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I wasn’t the only one I knew who’d been eagerly anticipating this album. Since announcing their fourth album earlier this year, I knew that Anaal Nathrakh would deliver something that’d uphold their rightfully earned reputation as one of black metal’s most brutal. When Hell Is Empty, And all the Devils are here hit the shelves on October 29th (a date many of my friends and I had been eagerly awaiting), part of me worried if the album’s “worryingly bleak” atmosphere would portray a different Anaal Nathrakh to the raw, relentless extreme I’d grown to love them for. Would the album be slower, drabber, or otherwise different?
My doubts were blown to shreds once the album started playing. The album kicks off with a minute-long intro that sets an ominous, sort of apprehensive “it’s coming” feel that breaking into ‘Der Hölle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen’, starting with an incredibly energetic guitar riff that slowly picks up and gives way to injections of melody reminiscent of Eschaton. The difference is that the majestic, nearly epic feel of Eschaton’s melodic moments is replaced by a bleaker, darker “all your values are fucking pointless” feel that emphasises the band’s nihilistic views well. Straight away, we hear the diversity of vocalist Dave Hunt as he strains every vocal cord to deliver clean singing, gurgly death growls, sneering rasps and his renowned larynx-shredding shrieks.
The next track, Screaming of the Unborn, immediately blasts into a hurricane of catchy, wild guitarwork and catchy rhythms where Hunt brings a guttural, throaty scream to bear whilst instrumentalist Mick Kenny demonstrates his fast, addictive guitarwork in tune to perfectly programmed drumming. Napalm Death bass guitarist Sean Embury also strikes a guest appearance here, his screeching solo heard about halfway through the song. Again, the energy of the music’s so intense, you wonder how much longer Anaal Nathrakh can keep up this level of savagery. The album then progresses to a surprisingly melodic Virus Bomb with a nearly uplifting chorus amidst the typically brutal riffing heard of the album’s earlier tracks.
The Final Absolution then brings the listener into a steadily-paced, ominous rhythm of thunderous guitar riffs, the album’s nihilistic feel hitting it’s gloomiest peak with the song’s bleak, melodic overtones. Judicious use of synthesisers created an eerie backdrop for growing sense of despair that built before the chorus. Dave Hunt’s vocal range comes out best in this song, with his screeches, guttural rasps and clear singing timed perfectly to create the perfect “end of your whole fucking world” mood.
When Shatter the Empyrean starts, an entirely different pace hits the listeners as a groovy guitar riff propels the listener into another energetic race through Hunt’s pained screeches. As with Screaming of the Unborn, this song maintains it’s intensity well without wearing itself down; by the time of Lama Sabacthani, however, the album starts growing a little more predictable. The track’s far from bad (Dave Hunt’s guttural roars during the choruses sound more like a demon’s bellowing than a human’s voice), but there’s nothing inherently surprising about the track that kept the listener pinned to their seat as the earlier half of the album did. When the World Stops Turning pushes the monotony away with an unexpected delivery of sound effects worked between the blast beats, neatly integrating the sounds of gunfire and bullet shells between the riffing. The song itself is reasonably energetic, though it lacks the same level of catchiness that Shatter the Empyrean does.
The catchy rhythms disappear once the ominous Genetic Noose returns the listener to a field of oppressive gloom, this time narrated by the belching vocals of guest star Joe Horvath (from the Pennsylvanian deathgrind band, Circle of Dead Children). Here, the guitarwork’s sludgy yet rock-solid, with Horvath’s gurgling death vocals producing an ominous, sickening sense of despair. The entire song is pretty much comprised of death vocals the whole way through, with only high, guttural rasps during the choruses providing a sense of change. I found this disappointing, especially given Joe Horvath is decidedly one of the best death vocalists I’ve ever heard (for instance, listen to the opening track of the Circle’s Human Harvest to see just how deep this man’s voice can go), but I felt Genetic Noose could’ve brought out the true depth of his skill a lot better. Still, Horvath does a respectable job, his vocals remaining submerged beneath human comprehension to surface only between verses of importance.
Sanction Extremis is a reasonably decent track, though slower-paced than the earlier songs, with a building sense of monotony detectable after so many highs-and-lows of morbid savagery have been heard through the album. The drumming and guitarwork’s still top-notch however, and Hunt seems reluctant to give his thoroughly-shredded vocal chords a rest through the verses. Only until the final track, Castigation and Betrayal, does the band well and truly dump listeners into a frenzy of unspectacular guitarwork and blast beats: at this point, it’s clear Anaal Nathrakh truly wanted to call it a day. The song’s rhythm doesn’t lack momentum altogether, but it does drag it’s arse around far too much for the song to be of memorable interest. After four minutes of violent yet unimpressive guitarwork, the track closes to a similarly unsatisfactory end with Hunt screaming the last few lyrics in what’s clearly a lot of hate-mangled agony. Generally when Castigation and Betrayal starts, it’s the part where I simply restart the CD and listen to it all over again; which is precisely what I did for quite a few runs after first laying hands on the CD.
