Interview: Anaal Nathrakh

Interview: Anaal Nathrakh

- in Written interviews

Anaal Nathrakh have been responsible for some of the most vital extreme metal music to ever come out of the UK and the bands latest album The Whole Of The Law is more of the same. We had a chat with Dave Hunt (aka V.I.T.R.I.O.L) from the band to hear all about the album and a whole lot more in a very interesting conversation.


Your new album The Whole Of The Law is out soon. How did the recording of the album go?

It was fine, thanks. Mick recorded the music at his place in California, and then came over to Birmingham so we could record the vocals. It was a bit different to previously, as we recorded them in a house up the road from my place, actually not that far from where Grindcore arguably started. So there was a nice atavistic element to it, it reminded me of how we started out, in a bedroom. We use rather different equipment now in most respects, and we actually have a clue what we’re doing nowadays.  But at heart we’re still basically the same as we were then, and it was nice to be reminded of that.

Does the album differ much musically from your last album Desideratum? 

Depends what you mean by much. Compared to the difference between Bolt Thrower albums, it’s probably quite different because there are a few new sounds, different structures and so on. And there’s at least one track which stands out from the rest because of the tempo and vocal styles we used. And the early feedback from the preview songs has included a few people who found something they didn’t expect. But it’s all still recognisably us. There aren’t many bands who sound quite like us, and if we were going to do something totally different we’d use a different name. As far as we’re concerned, the only important things are that it sounds like us, it sounds right to us, and it’s the best album we’ve done. If anyone wants to try to draw any comparisons further than that, that’s up to them.

Who did the artwork for the albums cover? 

Mick did, using an image of a painting by Bouguereau. We’ve done pretty much all of our own artwork throughout our career. Usually we discuss it between ourselves, I explain some of the ideas in the lyrics to Mick and so on, and we come up with an idea, which he then makes artwork based on. Personally I’m really pleased with this artwork, I think it’s a striking image, I like the subtle manipulation Mick used, and it fits very well with the way the ideas in some of the lyrics work.

Songs on the album such as We Will Fucking Kill You and Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion are prime Nathrakkh songs and titles. Did you want to get even heavier with your music and outlook for this album?

Musically, yeah, we wanted to make a heavy album, naturally. But it was mostly a case of just doing what felt right, what seemed satisfying and got the feeling across that we were trying to create. It was only after it was finished and friends told us it was a particularly nasty sounding album musically that we really realised. In terms of the titles and lyrics, want to, no not exactly. Have to, yes. The outlook is informed by the outside world, and if the world was an ever increasingly lovely place, then I might start to struggle to react so violently to it. But the world isn’t a lovely place. There are lovely things in it, but over the time I was coming up with the ideas that ended up on this album, there were so many instances of awfulness, a particularly dark tone crept into the mindset. We will fucking kill you is a sentiment I read off from the world, I didn’t put it there. And hold your children close is a reaction to a different, but similar idea – a vision of a near-future world where the line in the title would be the only appropriate response to existence.

There has always been that element of nihilism with Anaal Nathrakhs music. Do you feel you are getting even angrier with the world as you get older? Things don’t seem to be getting any better with the state of the world!

Yes, I do. And also, over time there’s less mental and emotional energy you need to spend on yourself. We’ve never been particularly egotistical, but everyone is somewhat egocentric when they’re young. As you get older, that egocentrism diminishes, I find. You’ve figured out the inside world better, and the outside world comes into sharper focus. One of my long obsessions has been the idea that the world isn’t as we think it is – that we take as fact things that are ultimately relative or subjective. That’s one reason why I was originally drawn to nihilism via Nietzsche and so on – there’s a similar idea running through some of his work. And nowadays that seem to be a far more pronounced feature of life than ever before, or at least than at most points in recent history. The post-fact age of politics, the total obfuscation of the means and motivations of neoliberal orthodoxy, an ever increasing sense that so-called truth is propaganda, even outright, clear instances of Newspeak like ‘national living wage’ in the UK. The spiritual cleansing of the storm at the heart of the void (that’s how I see anger in nihilism in my head) seems more comforting than ever.

What has the reaction to the album been like so far?

