Anaal Nathrakh have always been a merciless and unforgiving unit aimed to achieve catharsis through cacophony. I can attest to that, and also to the fact that I got rather giddy after reading the announcement for their 11th album Endarkenment. But, do you know what’s better than being excited about something this foul and nauseating? Being excited about it with someone else. So when my pal David asked me to tandem this review for one of the most nasty duets in existence, it wasn’t exactly a difficult decision to make. After all, we borderline on being the second on that list, at least when it comes to compressing or curtailing our threads of verbal consciousness.
What I think
You know that empowering, overwhelming feeling that music can conjure? I’m talking about that sensation which occurs when you put on something pleasurable and fierce, your pace turns from sluggish to upbeat as you get that sting of energy, and the world around you suddenly gains colour and depth. And believe it or not, Anaal Nathrakh represents that exact sentiment, and are the epitome of feel-good music to me, as grotesque as that may sound. Even when mostly preaching about global annihilation and decimation caused by the shit-leaking vessel titled as humanity, for some reason they’ve been my go-to artist whenever I’m in need of that uplift and positive punch to the face. And especially recently, I’ve needed that quite often.
I discovered the band around the release of Desideratum in 2014, and they’ve been on a steady, at least weekly rotation ever since. Having as comprehensive back catalog as they do, it felt like unearthing a bountiful trove of enjoyable filth and a string of palpable aural concussions just waiting to be crammed onto my eardrums. The following few months were quite hazy and unhealthy, obsessive consumption of Anaal Nathrakh‘s brand of unbelievably harsh black metal married with power electronics and bits of disjointed IDM, glazed with Iron Maiden-esque, almost power metal choruses and melodies. There’s a distinct and clear upward trajectory that started already on the 2001 debut The Codex Necro, and reached its peak on The Whole of the Law in 2016, two years after I first heard them.
I say that because the previous album, A New Kind of Horror, felt like a momentary backward step when I first heard it, and it was only recently that I got more into that war-drenched fever dream of an album. Still, the initial feeling was a tad off, which created its own kind of horror (pun much?) disguised as the anticipation for Endarkenment. That rather unpleasant vibe however, got mostly erased after the release of the first single, the titular track conveying notions of humans rejecting rationalism, skepticism, and faith. Soon, we were met with “The Age of Starlight Ends”, and those last bits of worry were swept away for good.
Aesthetically, Endarkenment as a whole leans more towards the earlier material, only with far more superior production and less rigid songwriting. Anaal Nathrakh finds a way to produce and execute an array of fresh ideas and angles without digressing too far from their basic building blocks, nudging the aforementioned trajectory back to its rightful place and direction. One of the most significant changes in their approach is the inclusion of most of the lyrics to nearly every track, which in itself is a huge step forward since, as we know, they’ve kept all that to themselves in the past. With this alteration, the central themes and thoughts are of course more concrete, hence adding a new level of magnitude into the mix.
Tailing that, one of the best individual tracks on the album, “Beyond Words”, is still bereft of the lyrics. This is explained in the liner notes, where they state that sometimes expression triumphs the written word, and would otherwise detract from that, and I think that idea surpasses this song and reaches the very essence of Anaal Nathrakh, even though attaching the words still add a lot of weight to it. Well, artistry and all that. Either way, “Beyond Words” is Anaal Nathrakh in their most vicious and brutal form, and listening to it makes you question that how is it possible for someone to stay so on top of their game even after twenty years. I think that also pretty much sums up the idea of elegant things growing only stronger with old age, and that encasing is very much present and lively here.
“Libidinous (A Pig with Cocks in its Eyes)” and “Singularity” are other high moments on the album, both of which are made up of all the sweet things the band explores and makes their name with. The former underlines media as a fetish and a form of pornography, while the latter is a metaphor for humanity consuming itself from within. This vile species doesn’t understand its own fundamental values nor human consciousness. These nihilistic views are also far from being shallow and mundane when Anaal Nathrakh‘s in question, and someone with the capability of comprehension can easily find confluences between themselves and these scribings.
In their purest state of being, Anaal Nathrakh is sheer power and unforgiving brutality captured in a replayable form, simply put. It’s also nice to find some points of contact and similarities to their past, namely the last moments of the last track “Requiem”, narratively echoing the album’s title as well. On nearly all of their album, Anaal Nathrakh have ended on a crescendo, drenched with melodies and solos, slower pace, and highly atmospheric feel. Such is the case on Endarkenment as well, and the ensuing liberating release is indescribably immense and holistic. It’s a good note to end to, and brings this violent and anomalous record from equally traumaticus and ominous duo of a band to an appropriate and pervasive close.
