Growing up in the 1980s lent itself to establishing many powerfully gripping narratives that influenced a burgeoning youth’s worldview. From a galaxy far, far away to tales of a time long ago when good and evil were truly palpable and knights defended the honor of ladies and the divine rights of kings, one’s imagination was both cultivated and refined. It is the latter scenario that is most appropriate to the theme at hand. John Boorman’s Excalibur was the highest point of cinematic fantasy in this reviewer’s youth. It is not surprising then that years ago now, upon hearing the name of this band, Anaal Nathrakh, that curiosity was piqued as the name comes from Boorman’s Merlin, specifically his chant to awaken the dragon, representative both figuratively for the tie of Arthur to Britain and literally to the arcane power of the omnipotent serpent to aid the king in battle. It is fitting this Extreme Metal tour de force comprised of Dave Hunt (also the vocalist of Benediction) and Mick Kenney (also an accomplished producer) took such a name. Being from Birmingham England, the birthplace of Metal, the duo has their own connection to the dragon. “A New Kind of Horror” is the band’s tenth full-length.
After the intro, “The Road To…,” the first fully realized song is the second track, “Obscene as Cancer”. It is not long before the ears have settled the debate of whether this is the Anaal Nathrakh one expects. It most certainly is. The frantic tempo coupled with a powerhouse guitar set the stage, and the song is adorned with keyboards reinforcing the chordal ideas and adding Industrial elements. The signature vocals of the band with their duality between Black Metal stylings and cleans are also firmly in place. The third track, “The Reek of Fear,” increases the intensity dramatically highlighted by vocals that sound as if King Diamond were employed to add his signature style to the band’s mix of Black Metal, Death Metal, and Industrial.
The trend of heightening intensity continues on the fourth track, “Forward!”. This song is more than just a contender for heaviest of the year. With a driving syncopation, the rhythms truly hit hard. As Hunt screams, “Forward!” one can envision everything from the plight of a youth in the trenches of WWI being ordered to ascend the next death trap to a bare-knuckled pounding against a bludgeoned face covered in bright crimson. Truly, this is Extreme Metal at its zenith as it blends experimentation, grinding rhythms, and infectious melodies and counter-melodies.
The seventh track, “Vi Coactus,” continues the score as it blends Black Metal styled tremolo picking with deeply layered melodies and samples. Taking a step outside the extreme and looking at the song simply as a musician, one can hear the band’s predilection for composing catchy tunes that firmly reside in one’s subconscious for long afterward. The album ends with the finale of “Are We Fit for Glory Yet (The War to End Nothing)”. By combining haunting synths and choir effects with the band’s signature groove, the song exists as a clear synopsis of the band’s sound. Ending the album in such a heightened state of agitation is classic Anaal Nathrakh. The listener becomes the witness to the apocalypse.
In a scene of copycats, tributes, and genre revivalism, the band’s status as forward-thinking ambassadors of the extreme is fully realized. While many bands release albums that become lost in their discography of repeated formulas, Anaal Nathrakh have successfully pushed the genre forward for almost twenty years now as they have refined their sound. Perhaps the magic of the band can be simplified as the contrast between blast beats, groove, and clean vocals. The crushing riffs provide the solid backbone against which the clean vocals truly soar. While the band’s sound can be deemed an anomaly, it is not difficult to understand when reflecting upon its heritage. As the name Pendragon became tied to both the family above the Dark Age gentry and being tied to the land, so Anaal Nathrakh claim their throne with “A New Kind of Horror”.