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This year, November 11th will mark a century since the end of The Great War. A war that was supposed to end all wars but only begot further bloodshed; ushering in trench combat, tanks, machine-gun nests, mass-scale slaughter, chemical warfare, and set political lines that just a couple decades later would bring about World War II. In the case of Anaal Nathrakh’s latest record, ‘A New Kind Of Horror‘, this LP aims to capture and reflect the sheer horror, inhumanity, and despair of World War I. And this savage-as-hell new effort from the long-standing British extreme metal duo succeeds in that vision; sonically representing a bleak, dark period in modern human history. Hellish, noisy musical soundscapes and blistering screaming gun you down, as samples of warfare and soldier death rattles etch one closer to the breaking point; matching the physical and psychological horrors the record thematically centres around. Anaal Nathrakh, of course, aren’t condoning or glorifying war. No, they’re vilifying such atrocities and bringing to light why such events should never be allowed to repeat themselves by using important poems and historical experiences as lyrical source material.
In that sense, Anaal Nathrakh has always had deeper literary inspiration than most other extreme metal acts – more sophistication – and that’s not lost here. The lyrics to the chorus of the vehement ‘Obscene as Cancer’ are taken directly from the third stanza of Dulce et Decorum Est, a poem about surviving a gas attack during WWI, written by soldier-poet Wilfred Owen who died just a week to the day peace was declared in 1918. (“In all my dreams before my helpless sight/He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.“) Similarly, a work by Owen friend and mentor, Siegfried Sassoon – Aftermath – is used as the basis for album closer, ‘Are We Fit For Glory Yet? (The War To End Nothing)‘; speaking about how not only do these wars need to be remembered lest they tragically repeat themselves and spill more blood, but that humanity has managed to kill one another at a much faster rate since the turn of the 20th century. (“Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget“). In between those two songs, however, we see the musical and thematic duality of this record in ‘The Horrid Strife‘; a clear reference to a piece by celebrated poet D. H. Lawrence, Kissing And Horrid Strife. (“Life is for dread/For doom that darkens, and the Sunderers/That sunder us from each other“).
In many ways, this record sounds like the manifestation of death, the human condition, fear, and desperation. Like looking upon photos of the Battle of the Somme and hearing that anguish and chaos. Mick Kenney’s brutal down-tuned guitar riffs and assaulting blast-beats shell shock you; whereas Dave Hunt’s pained shrieks, falsetto power-metal cleans, and guttural growls shred like bullets through flesh. Put together, it’s intensive fucking stuff! In fact, as per usual from Anaal Nathrakh, this album seldom lets up it’s vice-grip around the listener’s throat once it starts. It’s a busy, almost-bi-polar endurance test in some ways, but one of the most well-produced records they’ve ever had too. Yet despite the smooth sonic polish of this album, it isn’t meant to feel or sound pleasant. As war itself – whether it be future or past conflicts – is neither kind or caring. Even with the cover artwork of this record, you see a condemnation of war; scenes of WWI wage below while strategic missiles fall from the sky, all as liberty dies in the background. It’s all very over-dramatic, but rightfully so! And Anaal Nathrakh has really nailed that intent across the ten-songs of ‘A New Kind Of Horror‘.
Like past Anaal Nathrakh releases, ‘A New Kind Of Horror‘ borrows elements of grind, industrial, power, symphonic, black, and death metal. Also like past records, this mixing of styles rarely ever sees one influence completely overpower the rest; feeling well balanced and fine-tuned as a result. A strength that could’ve easily become a weakness in the hands of much less capable bands. This mixing-pot of sounds and ideas speaks deeply to Dave and Mick’s strong songwriting abilities and how well they play off each other. Just that they can be this heavy, this dark, this devastating, and still write some of their catchiest material ever.
For instance, the chorus of ‘Obscene as Cancer‘ is one of the most epic refrains this pair has ever penned (genuinely epic, not Ben Shapiro epic). A big part of why so many of these songs stick is down to the massive dynamic vocal range that Dave exerts. He switches from menacing, high-register screams, over to operatic vibrato-heavy cleans, then back to rabid barks and deathly growls, often all in the space of a single song. It’s insane! Just witness the melodic peaks he vocally hits on a song like ‘The Reek Of Fear‘. Normally, I find power metal singing to be incredibly cheesy but it never once becomes an issue here. Because it’s used sparingly and offered in brief respites, like in a chorus or a bridge section. Either way, it all adds yet another theatrical and dynamic layer to the proceedings.
