Should the world implode through the natural napalm of our apocalypse, and as a blaze appears across the Northern skies, the suffocating sound of Vanitas stands as a fitting summation of Anaal Nathrakh’s career as well as a soundtrack to our demise.
"The entire universe marches irreversibly towards its grave. So not only is the life of each individual doomed; the entire human race is doomed. The universe is plunging towards inevitable extinction. Death is written throughout its structure. There is no escape. There is no hope." -- William Lane Craig (as quoted in Anaal Nathrakh’s "You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying")
While the Mayan prophecies hang over our heads like a hex, one band who would relish the opportunity to say I told you so, should the world self-destruct on the 21st of December 2012, is Birmingham, England’s Anaal Nathrakh. Outside of maybe Godflesh, you would be hard pressed for find a more apocalyptic proposition in British extreme metal than Anaal Nathrakh. The band’s eremitic crossbreed of industrial noise, black metal, death metal and grindcore has been twisted into form by multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney (previously known as Irrumator) and vocalist V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (known to his family as Dave Hunt) over 12 years and across nine studio albums, each of which has pulled in distinctly extreme directions with varying levels of toxicity, the latest being Vanitas.
During these closing days of 2012, the topic of end times never has been more appropriate. And if Vanitas accomplishes anything, it provides the perfect accompaniment to such proclamations of doom. Lyrically, Hunt has a more philosophical approach to his hatred for humanity than most (he is currently undertaking an MA in the subject), and as far back as 2006’s Eschaton, Hunt has used the Mayan end of the world soothsaying as a metaphor for the destruction us selfish humans have inflicted upon the Earth. However, where Eschaton posed as a warning (albeit, a nihilistic one), Vanitas is almost a celebration of our impending downfall and the realization that, yes, we are all fucked, and whether it be this year or the next, there will be no deliverance.
"You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying", which appears six songs deep, stands out as an anthem for this truth. Here, Hunt binds his own bluntly constructed words with some choice quotes from free-thinkers, Goethe and William Lane Craig. The highlight comes on the wretched chorus as Hunt screams emphatically, "You can’t save me any more than you can save yourself, so stop fucking trying. We are all human. And we will all be dust." It is a song which surmises the entirety of Anaal Nathrakh’s work -- a resolution of sorts, both lyrically and musically. This feeling permeates this record throughout, as Vanitas sounds like a culmination of everything Anaal Nathrakh has feverishly created for over a decade.
Consequently, Kenney’s vast knowledge of a multitude of paralysing metal styles, and his unwillingness to be categorized through the instrumentation he sutures together, has never been more in-your-face than now. On "The Blood-Dimmed Tide", Kenney takes the deafening bass and processed beats of Godflesh and reinterprets them in line with Nathrakh’s black metal and death metal pulverizations. "Forging Towards the Sunset"’s obligatory blast and howl gives way to Kenney’s slicing riffs that have an clear Swedish lineage -- the urgency of At The Gates springs to mind -- while "To Spite the Face" touches on American metalcore only to be betrayed by some icy black metal harmonies. Kenney’s ability to flit between such extreme metal motifs and construct distinctive yet inclusive songs that form the pulpit for the torturous screams of Hunt, who sounds like he is being eviscerated from the inside out (see "Todos Somos Humanos" for his most unhinged performance in years), is Anaal Nathrakh’s greatest weapon.
In recent years, the duo’s hermetic existence and their decision to refrain from playing life has slowly changed, with Anaal Nathrakh finally taking to the stage armed with a live drummer instead of relying on a reclusive machine that shakes from producing inhuman beats. Since the band spread its leathery black metal wings on In the Constellation of the Black Widow, this decision to play live has increasingly affected Anaal Nathrakh’s music. Kenney now seems to be writing songs with an eye and an ear towards the fact that the band may have to spit this bile onstage before we all die, and Hunt -- who could never be accused of being limited in ways to lacerate his larynx -- has even varied his technique with grandiloquent vocal hooks performed in a semi-operatic fashion.
This is not to say the music has become palatable by any means, but when compared to the grinding noise of Domine Non Es Dignus, it has definitely become more performable. Take "In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas" and "Feeding the Beast". The villainous black metal hasn’t dulled one bit on the former but there is a solo near the end whose phrasing is showboating rock’n’roll, while on the latter the series of spiraling guitar harmonies that tangentially appear are deliberately there to bore into your brain and remain until the very end. It takes quite a bit of talent to construct such uncompromising music and keep things memorable, especially music with such misanthropic and lightless lyrical subject matter. With Vanitas, Anaal Nathrakh has accomplished everything they have set out to do. So should the world implode through the natural napalm of our apocalypse, and as a blaze appears across the Northern skies, the suffocating sound of Vanitas stands as a fitting summation of Anaal Nathrakh’s career as well as a soundtrack to our demise. And if the Mayans are proved to be bad time keepers, at least you can sit scared in the knowledge that Anaal Nathrakh will be taking to their brand of aural apocalypse to a town near you.