Album Review : Anaal Nathrakh - The Whole of the Law (2016)
Iconic British metal band Anaal Nathrakh has a reputation for being the most fearsome act in the business. Some play louder, true. Some have been more grotesque and over-the-top with lyrics and imagery. Whatever. Nothing comes even remotely close to their monumental contribution to apocalyptic music. Anaal Nathrakh are a challenging and transformative experience of their own that you can't really get anywhere else. They could retire tomorrow and their imprint on metal and contemporary culture in general would remain until the fall of society like a third degree burn. They are titans of extreme music. Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt aren't done making music, though and their new album The Whole of the Law was release last week, a couple days before Halloween. So, I decided to embrace the exquisite pleasure of sonic obliteration once more.
The burning question I had before going into my first spin of The Whole of the Law was: where can you possibly go from here? Desideratum had this classic, intricate quality to it, but when do you turn into Motörhead or Iron Maiden and start churning the same album over and over because your fans don't want to hear anything else? Anaal Nathrakh have an history of evolving, experimenting and expanding within the boundaries they set for themselves on their explosive debut album The Codex Necro and their fans have been following because originality and aggression have always been the backbone of the band. Their exciting and revolutionary blend of black metal, grindcore and industrial music has always been a tough act to balance, but the band seems to have found new, uncharted musical territory to explore in The Whole of the Law. The record doesn't stray THAT far from Anaal Nathrakh's winning formula, yet it takes interesting chances.
So, what's new on The Whole of the Law? There were a couple subtle, but pleasant surprises. Depravity Favors the Bold and The Great Spectator featured melodic guitar riffs that I've never heard before in Anaal Nathrakh's music. These songs would've been otherwise their typical face-shredding walls of buzzsaw guitars, yet they added a risky touch that put the overall aggression in perspective. The Whole of the Law is all about details and calculated risks. There is a stronger presence than usual of opera and symphonic samples. Particularly on songs like Depravity Favors the Bold, We Will Fucking Kill You and On Being a Slave. The word "symphonic" is going to scare listeners away, but please don't be. Anaal Nathrakh hasn't turned into Dimmu Borgir overnight. They're a band that always took risks in order to differentiate themselves from the extreme black metal acts and offer a convincing apocalyptic vision to their listeners and while it is bolder than ever on The Whole of the Law, it still works.
Call me a weakling if you will, but once The Whole of the Law reached In Flagrante Delicto and And You Will Beg for Our Secrets, I felt a strange sense of comfort wash over me. They are the two most archetypal Anaal Nathrakh songs on the record and there is nothing quite like these two knocking it out of the park. It feels like seeing that awesome friend you haven't seen in years. There's something about Dave Hunt's dueling hellish growl and tormented, deeply human clean vocals that just works for me. The following song Extravaganza! is perhaps the most intriguing and experimental on the record. Hunt really pushes his voice to King Diamond-like extreme falsettos. It also is one of the rare mid-tempo songs on the record that features haunting, repetitive guitar riffs like nuclear strike alarms. In good Anaal Nathrakh fashion, the song works in layers and really rewards a full volume listen. This is what differentiates them from other extreme metal band, guys. The level of control they exert over their own aggression.
Overall, I liked The Whole of the Law slightly better than I did Desideratum. It is a riskier album that incorporate new sounds to a tried and true formula that is really more of a spiritual successor to their 2009 masterpiece In the Constellation of the Black Widow that anything else and apparently I'm not the only one to think that. The Whole of the Law is an attempt to bridge he gap between the beautiful anomaly that was Constellation and their more conventional sound if you could call it that and I thought this attempt was quite successful. There is a naked dude kneeing another naked dude in the kidney and biting him in the throat on the cover of the album, which is the best possible metaphor for Anaal Nathrakh's music in general and for what The Whole of the Law delivers to you. A scene of unspeakable, yet controlled, studied and grandiose violence. It's a planned cataclysm. The band does things you would never do, yet does it better than anything you ever would and the beauty and importance of their music stems from that. From that reckless, passionate abandon to their mission. The Whole of the Law is where Anaal Nathrakh should've been going since In the Constellation of the Black Widow. There is a whole new path full of exciting possibilities for them in the future.