LEST WE FORGET: An interview with Anaal Nathrakh's Dave Hunt
Scratch the surface of any dominant political agenda, social norm or organised religion and you’ll very quickly uncover something infinitely more ugly and primitive lurking beneath in limitless abundance. And through desolate, darkly unravelling strains of rasping snarls, ricocheting blasts and deathly atmospherics, it’s with seamless ease and diabolical panache that Anaal Nathrakh plunge the listener headlong into these horrific waking nightmares. So hold your breath and brace yourself for ‘A New Kind of Horror’.
“One of the big themes in our music is trying to draw back the veil on those underlying mechanisms and bits of human psychology, and often finding the results appalling,” reflects Anaal Nathrakh frontman Dave Hunt on the unspeakable horrors and harrowing human tragedies that fuel the Birmingham duo’s deliriously dark orchestrations. First established by Hunt and multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney almost a full two decades ago, the pair’s exceptionally volatile blending of pulverising, densely muscular grind, wintry tremolo and caustic electronica has undergone countless stylistic adjustments since its inception back in 1999. Headed up by Hunt’s gloriously vitriolic vocal talents, the past nineteen years have seen the duo consistently dazzle and beguile their dedicated fanbase at every turn of their expansive nine-album career.
But with its unprecedented extremes of bewildering speed, manic energy and nightmarish, blackly expansive atmospheres that palpably reek of the grave, nothing could quite prepare fans for the epic, apocalyptic slab that is 2018’s ‘A New Kind of Horror.’ And with every whiplash-inducing twist and mind-altering operatic turn audibly crackling with adrenaline, it’s little surprise that ‘A New Kind…’ stems from a place of raw and unbridled spontaneity.
“We work mostly instinctively,” Dave elaborates on the origins of the duo’s tenth landmark opus. “If something feels the way we think it should feel for the album we’re working on, then it’s right. But we have been doing this a while – we always move forward by instinct, and our instincts are quite well trained by now. We’ll use whatever feels right to us – whatever sounds, styles, musical principles, instruments, structures, whatever – if it feels right then it’s fair game. The atmosphere, the feeling is all. But at the same time, each song starts from its own germ, its own set of ideas and core inspiration.”
Indeed, from the madly accelerative energy and inky, Cradle of Filth-esque flourishes of ‘New Bethlehem’ to the bone-shattering machine gun blasts and gargantuan groove of ‘Forward!’ there’s no mistaking the jaw-dropping compositional ingenuity underpinning this genre-defying beast of a long-player. And be it in the shape of cutting social commentary on modern politics or the bygone atrocities of war, it seems the duo have adopted an equally fluid and instinctive approach to the intricate lyrical themes that accompany it. With each of these diversely varying lyrical yarns finding a fundamental connection within the broadly encompassing theme of an ignorant society blindly sleepwalking its way toward inevitable crisis and catastrophe, the album’s soul-searching overarching message of self-awareness and intelligence in an age of profoundly ingrained, wilful ignorance is one of thought-provoking depth and significance.
The vocalist expands, “There’s not an overall concept or anything like that, but a few themes do run through most of the album. It’s all basically themed around thinking about and seeking to understand the world as it now is – the reasons for things being the way they are, be they historic or be they features of human society which seem inevitably to poke out and shape events. I tend to think that we experience the world mostly in a numb way. We often don’t realise that what we’re doing and how we think are irrevocably the product of our place and time, and the places and times which went before. We constantly take as true or immutable many things which are actually relative or contingent. And we constantly do things because they seem the obvious, right thing to do which are actually nothing of the sort, if only we could step beyond the conditioning of our societies.”
Delving still deeper into these unflinchingly probing lines of enquiry and self-reflection, it’s perhaps unsurprising that ‘A New Kind…’ draws no small amount of inspiration from the horrific atrocities of World War One, with the year 2018 marking the 100-year anniversary of this notoriously tragic period. With this uncommonly harrowing era of human history having brought with it a veritable deluge of post-apocalyptic art and deathly poetics penned by the legendary likes of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, there’s no denying the dark but limitlessly inspirational value attached to such horrific personal circumstances. Sourcing its haunting lyrical content direct from Owen’s classic ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, it’s with scorching aggressive energy and gargling vitriol that blistering standout ‘Obscene As Cancer’ violently reignites these immortal, ink-black verses. And for all the countless months, years and decades that have elapsed since this tragic era, it remains, for Hunt and co., a chilling reminder of how precious little enlightenment and self-awareness we’ve amassed as a species despite the brutal lessons of bygone years.
“Obviously it’s the centenary of the end of that war, and that seemed the right time to reflect on it,” Hunt begins. ”And two things particularly stuck out when reflecting on it – one, the sheer power of some of the creative expressions of that time, and two, the fact that the world seems little different in many ways to how it now seems it was back in the period before the war. People then didn’t expect – couldn’t conceive of – the events that were about to unfold. They thought it all impossible. A war on that scale, with slaughter on that level, using weapons and technologies which could surely never be used. They were as we would be – those people were, in most respects that matter, us. And the poetry and art that came out of that horror was incredible – the changes in style in British and American art – the increasing use of abstraction, because reality couldn’t be that way. The poetry of Owen, Sassoon and their likes, Owen’s terrifying, nightmarish, bitter Dulce Et Decorum Est, Sassoon’s Aftermath and the piece he wrote refuting the reasons for the continuation of war. The utter traumatised horror of Otto Dix’s paintings. It’s all so completely overwhelming yet completely compelling. We certainly don’t glory in it all, but as inspiration, there’s little that could be more powerful. It’s hardly grist for the pop music mill, but for us, it’s incredibly resonant.”
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