It’s too early to have seen many reviews or anything, and to be honest we tend not to read them anyway. But on a personal level, talking to friends, interviewers who’ve heard it etc, it’ been positive. To an extent that’s a self selecting positivity – people tend not to go out of their way to come up to you and tell you what you’ve done is shit, and why would they? If you don’t like something you’re better off going and doing something else, which is I think why there often seems to be a streak of conceit in public displays of antipathy in matters of taste. But in general the feeling around the album is good, there’s a buzz. Really we’re happy as long as we’re happy with it ourselves, and we certainly are in this case.

You covered Iron Maidens Powerslave for a Maiden tribute album and it appears as a bonus track on the album. What made you pick that track to cover?

It was a request from a magazine, Kerrang. They were putting together a cover mount CD of various bands playing Iron Maiden songs as some kind of celebration, I think because Maiden were about to play some UK shows. They asked us to contribute a song, and it just so happened that it coincided with when we were about to start recording the album. So we thought why not? It’s something different, and we were curious to see how it’d come out ourselves. As it turned out we were really pleased with it, it sounds weirdly like something we’d have written ourselves, especially the main riff.

You also cover The Specials Man at C&A. You’ve defintely given it the Anaal Nathrack treatment. The songs is quite apocalyptic in its outlook. Was it that reason that made you want to cover that song? 

If we’re going to do a cover, we’d generally prefer to do something that’s a bit unexpected. It’s more interesting, both for us, and almost certainly for listeners too. And we both grew up listening to a lot of stuff that’s not really related to metal, so there’s a lot we could pick from. The Specials are on that list. In one way it’s not surprising at all if you think about it – a band known for ranting about the apocalypse and so on covers a song about fear of imminent nuclear war. But we knew that the music could fit too. It’s just a matter of hearing it as it could be in your head when you listen to the original. With that song, it seemed obvious to us that it’d work. And we were really pleased with the result, we think it came out really well.

Were you fans of the 2 Tone bands?

I had fond memories of songs by several of those bands, but Mick was the one who was more into it. A lot of the music he listened to as a kid was influenced by Jamaican music, from ska stuff to full-on dancehall. Probably our favourite artist that we’ve come across in the past couple of years is Tommy Lee Sparta, and sometimes we’ve had funny looks when we’re somewhere like backstage at a festival and we’re blasting out Burro Banton or something rather than the regulation Celtic Frost or whatever.

What other songs would you like to give an Anaal Nathrakh makeover to?

Oh, we’ve a number of them, we have a list with about 10-15 songs on it that we’ve said we’d like to try when the chance arises. It seems quite clear in some cases, to us at least, that certain songs would work. And it’s quite easy to pick out ones that would be interesting to do. Our music, and extreme metal in general, is a very particular thing, and so long as you have an eye for spotting the less than obvious links, you can quickly hear how something quite different might work. You do have to be careful, of course. I heard a version of a Simon & Garfunkel song being murdered by a nu-metal band recently, and it was a triumph of ego over art, painful to listen to. But when they’re done right, covers can be great. We’ll keep the list to ourselves for the time being though – part of the fun is in the surprise.

Who were some of your influences when you were starting the band? 

To an extent there were direct influences like Mayhem, or maybe a bit of Arcturus in the clean vocals, but more than anything else we started because we weren’t hearing what we wanted to hear.  So to that extent it’s more a case of being negative influences – let’s do something that’s not like x, rather than let’s copy x.

Your hometown of Birmingham is synonymous with metal. Do you have fond memories of shows there when you were younger?

Depends what you mean by younger – the heyday of the huge bands who came out of the area and shaped heavy metal was too early for us even as kids. The first shows we went to that weren’t whatever our parents wanted to take us to were in the 90s. My first big show when I was a kid was ELO, not some mythical heavy metal experience. I didn’t even know they were from Birmingham and I made my mom take me home early because it hurt my ears, haha! Birmingham may have given the world heavy metal, but for the most part heavy metal then left Birmingham behind in everything but the musicians’ accents, and in terms of shows it was largely like most other cities of comparable size.

You have worked with a variety of metal greats from Attila Csihar to Shane Embury and Nick Barker. Who else would you love to work with?

There are a few people, but the main candidates we have in mind at the moment are somewhat unusual, because they’re from quite different musical spheres than our own. So it’s probably best to keep quiet about them in case we actually do get to work with them, and then it’ll be more of a surprise.

