Interview with Anaal Nathrakh

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A New Kind of Horror is rapidly becoming one of my most-played Anaal Nathrakh albums, and that’s with some stiff competition to go up against from the rest of their impressive discography. In my humble opinion the band’s latest album is definitely one of their best.

Dave Hunt, the band’s impressively intense vocalist, was kind enough to answer some of my questions…

Introduce us to Anaal Nathrakh

We’re a band, we play extremely violent but also paradoxically catchy music, mostly about completely horrible things and/or the end of the world. Beyond that, journalists are probably better placed to describe us. Or even better, just Google the name and listen for yourself – what anyone else says is irrelevant compared to making your own mind up. We released a great video recently, it’s on YouTube so it’s dead easy to find.

Put simply, why do Anaal Nathrakh exist?

To make music that sounds like I just described. And to give us a means of expressing things which we express best via such music. Why does music exist at all? If it’s not to express something that music is the best medium for expressing, then I don’t know. Well, maybe there are other reasons such as to make money or to be a platform for ego and so on, but those don’t really apply to us – if we were only interested in making money, we wouldn’t play music that sounded like this, and as people we’re not attention seekers or anything like that. So it has to be about finding these kinds of sounds compelling, doesn’t it? Keeps us off the streets and out of prison, I ‘spose.

Name five things you’ve listened to recently that you’d recommend

1. I was just now listening to Clandestine, the second Entombed album, and my favourite of theirs. It’s a classic of the genre, but it’s pretty old, so maybe younger people reading this might not have picked up on it.

2. Exodus, the Bob Marley album. Might seem weird recommending an album that’s older than I am to people who are probably younger than me, but the fact that that album has something to tell or show us about the state of the UK is as troubling as it is bizarre.

3. Alkan: Genius-Enigma. An anthology of a load of Charles Valentin Alkan’s solo piano music. There’s almost nothing that can compare to Chopin’s solo piano music for me, but some of this comes close, for example track 4. And the fact that it’s from a little-known composer is cool. The playing by Vincenzo Maltempo is extraordinary, too.

4. The Curling Flame of Blasphemy by Profanatica. I had lost track of these guys for years, as far as I knew they hadn’t released anything in a very long time. But I was entirely wrong, they’ve been doing stuff all along, and Spotify filled me in a couple of weeks ago. This is their most recent album, and sounds a bit like the Weeping in Heaven-era stuff I’m familiar with mixed with old Incantation and a dollop of melancholy. They’re more than a bit absurd, of course, but I really like the feel of this album.

5. Tod Huetet Uebel – Na-Da. A band named after a song we did in collaboration with Rainer Landfermann a while back, a guy form the band gave me this CD at our recent London album preview show. They’re obviously influenced by us and Rainer, but this has plenty of ideas of its own and they have a distinct identity. It’s really good stuff.

How would you describe the music on A New Kind of Horror?

I wouldn’t, really, beyond what I said in the press release. I think you carried a review of the album, right? I’d expect a journalist to be able to do a better job than me. That probably sounds more churlish than it’s meant. I just mean that anyone in a band who doesn’t froth with superlatives ’bout their new material is doing something wrong, and I can’t see as it really helps anyone to know that bands like their own new stuff. I read an interview in an old magazine years ago with Manowar, and according to that the only music that existed was their new album, the only thing they listened to, the only thing they talked about, and so on. Triumph of Steel, I think it was called. Their answer to your last question would just have been to say Triumph of Steel five times. In its own Manowar it was kind of hilarious at the time, but really it was about as informative as any other musician talking about their own stuff! Much better to get someone with a degree of objectivity to describe it instead.

Anaal Nathrakh Band

What are some of the lyrical themes the album has?

World War 1, poetry from that time, parallels with today, the human dimension of such huge conflagrations of death. The world today and how it seems increasingly unstable, at the behest of monsters both figurative and literal. The sense that in the last year or two, everything has started to feel more like it did in the 80s when I was little kid – febrile, unpredictable, mismanaged, portentous. Reflecting on the ability of music and lyrics to impart and experience rather than just describe it, which is a profound effect. There’s loads going on on the album, and a lot of it is mentioned in the liner notes. At least enough for people to go and think about it for themselves. But you’d have to mention something specific to touch on or we’d be here all day.

How were the songs written?

Mick wrote the music, then I sang on it. Roughly speaking, Mick gets a feeling when there’s a critical mass stage of necro reached in his head, and it’s time to pour it out into an album. I continuously keep notes, fragments of lyrics, ideas and themes and so on. Then when it’s album time, often we’ll talk a bit about some of those themes and get a feel of an overall atmosphere that helps shape the album. Then Mick takes that feeling and turns it into music. Then we team up and record the vocals, which is a process of sorting through the music and wrapping my ideas around it, adapting and expanding upon the ideas and lyric fragments and whatnot that I have. Then we sprinkle it with necro dust. That’s the basic process we follow. For A New Kind of Horror, it was nice to be able to go over to Mick’s place in Orange County to record. I hadn’t been there before, and it was cool to be there with a strong focus just on the music. It was intense, which I suppose is how it should be.

What’s your favourite song on the album and why?

I don’t have one – we’re too close to it ourselves, so it changes minute to minute. At the moment I’d say Are We Fit For Glory Yet? Simply because it keeps popping up in my head. I like the way it’s absolutely us, it’s really heartfelt and extremely bitter, drawing on some immense inspiration in the form of Sassoon’s Aftermath, and it also sounds a bit different, especially the kind-of-overblown-yet-still-just-right clean vocal part. It makes the album finish in such a way that you feel bereft when it’s gone.

How did you decide on the order of the tracks?

