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  • Words by Faye Coulman

Anaal Nathrakh's Dave Hunt talks major line-up reshuffle and explosive return to the UK live circuit


From clashing egos and ‘creative differences’ to life-threatening casualties and personal tragedy, there’s no limit to the many and varied catastrophes that can befall and destroy even the most firmly established and cohesive of musical units. So when Anaal Nathrakh announced that founding member Mick Kenney would be taking a complete backseat from touring commitments with this brutal, genre-crossing beast of an extreme metal band, fans understandably began fearing the worst. However, on the night that sees Nathrakh make their tremendously anticipated return to the capital with a ferocious new line-up and a host of yet-to-be-debuted material from blistering 2020 opus, ‘Endarkenment’, frontman Dave Hunt tells Dark Matter why there’s more than glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel…


It’s a little after 6.30pm in the bustling, commuter-infested epicentre of London King’s Cross and on a decidedly dour and rain-sodden night in mid-December, Dark Matter is standing with Anaal Nathrakh frontman Dave Hunt in a rather slum-like concrete yard that’s currently serving as a makeshift press area at the back of iconic local music venue, the Scala. A sizeable chunk of time has elapsed since we last had the pleasure of witnessing our favourite Brummie aggressors lay waste to the capital back in 2019, and it’s fair to say that the world has seen more than its share of catastrophic upheaval and adjustment since our last encounter some three years prior. Indeed, in between the devastating arrival of COVID-19 and the excruciating years of lockdown and nationwide restrictions that followed, to the slow and shaky recovery of our beloved live music scene, Anaal Nathrakh, too, have suffered no small amount of problematic mishaps and impediments during this notoriously testing time period.


Having wrapped up the making of bleakly apocalyptic masterwork ‘Endarkenment’ mere months before COVID-19 left its decimating mark on the western world back in March 2020, the next couple of years saw whatever touring activity the duo had planned grind instantaneously to a halt. With this fresh catalogue of ghoulish, eardrum-decimating horrors going unheard by live audiences for an unprecedented period of time, the long-awaited end of all COVID restrictions in the summer of 2022 brought with it tremendous excitement around Nathrakh’s anticipated return to the UK tour circuit. However, almost the very moment clubs and venues gradually began re-opening their doors to eager hordes of avid gig-goers, the band found themselves facing yet another unexpected hitch impeding their return to the UK live circuit.


“So once the pandemic had lifted a bit, Mick’s production work and everything was just taking off massively, and he was no longer in a position to be in the market for doing any gigs,” Dave explains. “But our booking agents came to us and said they were putting on a gig, and it was like, I don't really want to do a gig right now, but then there was also that unfinished business side of things, you know? After we put out ‘Endarkenment’, there were things that we expected to happen that just didn't because of the pandemic. Then I thought to myself, Okay, should I just do it? Then I was like, ‘Yeah mate. Alright mate, let’s do it and have some fun with it’. So once I’d agreed, I went back to Mick and I said to him, ‘Would you object? Is it okay if I do this?’ and he said yes. And I just decided, let’s do it just for the crack and finish off some of that unfinished business in the process. I wouldn't want to book big tours or anything like that. Just a few select shows. You know, do some stuff and we'll see if it works. This is kind of an experiment almost, but having said that, I gather it's likely to be a sold out show tonight.”


Having committed himself fully to the daunting yet undeniably enticing prospect of restoring the live incarnation of the band to its former, pre-pandemic glory in the absence of iconic co-founder Mick Kenney, Hunt took ample time setting in motion this highly experimental yet meticulously calculated plan. Underpinning both the raw, propulsive power and genre-defying versatility that’s long figured prominently in Nathrakh’s signature sound, talented London metallers Dan Abela and Sam Loynes were subsequently drafted in to complete the now-formidable line-up we’re now mere hours away from witnessing for the very first time. Best-known for their vicious, progressively-inclined carnage in electrifying local metal collective Voices, these highly skilled musicians were, for Hunt, ideally equipped to fill the sizeable void left by long-time friend and bandmate, Kenney.


