Essential to journalism is the inclusion of objective-based facts and while the media circus surrounding the globe at this point in time may provide a poor example to reference this, that should not cause writers to lay down the virtues that embody fact-based reporting. While this may sound like a strange lead into an album review, it helps to better frame the following case. Especially in the Metal world, fans tend to form strong, though often idealized bonds with the bands they follow. As one follows a band’s career, the artist is in the quite precarious situation of having to balance creativity with what is perceived the fans want. All of this is to set the scene for the following review of the latest from Anaal Nathrakh, Endarkenment. This is a highly esteemed band, one that has consistently produced a top-shelf hybrid of Grindcore, Black Metal, and Industrial. The crux of the issue at hand is this: the latest from Anaal Nathrakh has a wider vision and more digestible sound. Is this new chapter for the band one long-time fans will embrace, or will they feel alienated?
For the uninitiated, Anaal Nathrakh play a very distinct brand of Extreme Metal. Throw in the militant anarchy as established by Napalm Death, add an equal amount of chaotic yet forward-looking Black Metal such as Mayhem, and polish the alchemical mixture off with a glaze of Psalm 69-era Ministry-inspired Industrial. That is truly only part of the story, though. Those who have followed their over-two-decade career know that this is a band that has consistently refined their sound with a dizzying output of eleven full-length albums. 2018 brought their most focused, and indeed ambitious recording to date, A New Kind of Horror (read my review here). A culmination of gold-tiered production, seasoned songwriting, and a prodigious vision further realized aided in the success of the album. Now, though, in an environment all too conducive to their post-apocalyptic oeuvre, Anaal Nathrakh have penned a collection of songs even more ambitious than previous efforts incorporating a broader array of elements and a keen attention to all things melody.
To be perfectly honest, this is an album that had me a bit taken aback at first as I was not sure what my final thoughts were regarding this new, expanded direction for the band. Thus, this is an album that I have played over and over repeatedly. The title track is the perfect example of my original trepidation. The main structure of the song is no different than what we have come to expect from the band with a finely controlled chaos abiding via abrasive Grindcore riffs and blasting drums. The chorus, however, was the point of contention. In this song, we find Dave Hunt delivering what can be classified as his most polished vocal performance. After all, his ability to break up the monotony and further expand the dimensions of songs by utilizing clean vocals has been one of the most significant, dynamic elements contributing to the band’s unique identity. With the title track’s chorus, the clean vocals are paired with a regal lead guitar adding a Maiden-like harmony. It is perhaps the most old school, straight up Metal moments in the band’s discography, and…it works! Hearing the blend of frantic double bass, overtly brazen Heavy Metal lead guitar, disturbing samples, maniacal screams, and extra vocal tracks with a King Diamond style is quite frankly, a supreme, penultimate Metal moment. It is as if, after all these years, we are hearing the band achieve their vision, and it is just getting started.
The album greatly benefits from what can only be labeled as the most ideal production. A band that utilizes such a plethora of sounds always risks having a cluttered mess. This is not the case with Endarkenment. The guitar sound is crisp (and the riffs are even more inventive, epic, and inspired), full, and pairs well with the mostly distorted bass to provide a unified front. Anaal Nathrakh have always unleashed a blitzkrieg of percussion, and Endarkenment is no exception with its war-like onslaught of pummeling double bass. Samples and synth sounds do not overpower the main instruments but rather serve to expand those ideas presented. The vocal department truly impresses as Hunt’s full range of ghastly shrieks to fully voiced, cleanly sung passages is captured adding to the voluminous expanse of sound. In past albums, the band have successfully delivered a feeling of being consumed in the fires of hell and though the tone here is similar, it is a step forward for the band. Simply put, there is still the over-arching tone of damnation, hellfire, and brimstone but all delivered in a more purely organic Heavy Metal manner.
The third track, “Age of Starlight Ends,” is the next moment in the album that absolutely must be chronicled. It succeeds by employing the opposite formula of the first track. The chorus presents yet another overtly melodic guitar section channeling the best of late-90s Euro Metal while the inhuman screams rage and wail. When the chorus hits, though, the opposite tactic is used where the instruments including percussion are in their most aggressive stance while the vocals are cleanly sung presenting a melody that would otherwise have not been apparent.
“Libidinous (A Pig with Cocks in Its Eyes” follows, a staggering, pulverizing track with more of a story to tell. A solid groove is what sets things off, that sublime syncopated swing of stop-and-go riffs. The King Diamond-like screams that decorate the bridge section evoke the same feeling as when first hearing Emperor tread similar waters with IX Equilibrium. It truly works. Here you have a sound curated from the most elite sources of influence, shaped and molded, and finely executed across all ten tracks.
It should be no shock to those who have followed Anaal Nathrakh to hear of such a monumental achievement. Endarkenment truly is an accomplishment for without sacrificing integrity or heaviness, the band have ascended to the next level with a sound expanded in its appeal and more tied to the essence of Heavy Metal’s legacy. Like other seminal bands from Strapping Young Lad to Blut Aus Nord to Mr. Bungle, Anaal Nathrakh may never be the most popular band, but theirs is a refined elegance. Endarkenment is the result of years of hard work and an inexhaustive well of creativity: a vision attained.