Who would have thought that Rob Base and DJ EZ Roc’s iconic statement “It takes two to make a thing go right” could’ve involved experimental Black Metal. Enter Anaal Nathrakh, who has been raising the bar of what we should expect from the genre since their 2001 debut The Codex Necro. This month the dynamic duo of dark and disturbing return with Vanitas, another album of searing hatred and maniac ramblings. Again Anaal Nathrakh come at us like a violent mugging. With no warning and little fanfare, the duo of Irrumator and V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt respectively) appear, raise their audio crowbar, and proceed to beat the shit out of you.
Let me be frank, there is no rest with Vanitas. Unlike 2011’s Passion, which focused on more of the sadness and introspection of Anaal Nathrakh, this album punches through with blasts of savage hatred much the way 2009’s In The Constellation Of The Black Widow. It’s as if they tried to extend an olive branch to humanity with Passion and then realized the futility of that idea and their vengeance was released via Vanitas. The opening scream of “The Blood Dimmed Tide”, coupled with the frigid and inhuman guitar sound, pave the way for the entire album. Anaal Nathrakh isn’t kidding folks. They hate you, they hate this world and they mean to shred it through pure, dark, will.
Irrumator, the musical mastermind behind Anaal Nathrakh, is unleashing his full experimental terrorist here. The music isn’t just guitars and blast beats, though they are plentiful, it’s also sonic blips, feed back, electronic chirps and discharges of noise. “Forging Towards The Sunset” uses an epic guitar line, one you’d expect to see Conan playing atop a mountain while the Gods attempted to kill him with lightening, resting on machine gun rapid fire blast beats. Irrumator loves to screw with structure, he inserts quick time changes that catch you off guard. Right as you think you’ve settled into them, he’s onto something else.
Just to fuck with us, “To Spite The Face” has a sick groove that lasts for about twenty seconds before Irrumator returns to bashing your skull in with the heavy. Intermittently the groove returns but only as a small rest before the heel of the Anaal Nathrakh boot is placed into your skull again. “In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas” roots itself in more classic black metal patterns while larger guitar sounds and even bits of thrash weave around it. “You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying” is one of those tunes where Anaal Nathrakh thumb their nose at the conventional trappings of the genre and release an industrial groove to their black metal.
“Feeding The Beast” brings the entirety ofVanitas to a stop without effecting the energy of the album. This is a slow burner but not a sludge or doom tune, more a holding pattern that concentrates tension into one vibrating bubble. The type of tune where you grit your teeth and shake your fists waiting for it to open up so you can smash your world in. When it does, the release is cathartic on multiple levels.
While Irrumator does his thing, vocalist V.I.T.R.I.O.L. unleashes his own fury. Some fans had problems with V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’s clean vocal leanings, and they would be wrong. V.I.T.R.I.O.L. does vocally what his partner does musically, he experiments and uses what’s necessary for the song. The screams aren’t singular, V.I.T.R.I.O.L. uses different levels to express himself. Some are desperation, some rage, some hatred and some indifference. When he needs to make a point he’ll switch to the clean vocals, and that part of the song suddenly transcends itself. If you think V.I.T.R.I.O.L. lacks power, dig the thirty-second acapella scream at the end of “Forging Towards The Sunset” or the rage of “Feeding The Beast”.
Vanitasdoes have some holes that prevent it from resting next to The Codex Necro or In The Constellation Of The Black Widow. The last two songs just don’t live up to the rest of the album. “Of Fire, And Fucking Pigs” is by-the-numbers Anaal Nathrakh, while the album closer “A Metaphor For The Dead” is just boring. Neither of these songs is terrible, but up against the first eight tunes, they fail to capture the power or originality. Vanitas would have been better served to be the first eight songs. The last two don’t measure up and really create an anticlimactic vibe to the whole record.
While not perfect, Vanitas is another blast of dank, vile and putrid fresh air from a band that simply refuse to conform to genre standards. Anaal Nathrakh are not just a band, they’re artists, and every record is more an artistic statement than a collection of songs. That kind of freedom, especially in a genre that can be as restrictive as Black Metal, is refreshing.
Southern Lord Records
Since the huge fanfare of 2010’s Solve Et Coagula, I have been trying to understand the secret behind Italian punk/grind/black metal band The Secret. People love these guys, Solve Et Coagula made several best-of lists in 2010 and everyone with long hair, camo shorts and an affinity for black t-shirts would sing their praises from the highest dark mountain. I stood there, looking at my metal brethren, and trying to understand my failure to get this band. Then, one day, I was watching Office Space and a line from that movie, altered a bit, made my thing with The Secret clearer.
“It’s not that I hate them, it’s that I just don’t care.”
The Secret fall exactly in that arena for me. They aren’t a bad band, they’re actually quite good, I just don’t care about what they do at all. Now the Italian metal love-fest returns as fans salivate over Agnus Dei, the band’s newest epic of atheist tinged blackgrindcrustcore. Upon listening to Agnus Dei, I can truly say that it is a well-crafted album, with songs that aren’t really remarkable but aren’t egregious either. The Secret play well, they execute their parts wonderfully, and they share my affinity for the focused hatred of organized religion. I should love this record, but I don’t. Why is that?
I think it’s the aforementioned status of not good and not bad. The Secret’s sound is based largely on what was accomplished by Swedish metal icons Entombed or a band like Dismember or Trap Them. The Secret really shine when they take these inspirations and pile on a more high-octane Black Metal approach. In fact, I really enjoy when they open up their two-minute blitzkriegs.
“The Bottomless Pit” is an ear-crushing bit of hardcore-meets-black-metal, as is “Daily Lies”. The groove blast of “Post Mortem Nihil Est” or the violent explosion of “May God Damn Us All”, while still rampant with Entombed, are at least exciting to listen to. Problems step into view with longer tracks like “Vermin Of Dust”, “Heretic Temple” or the thirteen-minute opus “Seven Billion Graves”. The Secret can’t seem to decide if they want to be a fast, punk/hardcore version of Entombed or an experimental, long-winded Black Metal band. Figure it out guys, or get better at writing long-winded Black Metal jams. We’ll all be better off for it.
So, I’m back to my original idea. The Secret aren’t awful, but they aren’t great. They write some good songs, but not enough to hold my interest for an entire album. I didn’t walk away from Agnus Dei hating it but, as is usual, I just didn’t care. For those who love what they do, this album will satiate your lust for The Secret. For those of us who don’t care, there’s not enough goodness happening on Agnus Dei to make you a fan.