”I'm not sure it would have felt right to do it otherwise, but they are who they are and I know just how damn good they are,” the frontman enthuses of these exceptionally talented new recruits. “We've toured together before and all that, so it's not been a particularly bumpy road in that respect, simply because they're so good at what they do. And obviously you go a fair way back with these guys and you know they are talented musicians and very experienced. When I went down to London to rehearse with them, it was a bit weird doing full band rehearsals again, because I've only been doing solo rehearsals for the past couple of years. My voice box really wasn't in shape any more because that’s the way I’ve been doing it for two fucking years, or whatever, because of the pandemic. So I've actually been doing what you might call glorified karaoke sessions, singing along in a rehearsal room up in Birmingham by myself with the tracks and everything going on in the background. But I had to do that to try and get some, you know, strength back or whatever, so that was all a bit odd, but yeah, you get there in the end. You just have to power through it, really.”

 

With the doubly exciting prospect of witnessing both this tremendously talented new line-up and the long-overdue debut of a host of brutally electrifying material extracted from 2020’s ingenuously orchestrated ‘Endarkenment’, we can’t help but speculate precisely what fans might be able to expect from tonight’s now-imminent performance. Given the epic, post-apocalyptic flavour of this ceaselessly pulverising long-player, Nathrakh’s latest studio offering certainly lends itself to an array of eerily immersive performance ideas and set design concepts. Indeed, one only has to take a cursory glance at the intensely sinister, ink-black aesthetics featured in the band’s meticulously crafted music videos produced for this record to realise its tremendous potential for creating a thoroughly absorbing live experience. But for now, as the band take their first, still-tentative steps into the relative unknown, Hunt is, for the time being, playing it safe by leaving aside any such additional embellishments and channelling all conceivable energies into doing precisely what Anaal Nathrakh do best – mercilessly decimating listeners into submission.

“To a limited extent, there are ideas that I have in that direction, but I don't want to burden this kind of format with those ideas at the moment, if that makes sense. But there are performance-related things that I might have tried to do, had we had the space and time in which to attempt them. But in this context it was more…” the vocalist pauses in contemplation for a moment. “I just wanted it to be worth it. I wanted it to be… This is a slightly bigger venue than we played in London before. I wanted those kinds of things in order to make of sense of it. I wanted it to be real, and to see faces I haven't seen before and for it to feel like an event. And that kind of stuff on the more sort of aesthetic side, digging into what's on the album and all that kind of stuff, there are ideas there, and if I get the chance to work on them, I will. But tonight, I just really want this to work for the blood and the snot and the fucking vinegar and all of that sort of thing. For that to feel real again and to be able to enjoy the communion of that experience with an audience and all of that kind of stuff. That's enough to be going on with for tonight, I think.”


But despite Dave’s evident, meticulous preparedness and palpable enthusiasm ahead of the band’s long-awaited return to the UK live circuit, one exceptionally troubling question still remains... Why was it rumoured earlier this year that tonight’s show might potentially be their last, thus marking the categorical end and subsequent demise of Anaal Nathrakh?


Allaying our fears to some degree, Hunt clarifies: “As I said, this was largely an experiment. I would like to think that people out there might be able to see unexpected things happen, but there's a lot of that we've missed out on because of what happened when the album came out and we didn't get the chance to tour it. I’m hoping tonight everyone will just be on board with it and just go, it's a different guitarist, but who cares? Let's get stuck in. I would hope that that might be the case, but I wouldn't want to presume that it would be and I’m certainly not arrogant enough to demand that it must be. So I wouldn’t want to bet too much in advance that it would, because I honestly don't know what's going to happen, and I'm not enough of an egotist to expect it to go brilliantly. So that was the the sense in which it it could be the last if people weren't into it. If people didn't get the idea, then it wouldn't necessarily be worth doing it again. That appears not to be how it's worked out though, and so far people do seem to be receptive to what we’re doing. Okay, Mick unfortunately couldn't be here, but, you know, let's have it!”

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