In an incredibly prosaic way – we listened to them in a couple of different orders and picked the order we liked best. We had an idea from early on that Obscene as Cancer would be the first track after the intro, but from there on everything was just by what felt right in terms of the album as a whole. That’s the only good way to choose, I think.

Bleeding Through’s vocalist Brendan Schieppati guests on the album – how did that come about?

He and Mick have been good friends for years. And obviously he’s someone we respect as a musician, so it was cool to get him involved. He seemed to really like the material, which was gratifying, and it’s probably something that’s a bit unexpected if you’re outside the OC scene because you might not see the links. But from within our world, getting Brandan involved was an obvious and obviously cool thing to do. We’re really pleased to have finally been able to do so. I just hope he doesn’t get up and do his bit live if the chance arises because I’ll look like a right fat prick next to him.

What are some of your reflections about the album and how it has turned out?

We’re still too close to it for me to be able to answer that question in any meaningful way. It’s inevitable, given that we don’t just do the music, we do everything, record it ourselves, spend ages going over the mastering, come up with the artwork, write bits for the press releases and so on. You spend months with your nose six inches away from something and it takes a very long time before you can get any meaningful perspective. We’re only just starting to be able to listen to it as music rather than analysing it.

If you had to do it over again, would you change anything?

No. That’s the flip side of doing everything yourself as we do – if you’re not happy, you haven’t finished. You get full control, but you also have to take full responsibility. And there comes a time when you have to say ‘right. that’s it, that’s the cut off, it’s as good as we can make it without being in danger of eroding it’. After that point, to use some repellently psychobabble-sounding terminology, you just have to own it, warts and all.

I’d argue that overall this is one of the catchier Anaal Nathrakh albums – would you agree, and if so, was this deliberate or did it naturally occur?

No, I don’t think it’s particularly catchier than anything else we’ve done. And if it is, it’s not because we planned it that way. Obviously we expect and want our music to be memorable, but we never set out saying ‘ok, make this particularly catchy’ or anything like that. We do what feels right to us at the time, that’s the only plan we really ever have.

What lessons have you learned from A New Kind of Horror that you will take forward for your next recording?

Fireball and coke is nice, but you need to stir it.

How would you compare this latest album to your earlier work?

I wouldn’t. Just as I was saying before about musicians versus journalists, we won’t really look back at old stuff and make comparisons. We’re excited about what we’re doing at any given time and what we might do next, and looking back and being self congratulatory or self flagellatory doesn’t change anything about now. We thought each thing we did earlier was the best thing we’d ever done. And we think the same about A New Kind of Horror. Which is exactly as it should be, and entirely un-illuminating to anyone.

Playing live – essential or pointless?

Neither. It’s a different experience, a different dimension. Personally I find it stressful and physically very difficult. But it can also be exhilarating. And it feels weirdly simultaneously gratifying and an opportunity to give generous thanks to people who care about what we do. We don’t live to play like some bands do, we’re not Motörhead. But I certainly wouldn’t say it was pointless either. A lot of people would give their right arm to be able to do what we do, even if our position in that world is comparatively modest in the grand scheme of things. We get to go to places and do things that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise, and that’s a humbling and rewarding thing to be able to say.

You’re scheduled to play the UK’s Damnation Festival in November – what can fans expect from your show?

It’s been fearsome carnage in the past. Last time we were there we played on the second stage and friends told me they couldn’t get in, or at least couldn’t get to a decent position. So playing on the main stage this time will be an interesting new experience. I’m probably the most experienced Damnation veteran – I don’t think anyone else has played at the festival more times than I have, or if they have, it’s not by many. And I always look forward to it. That by itself has to be a sterling recommendation! We’ve only had a couple of opportunities to play new material so far, and I think it’ll work well in that environment. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Forward! works there. I think it’ll be powerful.

Do you have any other upcoming live shows you want to mention?

Yeah, we have other dates in Europe around the same time as Damnation, Aalborg the night before Damnation and then a rash of club shows afterwards, and we’re looking forward to all that. Then we’ve got a tour of Japan lined up in the new year, and then various other things that I probably can’t mention because of the way announcements and contracts and so on work. Ah, I can mention the Maryland Death Fest, that’ll see us back in the USA, so we’re excited about that. We’re going to be pretty busy.

What are your views on the current state of black metal?

I don’t really have one, because I don’t get chance to follow it in much detail nowadays. Always too much to do, too little time. I think anything that’s just copying the blueprint of mid-nineties Norwegian stuff is at risk of contributing to a sense of stagnation that threatens to engulf a lot of extreme metal nowadays. If you were there at the time, fair enough, for example I can’t knock Emperor’s recent Anthems shows. But there are people pushing and making fresh noises, and that’s to be encouraged. There are ways to express, to channel that curious kind of feeling and to articulate extremity that don’t consist in regurgitating, and that’s where people need to aim, I think.

What’s the UK extreme metal scene like from your point of view?

Again, we don’t get chance to be all that exposed to it. I’ve championed Voices’ album London in the past, and I still think it’s a great piece of work. Tod Huetet Uebel who I mentioned earlier are at least partly UK based. And obviously old stalwarts like Napalm are still in the best form of their careers, I think. It’s also great to be closing in on a new Benediction album after so long. Looking forward to getting ready to record that.

What are the next steps for Anaal Nathrakh?

To play the shows we’ve got booked. Beyond that, who knows. We don’t have a five year plan or a ‘strategy going forwards’, we go with what comes along and what it feels right to push towards. So we’ll see what happens.

Any final words?

Thanks for the support. Doubly so to anyone who managed to read this far. I hope you can get something as meaningful out of A New Kind of Horror as we found putting it all in.

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