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  • Report by Faye Coulman

REVIEWED: Anaal Nathrakh + Sigh @ the Scala, London

Despite purveying a sound lethal and crushingly expansive enough to level entire civilisations, Anaal Nathrakh have played some comparatively bijou, low-key venues over the illustrious course of their eardrum-decimating career to date. Indeed, with its rabbit warren-like network of multiple exits and entrances, adjoining bars, mosaic-tiled flooring and generously proportioned main hall, the Scala is by far the most extravagant setting in which we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing their extreme metal alchemy thus far. Debuting a brand new line-up that, for the first time in over two decades, sees the band performing in the absence of iconic co-founder Mick Kenney, it’s hardly surprising that the venue reaches full capacity well before genre-splicing experimentalists Sigh enter the stage to a riotous reception.

Darkly resplendent in a theatrical array of ghoulish war-paint and black PVC armour that comprises a visually arresting blend of ancient tradition and hard rock melodrama, these seasoned Japanese players are quick to work their frantically energised magic on the crowd. Through a mind-altering cacophony of echoing ambient noise and raggedly abrasive screams, gargantuan slabs of guitar abound with weightily reverberating intensity, illustrating crushingly immense scale at every brutally impactful turn. Above explosive clusters of hammering percussion and dizzying crescendos of searing fretwork, impassioned frontman Mirai Kawashima howls and wails like the proverbial man possessed before gleefully proclaiming, “Scream if you want, no one will hear you!” as the band segue into 1997 classic ‘Hail Horror Hail’. Their black-clad forms lunging and thrashing violently atop the stage as vast, spiralling lines of darkly elongated bass spill forth in thick and fast profusion, nostalgic nods to 1980s trad-metal bring no small amount of hooky appeal to the mix. Together with a genre-twisting repertoire of languorous stoner groove, glimmering psychedelia and Mirai’s trademark, manic caterwauling, theirs is a sonically intriguing spectacle, for sure. But, particularly where Sigh’s vocal dynamics are concerned, it’s a formula that, as their set wears on, arguably lacks the compositional and tonal variation to sustain interest, its hefty hooks and grooves becoming increasingly repetitious toward the latter portion of their set.

If there were any lingering doubts as to how Anaal Nathrakh’s newest live incarnation might play out this evening, suffice to say these blistering, impeccably sculpted aggressors instantly obliterate any such nagging concerns within literal seconds of their pulverising set. Armed with a heady, adrenaline-fuelled mix of scalpel-keen tremolo and bone-splintering bass lines that rumble and reverberate like the thunderous footfalls of an angry demigod, these masterful musicians spark an instant, headbanging frenzy among fans. Underpinned by densely muscled layerings of gnarly, gargantuan groove that palpably reeks of desolation, this is an exhilarating reminder of what a pleasure it is to be in the presence of such a brutal and uniquely orchestrated ensemble. Not least for the genre-defying talent frontman Dave Hunt delivers in deeply malevolent, bile-spitting abundance. From vocal cord-lacerating screams of torment to soaring verses that abound with operatic grandeur, few vocalists are capable of delivering such a vicious yet stylistically varied performance.

Audibly breathless from the frenzied throes of brutalising opener, ‘Unleash’, Hunt gasps: “This is the first gig I’ve done in three years and this is a hell of a way to do a first gig! Thank you all of you for coming out to see us. It means an awful lot. Right… we are, however, not majoring in being nice and congratulatory and all fucking cuddly so let’s get down to it like we mean it!” he exclaims before hurling himself into the blasting, tremolo-stricken carnage of ‘Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes’. Progressing now to the very particular aura of ink-black malice and jugular-ripping aggression that abides in 2018 masterwork, ‘A New Kind of Horror’, ceaselessly pulverising standout ‘Obscene As Cancer’ oozes flesh-scalding ferocity from the get-go, its frantic strains of caustic, ambient noise engulfing the senses to nightmarishly ominous effect. With its humongous slabs of weightily churning bass displaying impeccable placement in amongst shellshock-inducing clusters of staccato-laden blasts, theirs is a meticulously calculated assault. With Hunt’s luxuriant, operatic verses and corrosive cries of anguish elevating this remarkable track to intensely evocative heights of desolation, this is, without question, one of the most intensely haunting highlights of Nathrakh’s incendiary return to the capital. Then comes the spectral wisps of icily entrancing synths that usher in the frantically accelerating motions of ‘Forward!’, its sinewy grooves and brutally percussive machinegun blasts battering the senses into submission with military-level precision and efficiency.

With its brutally absorbing array of visceral screams and thickly clotted vocal contortions, 2016 epic ‘Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion’ is a scaldingly incandescent supernova of a standout – all frantic acceleration and bewildering blasts, before coldly harrowing strains of tremolo infiltrate the mix with ghoulishly absorbing atmosphere. Fast-forwarding now to the band’s long-awaited live debut of choice cuts extracted from 2020 pandemic-era masterpiece, ‘Endarkenment’, the album’s bleakly anthemic title track is awash with hyperblasting aggression and dizzying crescendos of deliriously euphoric riffery. Then, it’s with pulverising yet deftly calculating pacing that we’re hurled headlong into the relentlessly bludgeoning grooves of the not-so-wholesomely-titled ‘Libidinous (A Pig With Cocks In Its Eyes)’. With its crippling slabs of churning, subterranean groove melding seamlessly in amongst tautly-muscled episodes of sumptuous melodic riffage, it’s small wonder this deliciously twisted slab has fast become one of the band’s most admired tracks.

And as we advance into the intoxicating mix of bristling tremolo and lividly energised blastbeats that comprise classic closer ‘Do Not Speak’, we at Dark Matter are delighted to report that the brutalising and flawlessly calibrated extreme metal machine that is Anaal Nathrakh is alive and well – and firing on all fucking cylinders.

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