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Anaal Nathrakh have never presented themselves as black metal, but few bands outside that genre generate the kind of love-'em-or-hate-'em, spoilsport vibes these Brummie lads sidestep every single day of their lives. Much like trad-BM envelope pushers  Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth, Nathrakh are often seen as slick, overproduced scenesters who are more about image than they are about the music; and speaking of music, are they supposed to be death metal? Grind? Industrial? CHOOSE  A LANE, ASSHOLE!!!

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The truth is somewhat more gritty. After exploding on the scene with 2001's The Codex NecroAnaal Nathrakh were hailed as innovators: the future of extreme metal. A few albums down the line and it became obvious that these guys weren't so much trend setters as highly adept synthesists prone to cherry picking from whatever genres suited them, and selling it with a combination of infectious enthusiasm and busy yet spacious production (by multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney a.k.a. Anaal Nathrakh's own Irrumator).

The backlash set in.

Unfortunately, in metal – as in so many other aesthetic concerns – first impressions are hard to shake, and few seemed willing to forgive Anaal Nathrakh for peaking early and failing to keep the goalposts moving thereafter. It didn't help that the band's sound was just raw enough to prick the kvlt kiddies' ears up, but made the damning "mistake" of incorporating too many sidebar influences. On the other end of the spectrum, to fans of the more accessible melodic death metal stylings, the over-the-top vocals of Dave Hunt seemed a bit beyond the pale.

The only thing about this year's Vanitas that might be reassuring to long time haters is that Anaal Nathrakh haven't adopted the emo vox of some of the more polarizing metalcore acts. Otherwise, the band somehow manage to sound completely modern while basically sticking to their guns. Hunt's singing continues to vacillate between his usual freestyle shrieking on the verses and cleaner shouting on the choruses; songs like "To Spite the Face" and "Of Fire, and Fucking Pigs" feature as many industrial influences as ever, the blast beats often coming off like a sped up Fear Factory; and, finally, damned if many of Kenney's riffs don't have that nearly commercial, melodic quality of millennial touchstones Arch Enemy crossing swords with more contemporary fare such as Trivium and All That Remains.

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The unfair thing about the reception Anaal Nathrakh gets is that, if this were a traditional, no frills death metal album by the likes of a Cannibal Corpse or a same-old, same-old Motorhead release, Vanitas would be universally hailed for "keeping it real". Instead, it will most likely be given the same cold shoulder that the majority of their back catalog is privy to. Not that something so well worn and ground down into its own tire tracks should necessarily make many year end best of lists, but make no mistake: these motherfuckers are keeping it real.

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