You played a few shows earlier in the month. How did they go?

Well, for the most part. Mick was sick for a couple of them, hence that ‘for the most part’ but we still played them and they were riotous celebrations of loathing and unpleasantness.

Did you play much new material?

We played one new song, Depravity Favours The Bold. We didn’t want to stuff the set with too much material that fans would have never been able to hear yet, but as that song was released for streaming on the internet before the shows, it seemed a good choice to include. It went down really well too, as far as we could tell. And it felt good to play.

How did your first headline shows in Japan go?

They were superb, the whole trip was an excellent experience in general. The shows were quite packed, the audiences very enthusiastic, and the people very welcoming. A tremendous thing to be able to do, and we eagerly hope to be able to go back.

Have you got any upcoming tour dates?

Yes, we’ve got some shows coming up in a few weeks’ time, around the release date of the album. A festival in Romania, a few club shows in Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, and then a festival in France on Guy Fawkes Night. I don’t know where you are or whether that night holds any significance for you, but I always experience a bit of glee if we have a show that night. So we’ve got a busy couple of weeks. Then we’ll be looking at another rash of shows in the new year. We’ll see what comes along then. There are also one or two festival dates already planned for next year, but we’ll announce those in due course.

Your have a very fearsome reputation in the live arena. How would you describe yourselves live to someone who had never seen you live before?

I wouldn’t. I’d tell them to come to a show and make their own minds up. When we’re playing, we’re too busy concentrating on doing the best we can to spend time worrying how to describe it. Aggressive, I suppose would be a key word.

What advice would you give to any new fans who had not been to an Anaal Nathrakh gig before?

To go to an Anaal Nathrakh gig. If you’re curious, there’s only one way you’ll find out. Videos etc always look shit to me, they never capture the atmosphere of a live show. Some huge budget production like P.U.L.S.E. is worth watching if you like that sort of music, but for bands like us, I don’t think videos can ever compare to being there.

What’s the most memorable gig that Anaal Nathrakh have ever played?

We’ve played loads of memorable gigs. The first show we ever played was mental, and because it was the first one, we didn’t know that we could expect that, so it was very memorable. Seeing a huge mosh pit at our first international show at the Inferno festival, when everyone had told us that the crowd there would just stand still watching. Being handed a pair of pants with a marriage proposal on them in Glasgow. At the same show there were people hanging from the ceiling before dropping into the most pit. I joined them. A show in France when for some reason that I still don’t understand we ended up with a line of fans across the stage with their trousers down. The intensity of our first show in Moscow. The couple of occasions when someone has come up to me after a show and said that they or someone close to them was crying during the set. Often it’s the things that happen off stage that are memorable, because playing shows puts you in places you wouldn’t otherwise be. Like Roskilde, where we wandered around after we’d played and ended up sat cross legged watching an insane dark cabaret show with Hammond organ and therein.

Any tales of carnage from the road that you can share with us?

No. That kind of thing is personal.

You appeared on Radio One at the request of the late, great John Peel. What do you remember about that?

It was an eye opening experience going to the BBC’s studio, because it was on a totally different level from anything we’d done before. The mixing desk cost more than either of the houses we lived in, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra were rehearsing a few doors down the corridor. Hendrix had, I believe, used the same studio room we were in. It’s entirely a different world. Yet also strangely down to earth. I just got a phone call one day out of the blue from a woman who said ‘Hello, I’m John Peel’s producer, would you be free to come and record some tracks any time soon?’ – completely normal and mundane.

Aside from that, what have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

Oh god, I don’t know. Ask me when I’m 90 and looking back. We’re both too busy getting on with things and feeling like there’s not enough hours in the day at the moment.

Its been 15 years since you released your debut album The Codex Necro. Will you be doing anything to celebrate that milestone this year?

We weren’t actually aware of that until someone mentioned it to us a couple of weeks ago. No, we don’t have any plans. Fifteen years isn’t a nice neat number, and we’re quite busy enough at the moment with what we’re doing now. To be honest we don’t pay much attention to that sort of thing. We don’t trade on our past, and as far as we’re concerned our best stuff is always what we’ve just done, or what we’re about to do.

(c) Gavin Brown

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About the author

Metal loving music journalist, loves going to see gigs, listening to and reviewing albums and interviewing bands.

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