Originally written by Jordan Campbell
Scenario: You’re the most extreme heavy metal band on the planet. You’ve spent roughly ten years in a perpetual state of berserk assault, attacking listeners from nearly every angle. Your weapons? Warp-speed black metal. Hyper-violent grind. And the most dynamic, demented vocalist in the game.
But suddenly, there’s nowhere to go. After a decade of insanity, all boundaries have been pushed. All levels have been cranked into oblivion. The shock factor — so potently wielded, even against a jaded populace — has all but waned with the sustained and repeated trauma. There are no new tricks to pull, no new angles from which to penetrate. After eight-odd releases, predictability has set in. The element of surprise is gone. So… what now?
You write the best album of your career.
Vanitas is the record that Anaal Nathrakh had to make in 2012. After last year’s somewhat-panned Passion, this insanely prolific British duo was in danger of pushing themselves into irrelevance, a shocking prospect for a band that had long been revered for relentlessness and innovation. But Passion marked the first time that their apocalyptic blackgrind sounded tame; it proved that the band could no longer coast on their style alone, horrifically confrontational as it may be.
Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt stick to their formula pretty religiously on the album’s first two tracks, “The Blood-Dimmed Tide” and “Forging Towards the Sunset,” but somehow… it feels different. There’s a sonic weight to Kenney’s guitar tone that makes his Mayhem-via-Napalm riffage sound more embracing than abrasive. Instead of swinging for the fences, Anaal Nathrakh is baiting you for counterpunches. “Forging Towards the Sunset” is a brutal, disemboweling uppercut, the perfect manifestation of the band’s chaotic mindfuck / soaring horrorchorus blueprint that was honed back on Eschaton.
But instead of merely carving perfection out of their template, the midsection of Vanitas contains some subtle tweaks that elevate the album to career-defining status. “Todos Somos Humanos” shows a newfound maturity, one that may have previously eluded the band in their obsession with adhering to a rapid-fire release schedule. They’ve discovered the ability to lay off the throttle. The melodic breakdown here, as well as the mournful guitar solo (!!!) that closes “In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas,” gives gravitas to their demented assault.
Cooler still is the terrorcore / turbodjent whirlwind of “You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying.” It’s not only a super-compact, hugely-hooked pop song, but also the first time they’ve completely shirked black metal trappings in favor of shoutalong choruses and blatant mosh riffing. They aren’t dumbing themselves down here; they’re finding clever, crucial ways to augment their attack and maximize their potency.
The result is Anaal Nathrakh’s first perfect record. It’s not new, and it’s not fresh. They’ve been doing this thing for awhile now. It’s just finally, truly, fucking elite. On Vanitas, they sound like a band that’s been kicking the shit out of themselves for the better part of a decade, but one that’s become wiser rather than weary. Cunningly, Anaal Nathrakh is raining napalm and terror from a shattered, blackened sky; they’ve finally morphed into the cruel deities they’ve been gnashing and thrashing against nature to become.
You’ve been warned. Prostrate or be conquered.