Reviewed: November 2020
Released: 2020, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
Anaal Nathrakh are a big name in extreme metal, and Endarkenment succinctly illustrates why. The album doesn’t represent a significant shift in their approach to making heavy music because it doesn’t need to. They’ve long since mastered their craft, and it shows.
Anyone who happens to have read other reviews of mine (please ignore the sound of crickets chirping) may know I have a particular distaste for music that is “extreme” purely for the sake of it. Being loud and discordant just because you can is dull and tiresome. Anaal Nathrakh are the very antithesis of this approach, the gold standard of how to do extremity well. Every blast beat, every buzzsaw riff, every cacophonous screech is there for a reason, and adds to the dark tapestry. It’s an aural quagmire of guts in a blender, but never feels without need or aim.
Instead, such elements are used to craft tracks that are explosive and gory but allow glimmers of light to shine through. Endarkenment takes a black metal core and layers it with industrial oppression, grindcore ferocity and some of the best melodeath-style light-dark contrasting in years. All these influences sit comfortably alongside one another. The band will hurtle at you head-first with a finely-honed stream of chaos and darkness, then Dave Hunt will switch up into soaring, empowering vocal majesty like it’s nothing. And while they do provide a contrast, it’s all fitted together so neatly, different elements of the sonic carnage continuing unabated while other gears shift, as in the title track or “The Age of Starlight” with their uplifting choruses atop fearsome percussive blasts. Like a blood-spattered ballet, the band will rise up from the horror for a moment of clarity and refinement to hammer their point home before diving right back in.
At other times, Endarkenment shamelessly plays to the strength of their fury: “Thus, Always, to Tyrants” can barely get across its sense of disgust, even with its gut-churning, pig-grunt central passage. “Feeding the Death Machine” features an appropriately industrial grind throughout, the sound of hope and decency flushed away, an appropriate feel for a song inspired by an interview with an Auschwitz survivor. The fittingly-titled “Beyond Words” brings some of the most tortured, agonised sounds on the album, full of grunts, gurgles and the shrieks of the damned, a soundtrack for an insane asylum turned slaughterhouse.
Despite all the deliberate insanity on display, Anaal Nathrakh never lose sight of creating something memorable. Endarkenment -is- extreme, but it’s more than just that, utilising the talent of the two men behind it to create something bizarrely catchy even as it unleashes the raw sounds of damnation, outrage and despair. Endarkenment is an experience, one of disgust made all the worse by the lack or loss of dignity and potential beauty. The band set out with an idea of “making music with a sense that all you can do is hang on”, and that’s a feeling conveyed perfectly by this album.