It's never a dull day at the office when the buzzsaw Brits in Anaal Nathrakh are in the picture. Far removed from your paint-by-numbers album promo interview, Metal Injection's lengthy chat with Dave Hunt bounces here there and everywhere, touching on Brexit, frustrating Freudian sexual urges, and yes, pigs with cocks for eyes.
In this lengthy and unfiltered one-on-one with one of extreme metal's more boundary-pushing, give no fucks factions, Hunt digs deep into the meaning behind the bands timely new album Endarkenment (out October 2nd through Metal Blade Records), his chemistry with longtime partner-in-crime Mick Kenney, and just about everything in between.
On Releasing An Album During COVID-19
We're lucky enough to have done this a few times before. We have experience of what it's like in normal times, but now obviously the world isn't the same world that we were in the last few times that we've done this. The answer to the question changes quite dramatically. Usually you finish up the album, you hand it over to the label and then you've got, I don't know, three months or so usually until release. And you're looking to organize shows, looking to do little promotional things and speaking to people like yourself and so on. But then in this case, we handed the label the album and then the world was set on fire almost immediately afterwards. So in this case it's all been a bit weird.
We can't focus on booking shows. That's probably the biggest thing, booking shows to coincide with the album coming out. You just can't do those things at the moment. I mean, some people are trying and I don't blame them for trying, but personally I don't feel that it's a secure enough situation to be able to do that in good faith. In this situation, it's all a bit weird and you have too much and too little to think about. So there is a little bit of apprehension maybe. We're not the kind of people who spend a lot of time tracking our performance on hashtags and all that kind of stuff. If you do like a really mainstream piece of music or maybe if you were just that inclined on a personal level, maybe it would be full of anticipation and hoping it goes over well. In our case, we're more focused on making sure that it's something that we're satisfied with and then hopefully the world would agree with us. We're not quite as dependent on that as some people.
On Chemistry With Mick
Both of us, together and separately, have experience of working in a more conventional kind of way, where there's basically a group of musicians in a room talking to each other and figuring things out. But the way that we do Anaal Nathrakh developed just naturally anyway. So it's not as if this feels like an artificial setup, whereas being in a traditional format feels organic or anything like that. This seems organic to us as well, just because it grew by itself and it's how we did things.
We started out, basically, in a room in a house in a suburb of Birmingham. It was the front room of Mick's dad's house that Mick used as his bedroom. And we just sat on the floor and I'm sure his dad wouldn't be too offended if I say, a fairly shitty old house. And everything that we've done since has basically carried on in that kind of a vein. We still approach it as if we're just two kids effectively sitting on the floor in some shitty house with the tape recorder. It's been a long time that we've been doing it and we've got better at doing it and all of that kind of thing. But we still just sit infusing and making each other laugh and all of that kind of stuff as if we were still 19 or whatever it was when we got going. The way that we relate to one another is on that kind of level, which we're usually amusing ourselves about something or deep in conversation. It's not as if there's some kind of highfalutin idea that we are somehow collaborative professionals using Microsoft Teams or whatever it is that people are using in the pandemic. We're still basically two kids giggling to each other with a load of shit equipment.
On A Different Kind of 'Dark' Record
Optimistic this ain't. The lightness to me isn't mirth, or even levity of subject matter. It's more just an overall sort of feeling that emerges from the sound to me. The last album we did, as you quite rightly say, it was inspired heavily by World War I, especially poetry and art and stuff like that. And it was appropriate because it was 2018, the centenary of the end of the First World War. To mark that seemed a good thing to do. But the subject matter on this one feels pretty much as heavy to me. We're not going on about politics all the time, but a lot of it is informed by the way that the world has generally been going the past few years. And to me there are dark forces at work now, today, that have been for a while.
