By album ten in a career most bands tend to lose steam. That spark of creativity that captured the minds of their legions of fans can begin to wane, and sub-par material is released to ambivalent response. It can oftentimes lead to the dreaded phrase, ‘I prefer the early stuff’. The same cannot he said for extreme metal luminaries and Birmingham two-piece, Anaal Nathrakh. Consistently adapting their sound to incorporate new elements, they truly are bastions of the experimentation the extreme metal scene has to offer. Extreme music has never sat idly by contented in what has come before, it’s in a constant state of flux. The search for the limits of extremity are seemingly never ending. It can be painful, but equally rewarding.
Obscene as Cancer, the album’s first proper song, begins with a piercing wail of guitars. It perforates the eardrums and sets the mood: This is not going to be a pleasant listen. Nor should it be given the subject matter. Not so much a concept record as a conceptual one, the album is inspired by the events of the First World War, the tragic, pointless loss of life and hellish environments soldiers had to endure. The album certainly feels like being in the fearsome throes of a theatre of conflict.
Despite its extremity, the album is staggeringly catchy. The aforementioned song features the first of many clean vocal passages, something of a reprieve in amongst the onslaught. The King Diamond style falsetto in The Reek of Fear, will catch any listener off guard, but have some screeching along by its climax. Mother Satan garners instant sing-a-longs, with a chorus grows in intensity by simply repeating ‘Satan’. It may sound parodic, but it really does work well as a particularly terrifying moment in A New Kind of Horror.
Lead single, Forward! utilises the sound of machine gun fire and reloading to accentuate the percussion. It’a a frighteningly blunt display of the realities of war. The electronic drops add a disorientating feel to proceedings, as if one were left stupefied by a nearby mortar. Orchestral stabs laced throughout run at you like a bayonet and highlight the fearful mindset of those sent to die. It’s a remarkable piece of work. The camaraderie of the chorus’ refrain is self-evident, as it’s hard not to shout along from first listen. It really does leave you shellshocked and fully involved in the picture Anaal Nathrakh are painting.
Some of the horrors presented are implemented with more subtlety. In finale and album highlight, Are We Fit for Glory Yet? (The War to End Nothing), there’s a hint of the works of D.H. Lawrence, and more so Wilfred Owen’s sarcastic ode to the loss of life; Dulce Et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori. Once again, Nathrakh show another side of complexity to their work. What may seem like a couple of Midlanders screaming and growling whilst creating discordant speed metal, is actually a beautifully gentile and emotionally considered work. It draws from all forms of artistic influence, be it music; verse or prose.
This album is truly a work of art. So many metal bands have chosen war as a point of lyrical inspiration; the 80s thrash scene was almost entirely based around the fear of nuclear strikes. Never before though, has a band managed to really encapsulate the oppressive sense of dread one might feel fighting for your life, your monarchy or your country. The pointlessness of it all. It’s certainly nothing compared to engaging in warfare, but it is a suitably terrifying experience. As good a deterrent to battle as the Armistice memorials.