In conclusion, this album’s a work of genius. The way it manages to remain diverse and yet consistently heavy in every regard shows how far Anaal Nathrakh have progressed as musicians. The overclocked drum machine that’s become the band’s distinguished trademark is programmed too damned well to be easily recognised in the songs, with the blast beats sounding a lot less mechanical than they did on earlier works such as, say, the Codex Necro. Kenny’s instrumentation falls into place in nearly every song, and Hunt once again proves that there isn’t a chord in his voice box, high or low, he isn’t capable of straining to near breaking point.
This album accommodates the need of every brutality-hungry metalhead; blast beats, catchy guitar riffs and ear-piercing shrieks with a consistently high level of savagery spanning the whole album. The only complaints would be heard from the “tr00 kvlt” black metal elitists who insist that the only metal that can be termed “black” is that which tightly follows the footsteps trodden by the likes of Burzum, Bathory, Darkthrone, and other black metal giants. If you’re going to protest that this album be kept from the black metal section on account of too much deviation from traditional black metal... get a fucking life, or maybe get out there and start headbanging to something that doesn’t sound like a direct derivation of Darkthrone. Hell Is Empty follows Anaal Nathrakh’s own style of blackened death metal, which they’ve been intent to develop without being beholden to anybody’s expectations. In doing so, they’ve kept themselves from growing bland and given cynical metalheads like myself continued hope that not all extreme bands need wear down after scoring so many landmarks of brutality throughout their careers. My synopsis for the “worryingly bleak” Hell Is Empty would be “reassuringly awesome”. If you haven't already, go out, buy a copy, then blow the everloving shit out of your speakers.
(Originally written for VampireFreaks.com)
This albums rages like none of the earlier Anaal Nathrakh releases. One could think that The Codex Necro and/or Domine Non Es Dignus are more brutal than this release, which was also my first impression, but that’s actually incorrect. Yes, the guitars and the vocals sound less raw on Hell is Empty […], but aggression and violence are not always created by effects and production. AN has found a way to channel their brutality in a more effective way, making their music both more intense and more interesting to listen to. Imagine The Codex Necro as an unbound, wild river with no limitations. If one starts damming it and forces the water through a smaller area at a certain point, the water will flow faster, become more powerful, more intense but more streamlined and coordinated as well. This would be Hell is Empty […].
Since their earliest releases, they have shifted from an extreme black metal sound to an interesting mix of many genres. Black and death metal are clearly present, but they also have successfully incorporated grindcore and punk elements into the mix (among others) without losing their very own, unique touch.
V.I.T.R.I.O.L. receives backup on vocal duties from Joe Horvath (Circle of Dead Children) and Dirty von Donovan (Exploder). They do a good job and they create unique atmospheres with their voices, for example in ‘Sanction Extremis (Kill them All)’ where, on some parts, all vocalists sing together which contributes massively to the extremity and intensity of the music. Clean vocals like those in ‘Do Not Speak’ from Domine Non Es Dignus, for example, are also still present in the same melancholic, epic manner. The combination of the almost serene, clean voices with one of the most extreme forms of music in the world creates a great contrast.
The riffs are unbelievably relentless, intense and hellish but at the same time, they’re also very melodic. The effect is overwhelming and cannot be described. The differences between the riffs are enormous sometimes, and, despite the great variety of incorporated genres, this album is still extremely consistent. It all falls into place. I could go on a while about all kinds of riffs and various atmospheres but it would be a waste of words. You should hear this yourself.
This talented guitarist also knows how to use a drum kit. The blastbeats are among the fastest found in the metal scene, and the same goes for the double bass work. The fast parts are varied with all kinds of other beats. These are not particularly fast or very up-tempo but never slow. Great job.
All in all, this album is their best effort so far in my opinion, and one of the best metal efforts in general. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is regarded as a classic in 20 years. It is advised to remove valuable or breakable objects from your room when listening to this, you might spontaneously jump up and start moshing with your furniture. Anaal Nathrakh truly emptied hell, all those devils are right next to them and they make sure we know it.
It is a common defect of the average metalhead, whether he or she be a battle-hardened veteran or a even a keen-eyed new recruit to the cause, to look towards the past to see what they believe to be the absolute gold of the genre. Waves of contemporary metal may wash over them, but they will still insist that those dust-coated, diamond-studded classics can eat the majority of modern metal acts as a bar snack. For many underworld devotees, 99.9% of the metal today just doesn’t conjure up the deadly magic that the likes of Death’s ‘Human’, Napalm Death’s ‘Scum’ or Carcass’ ‘Symphonies Of Sickness’ attained.
What a pleasant shock it will be for these people then, when they come across that special 0.1% - Anaal Nathrakh, and their latest hell-spawned abomination: ‘Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here,’ a record that is capable of blowing out the brains of any listener through sheer epic might.
The Nathrakh here have crafted a work that straddles many genres, with large measures of grindcore, industrial, anarcho punk, and death and black metal brutality poured into its broth. This makes for one unbelievably chaotic sound, with all the elements clashing together, vying for position at the head of the listener’s attention, all the while threatening to brim over into absolute anarchic chaos, but stopping short through the addition of some truly amazing songcraft.