One thing I remember saying to someone a few days ago was that if people throughout the second half of the 20th century and onwards have sometimes looked back at history and gone, what the hell happened in the 1930s? What was all that about? Where did that come from? And it's often treated as if it was somehow a different and separate world. That that was something that happened in that place and time in a way that couldn't be repeated, like I don't know, the Spanish Inquisition or the Black Plague or something. I think the remnants of where that kind of thing came from is the same stuff that's been happening today and in recent history. Maybe we haven't got to those hysterical and terrifically horrific extremes and maybe we're not going to. But some of the same sorts of processes are at work. So on the conceptual side, I don't think this is a lighter album particularly. You couldn't really get darker than being in the First World War trenches, but this isn't a walk in the park either. But there is a lightness and a directness, and I hesitate to use the word accessibility because obviously we're not talking about Bruno Mars's music. But there's immediacy, there's a graspability to this that I think comes out in terms like lightness and that kind of stuff if that makes sense.
On The Idea of 'Endarkenment'
It wasn't that there was a concept, not a concept in the sense of the story, but there being one uniting concept. It was more just writing songs about things that felt like the right kind of thing to say and a valid reaction to what was going on and then stepping back and saying, OK, how do we draw this together for something like an album title or the cover art? You're looking for something that unifies things after the fact. This Endarkenment idea, obviously there's a song that's about that. It struck me that in a retrospective sense that this was a thing that ran through a lot of it. And I think one of the reasons why it's kind of spread out almost like fungal spores or something seeded through the album is partly because that phenomenon, the word Endarkenment, was widespread in a way and I don't know about Mick, but I hadn't really noticed until it hit me. All of a sudden different things that previously hadn't seem connected started to make sense, as if they were aspects of one driving force.
One of the big things in the U.K. was Brexit. The UK decided to part ways from European Union, and over here that was a really heavily polarized debate. It wasn't this very stereotypical English sort of way of "I don't agree with you there, sir". "Well, fair enough". It wasn't that kind of thing. It was people screaming at each other's faces and seemingly not to come from the same planet. The typical way of resolving a disagreement between one party or the other is to introduce or come to accept a new piece of information, a disagreement about facts, one party knows the facts and the other is mistaken about the facts and if they can both come to understand what the facts are, the disagreement is resolved. One of the weird things I noticed with Brexit debates was there was no information deficit that was going to be equalized and therefore resolved the debate. This wasn't people who just didn't know the right facts. It didn't matter what the facts were. They were still going to be screaming at each other and not changing their minds. The fact that it wasn't an information deficit sort of dawned on me and sort of grew into this realization of this opposite of enlightenment thing going on. Once that had happened I realized that it had been part of a lot of things I'd be thinking about that had cropped up on different songs throughout the album. It's kind of a retrospective theme that already was in all the songs. I just didn't realize it until afterwards.
On Confrontational Album Artwork
I'm quite proud of the artwork, actually. The general idea is one that we had a long, long time ago, years ago. I occasionally just get images pop into my head and this was that kind of thing. Years ago, Mick and I talked about it and we even considered making it almost as a still life. I'm not sure what the butcher would think if you went there and said I want this this this and this. It fell by the wayside a long time ago. But then when we were doing this we were discussing artwork ideas and that idea came back. When we talked about it years ago, it was mostly just something that was as over-the-top as possible or just this really heightened but not necessarily meaningful image. Whereas now all of a sudden it had all of these relevences and it seems to be summing up in a particularly cool way because it's so striking. It's such a slap in the face of an image, but it does quite clearly rely on a conceptual level to a lot of things that are wrapped up in the album. It suddenly became obvious that it had to be the cover.
We set to actually making it and again I was considering doing it as a still life, but that sort of didn't feel right. Without wanting to sound too much like an art historian who's getting high sniffing his own piss, one of the themes involved is degradation. And it felt wrong, even in the case of an animal that was dead, to inflict that degradation on it in order to kind of prove some point. It made it feel a bit trivial. It's a digitally manipulated recreation of the idea. But nonetheless, this idea that we are all or can be perceived as livestock, that human dignity is reduced to the level of something we had previously thought were supposed to be lower than us. The fact that we are blinded to lots and lots of things, but the things that we do see, figuratively speaking, the things that we are sensitive to very often seem to be, if not sex itself and some kind of sex gone wrong, kind of like frustrated sexual urges coming out between the cracks of other things.
