Anaal Nathrakh – Passion
A while back I received a request from a reader (and former BWM contributor), asking me to review something by British blackened grindcore duo Anaal Nathrakh. Given that my tastes rarely run more extreme than Death and Dark Tranquillity this seemed a daunting proposition; however, I put forward a wholehearted attempt to understand the music, and I have found it ultimately to be an extremely rewarding endeavor.
One of my biggest difficulties in reviewing this lay in bridging the ideological differences between it and the music I usually listen to. Anaal Nathrakh’s latest record, entitled Passion, is a decidedly nihilistic work, not only lyrically (presumably; the band doesn’t publish their lyrics) but also musically. If you’ll excuse a brief interlude, let’s take a look at a couple styles of metal and how they function ideologically (of course I’ll be making generalizations, but bear with me). Take power metal, for example. Confronted with the chaos of human existence, power metal sets out to create order and unity. It is melodic, upbeat, and easy to listen to, and it reaffirms our power and the idea that our existence need not be meaningless. Progressive metal (if that is really a style in and of itself, but I digress), is a bit more patient; the “thinker” as opposed to power metal’s “doer.” It also seeks to repair the chaotic world, but it rarely acts, and does so only after examining the evidence, pondering the possible outcomes, and formulating a plan of action. Melodic death metal (again, about as extreme as my tastes ever run) seems often to lament the human condition but to despair of ever being able to fix it.
Anaal Nathrakh is another beast altogether; they observe and acknowledge the chaos, certainly, but they also embrace it. When listening to Nathrakh, one is forced to recognize the power of the void. If things are as they lead us to believe, then chaos cannot be fought. We can pretend to fend it off – for a while, at least – but to do so is folly.
However, to say their music is chaotic is not to say it is sloppy or random; rather, it is a highly controlled chaos, the violent collision of extreme nihilistic despair with primal animal rage. Take, for example, the beginning of “Ashes Screaming Silence;” a simple but tight snare rhythm (which is heard in the form of machine gun fire before the drum even starts) is overlaid with wild, distorted screaming. Everything here is extraordinarily tight, except for the totally wild screams, and therein lies the brilliance of the presentation. The production is thick, modern, and satisfying, and chromatic riff after chromatic riff bounce off each other with an almost incomprehensible synthesis of brutality and professionalism. If anything, the fact that the drums were recorded using a drum machine only makes the recording more crisp (not to mention the drums sound really good despite their nonexistence). And then… and then there are the screams. Wow; there’s certainly a duality here, but it’s a duality that works.
Another area in which Nathrakh excels is riff-crafting. As chromatic as I may have made them seem to be, the riffs here carry quite a bit of melody. Then again, maybe “melody” isn’t as good a descriptor as would be “fluid chromaticism.” Everything here is decidedly chromatic, but it is the creepy chromaticism of black metal much more than that of death metal’s chunky riffing. The music here is not only brutal, but also downright scary at times. Perhaps despair can be even more frightening than violence…
Quite honestly, I don’t know if I can recommend Passion to the average Black Wind Metal reader. If you generally prefer the kind of stuff we usually review to the more extreme styles of metal, you probably won’t like this much. However, I won’t deny that this is a great piece of work, and that even I – Keldian fanboy that I am – came to enjoy it great deal, if only on an occasional basis. I was pleasantly (can one even use that word when speaking of Nathrakh? whatever…) surprised, and for anyone looking to hold your breath and peer into the the void, this is an excellent vantage point from which to do so.
Tom’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5