Speaking of these proceedings, there are some brilliant moments across the battlefield of ‘A New Kind Of Horror‘. Under cacophonous drumming and riffs, blaring Hans Zimmer-esque synth horns thunder on ‘The Reek Of Fear‘; stirring like an air-barrage soon dropping overhead. ‘The Apocalypse Is About You!‘ sees Dave lose his mind vocally, digging deep and hitting a new-found sense of intensity with one of his most fiendish heavy vocal performances in ages. The violent tone, diads-for-days riffage, and rapid death march of ‘New Bethlehem/Mass Death Futures’ paints bleak images of conquest-loving, money-hungry leaders, as melodic keys sprinkle across the song’s blood-soaked trenches like harsh winter snow. The guitar melodies that creep through the Phrygian wastes and blackened fog on ‘Vi Coactus’ (Latin for “having been forced”) make for a wicked hook; one of the band’s best on the record. ‘Vi Coactus‘ also sees a solid guest feature from Bleeding Through vocalist, Brandan Schieppati, and a spoken word sample even quoting the principles of the Belmont Report. To some, these extra parts may feel like filler, musically or otherwise. But to me, they lend added weight to the dire topics the band are discussing and the crushing music they’re creating in tandem.
This album features a heavier usage of electronics, but that’s no bad thing in my mind. Take ‘Forward!’, with its groovier riffs and tightly-aligned double-kick/machine-gun-sample syncopation slipped in with dubstep-like wobbles. Such electronic elements have been found on previous Anaal Nathrakh records, and while never quite to this degree, I’m still a huge fan of it. For this is the duo weeding out the heavy metal purists within their listenership and challenging them even harder. Even if it does result in ‘Forward!‘ having an oddly similar flow to M.I.A.’s ‘Paper Planes‘ with it’s gun-shot and reloading sounds. (Seriously, play both songs back-to-back and you’ll hopefully see what I mean). On top of that, Dave’s vocals here sound like a more energized Jens Kidman (Meshuggah), with lyrics communicating the dehumanizing aspects of war, of killing for one’s country, and of a man being mere canon-fodder stuck right in the thick of it. As the song itself says, “who gives a fuck if your enemy’s starving“. Since it’s release, ‘Forward!‘ has been and will continue to be a divisive song for many fans, but for yours truly, I love it.
However, one thing that does start to grate on my ears after some time is this record’s near-constant use of gunshot samples. Nearly all ten songs utilise them and by the end, it starts to become as cliched as generic metalcore bands using glass breaking sound effects right when their breakdowns hit. Given the setting and theme of ‘A New Kind Of Horror‘, one could expect to hear such sounds without having even heard the bloody thing. Yet it all becomes a bit much once the album hits the last turn. Yes, it might add to the impact of a certain section, and it might help set the tone of war as well, but it definitely starts to feel a little formulaic and distracting after a while.
Also, just screaming “Satan” over and over again in ‘Mother Of Satan’ is pretty damn silly and doesn’t seem as serious as some of the other songs here. In the liner notes of this record, Anaal Nathrakh actually commented how this was a sarcastic joke about how despite sharing much in common with black metal, they don’t talk about the ol’ horned one all that much. Yet while I understand this is the band also mentioning TATP (Triacetone triperoxide, used in the 2017 Barcelona terror attacks, often referred to as “mother of Satan”), the song still falls by the wayside when compared with other tracks here. Songs like the harrowing ‘The Horrid Strife’, which follows right after in the tracklisting, featuring some of the best head-banging riffs on the whole record. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.
Just like the brutal, harrowing, and dehumanizing experience of war, ‘A New Kind Of Horror’ sees Anaal Nathrakh storm over trenches & sprint head-long into an extreme metal hell. It’s loud, it’s dark, it’s violent, it’s chaotic, and it’s intensive, with very few rays of hope or life to be found strewn across this war-torn hell-scape. Given the WWI context, the blackened and theatrical extreme metal sounds of Anaal Nathrakh are an incredibly fitting score for such a thematically historical backdrop. Both lyrically and musically, ‘A New Kind Of Horror’ is a take-no-prisoners type of record. Any and all cowards caught retreating will be shot, basically. However, save for ‘Obscene As Cancer’, ‘The Horrid Strife’, and ‘Forward!’, there’s nothing here quite as memorable or as impactful as ‘We Will Fucking Kill You’ was from their last LP. Whilst solid, I also don’t think this will be considered a modern classic for the British duo of Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney in the long run; it just won’t be heralded as an essential release. Still, I’ve never heard an Anaal Nathrakh album that I didn’t like, and that absolutely rings true of ‘A New Kind of Horror’.
01. The Road To…
02. Obscene as Cancer
03. The Reek of Fear
05. New Bethlehem/Mass Death Futures
06. The Apocalypse Is About You!
07. Vi Coactus
08. Mother of Satan
09. The Horrid Strife
10. Are We Fit for Glory Yet? (The War to End Nothing)
‘A New Kind Of Horror’ is out now via Metal Blade Records.