I was talking before about the feverish wave that some political debates are conducted. It's screaming at people. And to me it bespeaks of frustration and I'm fairly sure Freud would probably say it had something to do with sex. Blinded but seeing through cocks. I know it's such a blunt metaphor, but I think it's quite an astute one at the same time. Again, without wanting to big ourselves up too much, but I'm very proud of the artwork. It's such a statement. Most people just laugh when they see it and then maybe start thinking because it's so extreme. But that's part of it. Some images should be a bit confrontational and should push you in a way that maybe you weren't accepting of initially. But I think there is depth that's worth persisting with and thinking about it a bit. I'm very proud of it.
On Describing Anaal Nathrakh's Sound
One of the best descriptions of all really, really heavy music I think was Circle of Dead Children years ago describing their music as a pig fighting a jackhammer in a thunderstorm. Once or twice I've described Anaal Nathrakh as kind of like The Exorcist but on crack.
That kind of sells short a lot of the subtleties and a lot of the less obviously sandpaper based parts of the music. But I think for the most part it takes a degree of having the right kind of ear to pick out those bits. It will sound like a pig fighting a jackhammer in a thunderstorm to most people who aren't used to it, even if there are bits that are catchy or whatever, but it will sound like the listenable, memorable pig fighting a jackhammer in a thunderstorm. I think we can claw it back to that level. But anything more than that I think subtleties are probably lost on people. They just need to listen to it more until it starts to unfold for them a little bit. It's a bit like those magical eye pictures that were big in the 90s. You have to get used to staring at the pattern until you can finally see what's there in its glory.
On Creating An Album With Timely Themes
Music functioning as an outlet, it's a phenomenon we can all sympathize with, I'm sure. I've always found it, I don't know if therapeutic is the word, but certainly impressive. It's certainly a resonant sort of experience when I can hear music that seems to recognize what I feel like I've got inside. Over the years we have occasionally been contacted by people who said things like 'your music helped me through a difficult time' and that kind of stuff. It seems somehow ironic I think. We're ranting at a fever pitch about absolutely horrific things, both real and imagined. And the idea that that might somehow make someone feel better seems almost ironic. But you know, that's how people work. And if us doing this is a benefit to some people then it would be silly for us not to say that was a good thing.
I mean, in the UK, some of the stuff that's been going on here in the last couple of years, it's not as if it's just been a bit rough. There's been some real, like I said before, 1930s kind of stuff going on here as well. The likes of us, North America just in general, the U.K. and Europe, we already had it easy compared to what some people are looking at. To not touch on some of that in a form of music that's trying to express some of this kind of stuff would be almost ridiculous. I think it would almost be cartoonish to make music that is this ferocious and for the ferocity of the outside world to have no impact on it.
It's not like we ever aimed to be a standard band. But it's a kind of half and half answer because it was never our intention really to do that kind of thing in a consciously public way. We never necessarily wanted to present ourselves as doing those things. But it always came naturally to us to do what we do. We're musically omnivorous. Mick is, and I don't think it's out of place for me to say, ridiculously talented at combining things and smashing things together and coming up with new things in a way that most other people aren't. That allows him to mix things that shouldn't possibly jive next to each other and that make sense when you're exposed to it, because he does it in such an instinctive way. On the conceptual and lyrical side, these allusions and references and all of that, that's just the way I think. That's what comes to me to do. When I'm drawing on the world for inspiration, those are the things that stick out to me, my magpie like instincts. I'll take a bit of that, I'll make note of that and these things connect to me. It's a fairly flattering kind of description, but I think it's probably quite right. It's as a result of us doing what came naturally rather than by design.