It’s a challenge to find bands that have a more depraved, misanthropic and aggressive sounding than Anaal Nathrakh. Frankly, every time the band comes out with a new record it sounds like a new soundtrack to the end of times. And the band hasn’t shown any interest in slowing down or molding their sound to anything friendly or digestible. You’re either a willing victim of their constant onslaught of apocalyptic hymns or you’re just another casualty.
People argue that Anaal Nathrakh played it safe with Vanitas which has staunched their threat level for some. I disagree with that point but agree with some that: In the Constellation of the Black Widow was utterly incredible and the stick by which Nathrakh work should be measured, and, yes, Desideritum was underwhelming and too industrial focused. A good record? Yes, but not something I’ve found myself revisiting much.
The Whole of the Law is a record that has a lot of crooked necks, bulging eyes, and spilled bowels. It reaches out for your neck, grabs ahold, digs in its claws and shreds the skin. Though the saying “the whole of the Law” is famously a Thelema-ian Aleister Crowley phrase that goes: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”*. The phrase is actually a statement on the band's ideology: "We will fucking kill you shall be the whole of the law." Something that Nathrakh writes about here and something they wrote about on their 2001 demo under the title We Will Fucking Kill You. Time hasn't changed much in fifteen years.
Don’t let the distorted intro “The Nameless Dread” fool you. It doesn’t prepare you in any way for the coming onslaught of The Whole of the Law. Oh, sure, it leads calmly enough into “Depravity Favours the Bold” but it’s more of a ruse than anything. Once that chorus-like weep pours in there’s no going back. And even so, the title of this second track alone comes off as symbolic for the rest of the record. As mentioned above, Anaal Nathrakh’s body of work is vicious, apocalyptic and misanthropic, but the cynicism here is burning harder than when the penned the words “When Humanity is the Cancer” on The Codex Necro.
Notorious for never printing their lyrics (much like Gorgoroth), this Nathrakh experience is another one where you’ll want to press the headphones to your ears and listen as closely as possible. But it’s not just for the lyrics. The Whole of the Law is one of the best constructed Anaal Nathrakh albums in the entirety of their career. As merciless as the songs are, the flow of the album is incredible. Song after song Nathrakh avoid becoming passé or forgettable. The entire album is captivating and ever aggressive. This sort of feat is rare but when you’re six songs in you haven’t missed a second, that’s how you know you’re listening to a great album.
The Whole of the Law is largely concerned with a blackened grind sound. Tracks like “…So We Can Die Happy” are like a series of explosions. It barely gives the listener room to recover and constantly constricts the veins. Even during its slower(ish) parts the song is still feels like its strangling you. Meanwhile “We Will Fucking Kill You” and “And You Will Beg for Our Secrets” serve to solidify this. There isn’t a safe second on this album.
Dave Hunt’s trademark King Diamond-like howls spread throughout and help to break things up a bit. His voice gets especially frothing and frantic on tracks like “In Flagrante Delicto”, where he is often between a gurgle/growl and singing. And you’d think after nine albums the guy would have some restraint. But no, it’s nowhere to be found. “Extravaganza!” shows a similar style but still no quarter.
The bonus tracks should also be mentioned. Their Decibel Flexi exclusives “Powerslave” (Iron Maiden cover) and “Man at C&A” (The Specials cover) are nice to have if you don’t have them. I hear them more as just that, though. Bonus tracks. They don’t add or subtract from the experience. They’re good covers but not mind blowing. Do you need them? Only if you’re a Nathrakh diehard.
Even if Hunt and Mick Kenny don’t burn out themselves, their sheer onslaught could certainly be too much for some. I imagine by now those people have been weeded out, lest they’re new to the band. Regardless, The Whole of the Law is one of the best things the band turned out in its entire career. Certainly up there with Constellation. The Whole of the Law is the sounds of Armageddon. And what incredible timing it has.
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*If you're interested in the Crowley phrasing, it was Equinox Vol. III (a.k.a. The Blue Equinox) that examined this subject in detail (“Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion”; Pg. 41), explaining how it is not an admission of anarchy or an excuse to go out and act on malicious intent. The Book of the Law is also about this phrase but it's been eight or nine years since I read it.