Album Review : Anaal Nathrakh - A New Kind of Horror (2018)
Anaal Nathrakh aren’t the most popular metal band, but they certainly are one of the most beloved. Over the years, they crafted a musical identity that is sophisticated, uncompromising and entirely their own. They are already legendary, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. Since releasing the game-changing In the Constellation of the Black Widow in 2009, they’ve perfected what they do so well that it became difficult to push forward and innovate. The band released four albums since, which were all great, but left listeners longing for these moments where they broke all the rules and invented something new.
Their new album A New Kind of Horror doesn’t quite get there, but it definitely breaks the mold and ushers the band in an exciting new direction.
So, A New Kind of Horror is a concept album written to commemorate the 100 years of World War I and the horrors it has ushered into existence. Global conflict, chemical warfare, things that you can’t uninvent. But that’s not all: songs like New Bethlehem/Mass Death Futures and The Apocalypse is About You foresee a future conflict that leads to an extinction we’re collectively responsible for. Certain songs have also been influenced (or even permeated) by WWI-era poets such as D.H Lawrence, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. So, there’s a lot going on here. Not A New Kind of Horror will not let you forget the horrors of the past, but it will not let you forget those who wrote about it either.
It’s a surprising album, to be honest. Not that I didn’t expect them to stray from their winning formula, but I thought they would commit to it more, musically. And I don’t necessarily mean this as a criticism, but there are typical Anaal Nathrakh songs on there and material that feels rather new and risky. My favorite being The Reek of Fear, which lets go of their conventional shrieked verses/clean chorus structure to usher something more chaotic and dissonant. Vocalist Dave Hunt uses three distinct styles on that song: conventional black metal shrieks, ugly, deformed pitschifted goregrind growl and King Diamond-like shrills, which carry the grotesque and oppressive atmosphere of the song.
Anaal Nathrakh songs usually convey a sense of apocalyptic awe to them, but not The Reek of Fear. It’s sneaky, aetherial and destructive like an invisible enemy.
Lead single Forward! has been criticized a lot for its electronic and industrial influences, but I thought it worked and went somewhere new. The lyrics are among some of the most terrifying stuff Anaal Nathrakh’s ever written. The verses consists in lies soldiers tell themselves in the trenches, with the chorus bringing them back to reality and the life or death predicament of war each time. Purists disliked the gunshot sample, but I thought it was a beautiful trigger that snapped the soldiers out of their illusions. This emphasis on atmosphere and the possibilities of electronic music is somewhat new for Anaal Nathrakh. They’ve always fiddled with industrial, but it was on a much more superficial level than here. Songs like The Reek of Fear and Forward! commit to atmosphere over technical mastery and you have to respect that.
There also are quite conventional Anaal Nathrakh songs on A New Kind of Horror. Second song Obscene as Cancer could’ve been on any of their previous four records. It’s good, but it doesn’t really put new ideas forward. There are also some leaner, throwback kind of songs like The Apocalypse is About You!, Vi Coactus (that features a spirited performance from Bleeding Through’s Brendan Schiepatti) and the quite sardonic Mother of Satan, which bring back a sound that feels more like the Codex Necro era without perhaps the unbridled ferocity. Not sure what was the thinking there. These aren’t weak, but they don’t have the powerful and commanding identity Anaal Nathrakh is known and loved for.
So, is A New Kind of Horror good? I liked it. It purges my toxic emotions the way it’s supposed to, but it provided more questions than answers, really. Anaal Nathrakh are obviously trying to sneak out of the “comfort zone” they created for themselves and there are difficult choices ahead. They’ve explored the entire scope of metal and now they have to decide whether they want to venture in a more electronic, hybrid sound. Because they’re clearly not going to settle for doing the same thing over and over again. I think A New Kind of Horror is a nice window into new possibilities and I can’t wait to hear what it would sound like if they fully commit to it. Because that is unlike Anaal Nathrakh not to fully commit to something they do.
Standout Songs: The Reek of Fear, Forward!, New Bethlehem/Mass Death Futures