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CD Review: Anaal Nathrakh – Passion

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Does anyone still care about Anaal Nathrakh?  After making waves early on with their love-it-or-hate-it blend of black and death with industrial overtones, the band have been incorporating melody and clean vocals into their sound for so long now that – to some fans – they've been treading water since the second album.  Will Passion reestablish Anaal's reputation as forward thinking alchemists?

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Well, if you were expecting some kind of left field reinvention involving a level of "kvlt" black metal authenticity the band never owned to begin with, then the easy answer is: no.  The funny thing about Anaal Nathrakh is that the haters bitch about the same things that the boosters love, namely the ready made blend of ornamental tropes lifted piecemeal from other genres and laid tastefully atop a foundation of death/black metal tradition.

The fans hail the frugally used industrial flourishes, the diversity in vocals afforded by the clean singing, the general ability to sculpt a singular sound by using every shred of extreme musical influences the band can get their hands on; the naysayers decry those very traits as proof of their insincerity.  And it's all really a bit TOO tasteful, isn't it?

Both camps are correct, of course.  Anaal Nathrakh have not so much taken extreme metal in new directions, it's more that they've built an individualist Frankenstein out of the cemetery of discarded 90s trends… their industrial leanings had already become passé by the time their debut dropped in 2001, black metal and death metal alike were largely in holding patterns at that time, and Anaal Nathrakh to this day have done next to nothing to acknowledge the experimental side of the genre – post-metal, sludge, avant-doom, etc – that have emerged during the decade of their existence.  Perhaps they are, in fact, the overpraised one trick ponies their critics have pegged them as all along?

That's a bit of a purist take, but not an uncommon one.  The problem is that the very lack of progression Anaal Nathrakh choose to pursue invites these arguments to be rehashed every two years or so when they put out a new album, but the militant, anti-mainstream agenda behind said arguments are no more cogent in 2011 than they were in 2001.  You can knock them for straying from old school black metal orthodoxy if that's your bag, but Abigail Williams these guys aren't.

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And so Passion finds us on very much familiar ground, epic, easily comprehensible vocal choruses sandwiched between pissed off blast beats and catchy, cleanly picked riffing.  The only interesting new color present here are the lengthy intros to the first two tracks, "Volenti Non Fit Iniuria" and "Drug-Fucking Abomination", both being separate instrumentals in the mid-paced viking metal tradition a la early 90s Amorphis or Unleashed.  There's also a lone metalcore breakdown toward the end of penultimate track "Ashes Screaming Silence" if you really need something to bitch about.  Otherwise you get what you pay for, in much the same manner as other "comfort zone" metal bands like Cannibal Corpse or Motorhead.

So in the end, Passion will not be the album to sway the opinion of anyone that's taken in one of Anaal Nathrakh's previous efforts, but for those already on board the fan wagon it's another solid outing with career peaks in musicianship and production values.   The most impressive thing about this band is the energy that they've maintained unflaggingly for full on ten years now.  If they were a straight up death metal group they would likely be praised for this very quality – a la Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death – but the fact that they incorporate disparate musical elements into their bouillabaisse seems to court criticism when they fail to do anything truly groundbreaking with that admixture.  Get over that shit already.


Passion is out now on Candlelight Records.

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