just enough of the band's patented intensity to stand on their own, instead of sounding like a tired rehash of the genre.
As mentioned, atmosphere has never been a focus for Anaal Nathrakh, but the band's most prominent soundscapes tend to be on these aforementioned records. While the demonic gurglings and fleeting moments of quasi-ambience are suitably dark and misanthropic, the duo still put their own spin on things without deviating too far from genre norms. Most of the following riffs are sufficiently hypnotic and chilling, but never repetitive or simplistic enough to seem route. As expected, the production is also fairly stripped down compared to the spit-shined sheen on the band's later records, but even Total Fucking Necro's sound is clean enough to be unobtrusive.
Playlist: “The Technogoat” / “L.E.T.H.A.L. Diabolic” / “Atavism” / “The Codex Necro” / “To Err Is Human, To Dream – Futile” / “Cataclysmic Nihilism” / “Ice Blasting Storm Winds” / “Satanarchrist” / “Do Not Speak”
So you want to get into: Chugga-chugga industrial metal Nathrakh?
Even the relentlessly grim The Codex Necro featured a handful of electronic breaks and samples, but it was only recently that Anaal Nathrakh started to really emphasize their industrial metal influences. Albums like Vanitas and Desideratum featured plenty of chugging beats, regimented song structures, and generally more straightforward sounds. Unfortunately, the band's new direction received a lukewarm reception from many critics. The three albums following In the Constellation of the Black Widow were undeniably heavy, but mostly lacked the harrowing standout moments that initially propelled the band to underground prominence.
That said, aside from the especially ill-fated Passion, there was little actively wrong with Anaal Nathrakh's newfound industrial stint. "You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying" and "Desideratum" are definitely straightforward, but they still boast enough great beats and engaging paces to be immediately likable, even if they aren't as nuanced or crushingly impactful as the band's most memorable tracks. Elsewhere, "In Flagrante Delicto" and "Forging Towards the Sunset" boast such ridiculously catchy and uplifting choruses that you can't help but marvel at the band's range.
Thankfully, the band's industrial elements aren't limited to the band's most controversial work. The crunchy riffs and memorable chorus of concert staple "Between Shit and Piss We Are Born" make it one of the band's most popular songs, while “Regression to the Mean,” Eschaton's menacing closer, is full of whirling electronic noise and a slow-burning, especially brutal beat. Even "Paradigm Shift - Annihilation" from the band's blackened debut features an extended industrial break and samples that are absolutely to its benefit.
While Anaal Nathrakh's recent industrial-focused records might not be as acclaimed as the band's older works, 2016's The Whole of the Law was a monumental return to form and aptly mixed all of the band's myriad of influences better than ever before. With luck, it's a sign of even greater things to come.
Playlist: “You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying” / “Paradigm Shift – Annihilation” / “Oil Upon The Sores Of Lepers” / “Desideratum” / “Forging Towards The Sunset” / “Idol” / “Between Shit And Piss We Are Born” / “In Flagrante Delicto” / “Regression To The Mean”
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This article originally appeared on Noisey US.