What David thinks
We live in a time of great antipathy. If you ever needed any proof of humanity’s supreme ignorance or willingness to discredit and disregard others, look no further than 2020. Anti-intellectualism has paved the way for us to dismiss science in ways that threaten our very literal existence, to stampede over the well-being of others in a bid for one’s personal freedoms, or apply a harmful slathering of nonsense to practically any topic that will eventually erode away the lives we think we’re fighting to protect.
It’s easy to see why Anaal Nathrakh would note our particular brand of completely fucked, and decide to make an album about it.
As I write this – as my country’s elite and powerful make moves that will literally endanger the rights and health of millions of people for years to come – I can’t help but wallow in the despair we’ve wrought for ourselves through inaction, complacency, hollow performance, and trying to appeal to those who would see us dead simply for existing. If there’s one common thread in this duo’s music, it’s despair, one that has been reflected in several albums, most recently in a grinding, visceral interpretation of World War I with A New Kind of Horror.
So, as we eschew what should be an age of progression and enlightenment, thus we enter an age of endarkenment, a fitting title for such a time. Anaal Nathrakh’s feral, walloping blend of death metal, industrial, grindcore, and theatrical opulence is an extreme equation to mirror our extreme world, where nuance is dead and everyone can only yell and beat their chest in vigorous displays of animalistic posturing to shut out dissent and quell opposition.
The title track is a curtain raising to reveal our current state, itself a curtain call to humanity should we continue this trajectory. No light exists; perhaps a more literal interpretation of things, but the instrumentation doesn’t allow for any other diagnosis as it rises and falls in the same hellish scale the orchestras of our world seem to be playing in. A pair of lines in particular – ‘Fuck you if you think I am wrong/The answers I have are all the answers I need’ – are especially telling, perhaps emulating certain conversations you’ve likely had with impassioned, woefully misguided family, friends, and internet strangers alike.
Hammering drums and caustic guitars whip all around you, in every song. Though I’d be remiss to acknowledge this repetition as grating to some, it makes songs like “Thus, Always, to Tyrants” and “Beyond Words” profoundly violent and cathartic. A staple of Anaal Nathrakh’s recent material are the dueling vocals, where operatic falsettos and soaring cleans dance hand-in-hand with bellowed, screeched, and sputtered harsh vocals. Endarkenment has them in spades, making the hooks of “The Age of Starlight Ends” and “Feeding the Death Machine” stand out.
“Libidinous (A Pig with Cocks in its Eyes)” is especially perverse, as alluded to with the 10/10 name and alternate NSFW album art. Its refrain of ‘Masturbating to the end of the world’ takes me back to Dead Kennedys’ “Kinky Sex Makes the World Go ‘Round”, a song in which a fictionalized British prime minister gets sexual gratification from a phone call with the Secretary of War of the United States as the latter pitches a plan to manufacture global conflict to stimulate economies via the military-industrial complex. “Libidinous…” showcases reactionary media and news as the arouser this time, able to make people who look for ways to confirm their biases and manufacture a persecution complex cum. Same orgasm, different porn – doesn’t matter if the actors are different when the result is the same.
Although this isn’t the growth and revelatory progression seen from their last album, Anaal Nathrakh clearly – undoubtedly – play to their strengths here. They submerge themselves in the worst our existence has to offer, only to dredge up distilled aspects of that darkness for them to riff on in an extreme way that’s too grounded to feel comfortable or elicit a suspension of disbelief. If you find their sonic approach too dissonant in its loudness, repetition, or harshness, you’re not blamed, but that’s kind of the point. Endarkenment is loud so as to not be drowned out. It is repetitive on the surface so that the point is hammered home, and that we may not repeat history as we so often do. It is harsh because an inconvenient truth should never be delivered with gentility and couth, despite what you are told. Lots of artists have sign-of-the-times rumination in their music – Anaal Nathrakh’s just happen to be much more brutal and honest than most. I’ll always appreciate that lack of sugarcoating.
Endarkenment doesn’t profess to be a remedy or have any answers. It’s simply an observation, maybe even a way to cope. For every massively destructive wildfire politicized, every time we don’t stifle fake news before it spreads and corrupts the mind with lies, and every life we lower below others, we inch closer to Anaal Nathrakh’s frothing, tainted, bastardized society, which is more of a reflection of our very real, violent regression and oppression than most care to admit. At least the music on the sinking ship is good. ‘Fiat ars, pereat mundus’