It’s the year 2020, and the human race is feeling a great many things. Rightfully so. The base foundations of liberal democracy are in the throes of massive upheaval. Cultural tension has never been higher. Topics of race, inequity in legal systems, and violence are on the forefront of the minds of nearly everyone as cities burn and roil in the fires of protest and looting. Stacked on top of it all, nature’s fury has arisen with a particularly ferocius darkness, shrouding entire swaths of the United States in the suffocating smoke of ceaseless forest fires and the seemingly never-ending specter of COVID-19. People are dying. Depression seeps into nearly every daily interaction. Jobs are being irrevocably lost. Businesses and homes have been and continue to be destroyed. Any one of these things could cause calamity and strife by itself, but taken as a whole? 2020 will live etched in the memories of everyone who lived through it as one of the most socially, ecologically, emotionally, and economically challenging in recent memory.
During periods as stressful and unrelentingly bleak as the one we are currently living through, there’s a distinct place for art as a tool to gain peace, understanding, community, and catharsis. Given that the film world has essentially been decimated for a full year by COVID-19, other mediums have played an even more prominent and vital role in the world’s reckoning with itself. Music, at least for myself, has been the most consistently powerful outlet in eliciting the above outcomes. Metal, in particular, has shown brighter than it normally does, churning out surprise recordings and long-awaited opuses that seem to fit the current existential nightmare we are living through like a glove. I think this is partially due to the fact that extreme music in and of itself is often born of extreme emotion, and now more than ever that emotional release has brought with it real-world catharsis. Rage, joy, despair, hope for the future, and anguish regarding the present bubble and boil in the heart of extreme music, and 2020 has given it its most perfect modern palate of exploration yet.
And Anaal Nathrakh are the perfect band for this exact moment in misery.
Over the span of their now decades-long career, there have been few bands who have been able to conjure more effectively the primordial rage of living than these Birmingham-based industrial black metal and grindcore aficionados. Their previous 10 full-length recordings have blazed and stomped with an ineffable rancor that entire subgenres have used as a foundation to their sound. Not only are Anaal Nathrakh pioneers in the worlds of sub genre-hopping extreme metal, but their output across that span of time has been consistently great. Ask someone what their favorite Anaal Nathrakh album is and you’ll get a veritable boatload of answers (though Black Widow is the objectively correct answer and I’ll hear no more on the topic), serving to show how deep in both quality and innovation the band’s history has been. It should then be no surprise that their 11th full-length effort, Endarkenment, does nothing to make matters of choosing the best record in their catalog any easier. A fundamentally punishing album in a foundationally dark moment in history, Endarkenment rages, pontificates, and above all, excels.
The band wastes no time kicking listeners’ faces in, either. The opening and title track is a rager of epic proportions that lays the groundwork for the album remarkably well. Kicking off with a infernal blast of Infant Annihilator-esque programming and utterly fantastic tremolo guitar work from Mick Kenney, fans of the band’s previous work will find themselves right at home in the spiky clutches of Anaal Nathrakh’s signature mayhem. But immediately noticeable once the smoke clears is the more richly melodic textures that that band are bringing to the table. Dave Hunt’s vocals have never sounded more visceral and magisterial, mixing his penchant for utterly insane harshness with dramatic, dramatic flourishes of soaring cleans that here fit absolutely beautifully with the more transcendent direction of the music. It’s a blend of sounds that show the band operating at peak emotional intensity, and it’s everything fans of the band’s most expansive work could hope for. But if you’re looking for that old, tried and true barnburning, face-melting Anaal Nathrakh we all know and love, you won’t have to wait long.
“Thus, Always, To Tyrants” is monumentally ferocious. There’s no other way to put it. Like a ravenous, rabid wolverine in a cage, Hunt absolutely seethes with unstoppable and belligerent rage, with particular malevolent intent toward leaders in power that deserve just and righteous punishment. It’s an insanely effective vehicle of blind anger that is about as definitive a statement in this regard as you’ll find in the band’s discography. But even this track fails to neglect the band’s more melodic tendencies, including not only an earworm of a principal riff, but also multiple sections of transcendent melody that bleed nicely into the perfect melodrama of “The Age of Starlight Ends”, which serves as a head-banging clarion call for action against the shackles that bind us (and includes some of the band’s more notably shocking and hilarious lyrics to date). If you’re into what the first three tracks of this record have to offer, there’s little about Endarkenment that you won’t love. Taken as a whole, it’s one of the band’s strongest and most cohesive efforts in their discography.
There has never been a more prescient time for an Anaal Nathrakh record to rear its vile head, and if 2020 could use a soundtrack to compile all the emotions being felt across the globe currently, Endarkenment just may be it. It’s a fantastic and deeply effective record from start to finish, and accomplishes its mission of utter destruction with a hefty dose of memorable riffage and melodic focus. As to where it stands in the scope of the band’s overall discography will depend on which of Anaal Nathrakh’s iterations you enjoy most, but I feel very strongly that fans of the band at any stage in their career will find plenty to love here. A fantastic album for an uncompromising and bleak time. Highly recommended.
Endarkenment is out now via Metal Blade Records, and is available for purchase on Bandcamp.