Album Review: ANAAL NATHRAKH A New Kind of Horror
Listening to Anaal Nathrakh's A New Kind of Horror is like mainlining adrenaline for 33 minutes straight. It's one of metal's best bands performing at the absolute top of their game and a flawless culmination of everything they have been working for nearly two decades. This is extreme metal at its apex.
Anaal Nathrakh has a reputation for creating some of the heaviest, violent and otherwise foreboding music in the metal scene. The duo's—instrumentalist Mick Kenny and vocalist Dave Hunt—notoriety is well-earned, too: Anaal Nathrakh's stated mission of being the "soundtrack to Armageddon" might seem a touch excessive to newcomers, but as anyone who has heard the band's amalgamations of black metal, death metal, grindcore and whirring industrial noise will attest, it isn't just marketing hype. When the band is on point, the auditory carnage they reap is unlike anything else in the industry.
To say that A New Kind of Horror is extremely on point would be a colossal understatement. Structurally, it is most reminiscent of the band's last record, 2016's The Whole of the Law. Like that album, A New Kind of Horror is an apt blend of Anaal Nathrakh's numerous styles and influences. While The Whole of the Law was nothing short of phenomenal, A New Kind of Horror manages to build on its predecessor's sound and ratchets the intensity far into the stratosphere. The result is unarguably one of the most ferocious albums in the last decade.
The production is earsplittingly loud, Hunt's harsh vocals are less like screams and more like animalistic shrieks, and Kenny produces sounds akin to a rampaging hurricane than traditional guitar riffs and drum beats. For band newcomers that can withstand this kind of auditory madness, A New Kind of Horror is also a perfect jumping off point, due to its superb pacing, excellent variety and complete lack of fat.
Following a brief, albeit surprisingly substantial, instrumental intro, “Obscene as Cancer" tears the record open with all manner of fire and fury and is appropriately one of the best representations of A New Kind of Horror's myriad strengths. Screechy, industrial-tinged atmospherics mesh with blistering guitar riffs that practically tear the sound barrier while Hunt conjures a primal shriek more akin to some unspeakable eldritch entity than anything a flesh and blood human should be able to produce. And that's just in the first fifteen seconds.
What follows is less a song and more a destructive force of nature in auditory form, but despite the maddeningly violent pace, neither "Obscene as Cancer" or the rest of the record overwhelm the listener or use their overt heaviness to mask a lack of songwriting talent. While the track's whirling vitriol might initially suggest otherwise, "Obscene as Cancer" is logically structured and gives ample space for more measured passages with choruses that prominently feature Hunt's clean singing, which has never sounded better. The track's rampaging gives way to a slower, atmosphere-heavy segment near its end that puts Hunt's grandiose cleans at the forefront of the mix. It offers just enough of a breather to counteract the otherwise blitzkrieg speed and segues into a suitably dramatic ending.
This kind of quality carries over into the subsequent eight tracks. While every song has their individual high points, Anaal Nathrakh never lingers on any one moment or musical element. A New Kind of Horror constantly moves from one grandiose auditory setpiece to the next, which causes the album to sound more like a nonstop highlight reel of metallic chaos than a mere collection of songs.
Hunt has never sounded more in his element. Whether he’s screaming or screeching, Hunt produces sounds that will make even seasoned listeners recoil in shock. While his harsh vocals are about as good as they were on Anaal Nathrakh’s most celebrated records—a considerable feat in of itself—his cleans on A New Kind of Horror firmly surpass those in all his previous work. They’re prominently featured in several songs and provide a perfect contrast to the otherwise inhuman sounds that Hunt produces. Hunt seems noticeably more confident in his singing this time around: The wailing, operatic highs he reaches on “New Bethlehem / Mass Death Futures” have the kind of epic, harrowing finality that you’d expect from a grandiose power metal record, while the wailing on monstrous standout “The Reek of Fear” sound like a man who is genuinely terrified.
Kenny is deserving of similarly effusive praise. Every song is packed to the brim with instrumentation that balances nuanced technicality with pure bloodthirstiness, while the striking diversity keeps things consistently interesting despite the unabashedly crushing intensity. Even “Vi Coactus,” which harkens back to the simpler, industrial-oriented song structures of the ill-fated Vanitas and Desideratum, is far more emotive and visceral than anything on those records.
A New Kind of Horror’s production is also in a class of its own, and Kenny’s work here is key to the album’s success. The loud-as-hell mix brings out the best in the rawer metal portions of the record, while the industrial noises and samplings, such as those on the atmosphere-drenched “The Horrid Strife” elevate the overall sound with stunning poise.
Anaal Nathrakh’s work on lead single “Forward!” is particularly laudatory. The song caused a bit of a stir when it premiered earlier in the year due to its heavy emphasis on electronics and atmosphere. While "Forward!" stands apart from most of A New Kind of Horror’s more to-the-point material, the track serves as an excellent change of pace that manages to spin band's signature style into exciting new directions. Of course, it's also a wickedly intense track in its own right: "Forward!'s" extended sections of desolate, icy industrial effects are all sorts of haunting and paranoia-inducing, especially when layered with Hunt's frenzied screeches, while the jarring spurts machine gun riffing and otherwise pummeling instrumentation perfectly compliment the more experimental moments.
Regardless, "Forward!" is about as far as A New Kind of Horror deviates from Anaal Nathrakh's core sound. And what a sound it is. A New Kind of Horror is a nigh-peerless culmination of everything one of extreme metal’s most celebrated bands has strived for since its inception and a towering achievement for the genre. Going forward, it’s genuinely difficult to imagine how the band could top this. But that’s the future. Right now, fans can rest easy, because Anaal Nathrakh has produced a modern classic.