Another year, another ANAAL NATHRAKH album, which, just like year’s “Passion”, received little pre-release promotion. Business as usual, in other words. These sonic terrorists from Birmingham still sit snugly atop the extreme Metal totem pole, and while ANAAL NATHRAKH in full flight is a beautifully terrifying thing to behold, I desperately needed “Vanitas” to recapture some of the ground they seem to have lost a little with their previous effort. So, is the album title (Latin for vanity) an indication that Mick Kenney (a.k.a. Irrumator) and Dave Hunt (a.k.a. V.I.T.R.I.O.L.) are about to do some showboating and yet again reaffirm their reputation as the granddaddies of all things heavy? Well, yes and no.
“Vanitas” is not a radical departure from the band’s tried-and-tested sound, as it is still essentially an amalgamation of Blackened Death Metal with a Grind-y, Industrial undercurrent to it. In that sense, nothing has changed. On the other hand, there also seems to be a greater drive towards variety on here, with a handful of songs opting for a subtle build-up of melodies and moods and less for a full-frontal assault. Don’t get me wrong – the album will still take your head clean off, but it will do so a little more playfully than was previously the norm.
The first half of “Vanitas” is still very much rooted in that characteristic ANAAL NATHRAKH orthodoxy. You get some creepy-as-hell chanting overlaid with ruthless blasting (“The Blood-Dimmed Tide”), blistering bursts of speed and those particular soaring clean choruses that they first started experimenting with on “Eschaton” (“Forging Towards The Sunset”), and songs that lean more towards their early full-on Black Metal beginnings (“To Spite The Face”). While these songs are in no way poor, there is nevertheless still an air of ‘haven’t I heard that before?’ hanging over them. It is with the second half of the album, then, that the band starts spreading its wings. “In Coelo Quies – Tout Finis Ici Bas” sees the band injecting their trademark ground ‘n’ pound approach with uncharacteristically sprightly backing melodies that seem lifted wholesale from the Power Metal genre. They don’t overdo it, so don’t get your panties in a wad just yet. The brilliantly titled “You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying” is almost mid-paced by the band’s standards, with a delicious groove to it, while “A Metaphor For The Dead” is mostly instrumental and incorporates everything from sludgy tempos to weird Goth-like synths, and a bevy of surprisingly melodic guitar leads. Of course you still get those patented blackened face-rippers like “Of Fire, And Fucking Pigs” where they yet again display their knack for seamlessly meshing Black Metal, Death, and Grind all into one cocktail of pure awesomeness.
All in all, “Vanitas” is another stellar ANAAL NATHRAKH effort. It carries all the trademarks we’ve come to expect from the band but also exhibits quite a few traits that point to a stronger willingness to take a few more adventurous side steps along the way. While everything is tight and the production is superb (especially in terms of the extra oomph given to the drums), I don’t think that this is the ultimate ANAAL NATHRAKH effort – that honour still belongs to “Eschaton”. It is hands down better than the somewhat half-baked “Passion” though, and based on its slightly more adventurous vibe one might say that “Vanitas” might be a precursor to a new chapter in the ANAAL NATHRAKH saga.
(Online September 29, 2012)