Craft is very much the word to be applied here – these tracks are not exercises in gruesome brutality to be forgotten shortly after the record concludes spinning in the death deck, but something very, very different entirely.
‘Hell Is Empty...’ takes the most uncontrolled, hellish elements of the Nathrakh sound and marries them seamlessly with carefully considered melody, with choruses that threaten to overwhelm the listener through sheer unfiltered bombast. Those who despise the recent trend towards ‘melodicism’ in heavy metal (exemplified by such abortions as All That Remains and Divine Heresy) need not be put off by that last sentence – Anaal Nathrakh are a band who opt not the simpering form of soaring chorus but one that makes the work sound like the auditory depiction of Armageddon descending down upon the listener. When singer V.I.T.R.I.O.L (Dave Hunt) roars out the epic battle cry at the bridge of ‘Shatter The Empyrean’ and echoes with chilling might the final words of Christ on the cross in ‘Lama Sabachtani’, the listener will have fists in the air and a trashed listening-space within seconds.
This combination of searing, face-shredding heaviness and melody is so brilliantly woven together that ‘Hell Is Empty...’ becomes what one always hopes for but only occasionally receives with a metal record – not a record but a full on EXPERIENCE.
As players, the trio of Irrumator (Mike Kenney) and Hunt are one of the best team-ups going today in metal. As a guitarist, Kenney’s blend of grind and death metal are heavy enough to satisfy the grimiest of hellhounds listening, but it is his astounding performance behind the drum kit that will stick in the brain for a very long time after the records conclusion – vicious, light speed blastbeats, industrial rhythms and skull-pounding double bass all blend into one disgustingly brilliant package, with the likes of ‘The Final Absolution’ and the anarcho influenced ‘Virus Bomb’ showcasing the drummer at his best.
Hunt, for his part, is a fantastically capable vocalist, with a throat-launched attack ranging from guttural low end growls, through agonised screams right up to a clean singing voice of thunderous power. His performance on ‘Der Holle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen’ is a true piece de resistance of unadulterated, enraged might.
The overall sound of ‘Hell Is Empty...’ is one that thankfully does few disservices to the band’s material. Despite the frenzied nature of Nathrakh’s sound, the drums and guitars ring out with perfect balanced clarity, and not a word of Hunt’s vocalizations are lost through the production. The bass is one of the few drawbacks to the album, placed low enough in the mix to remain audible but to have no real impact upon the sound in general – a real shame, considering that grindcore godfather Shane Embury drops in to lend his skills to a few tracks.
‘Hell Is Empty And All The Devils Are Here’ is a truly a rare work in modern metal – while it may seem likely hyperbole, it really isn’t going so far to suggest that this is something of a landmark record in modern extremity. For all who have lost faith in the notion that up and coming groups have something to add to metal’s glorious history, this may just be the work to change your mind. Certainly, there’s never been a Necrogeddon quite like this one.
Can you feel the breath of the serpent eating your flesh to the bones? No? Then perhaps the violent shrieks of the half dead and bludgeoning battery from Birmingham's renowned Anaal Nathrakh will flip those lobes sideways for maximum volume ingestion.
You see, Anaal Nathrakh have taken the stones from the rubble of their first conquering such as the sound of a gritty heathen army of blood thirsty warriors which was The Codex Necro and added to it the strengthened components of their previous effort, Eschaton (stop-on-a-dime drum shifts, buzzing and surgically precise guitars, even more putrid vocals) to create the album most bands want to make; the album that combines both what the band was first admired for and what they have learned now as a musician/vocalist team of End Times madness.
Produced by multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney, the sound hits the nail on the head. Almost. The drums are forceful but not overbearing, the guitars are always audible, but unfortunately the bass (provided by the legendary Shane Embury) is not too noticeable.
And the vocalist, apparently where everyone's attention is (I myself am not sure as to why), does a fantastic job. He barks, gurgles, chants and will shatter your inner ear with a well placed scream from the bowels of uh...the earth. He really does wish to vomit blood on you...people. But there are also two guest vocalists here. Joe Horvath (Circle of Dead Children) and Dirty von Donovan (Exploder). Listen for them.
The only quip one could have would be the slightly mechanical sound to the level thar someone claiming 'programmed-sounding drums' may arise from the crowd. I, on the other hand, am feasting on the blood-vomiting vocals, the riveting drumming as well as the slicing and slithering guitar work that creates an imperially relentless onslaught that just so happens to combines the best of Nathrakh's arsenal into one pummeling ball of unending hatred.
May the Necrogeddon continue...
Once again they come in the form of Anaal Nathrakh, with their newest offering 'When Hell Is Empty, And All The Devils Are Here', anaal bring forth both regression and progression to their overall sound to create a destructive and apocalyptic sound.
As with 2006's Eschaton the clean vocals are once again a larger part of anaal's music machine and can be heard right from the off set with the aptly titled 'der holler ache kocht in meinem herzen' which translates to 'Hell's vengeance boils in my heart'. One thing can however be noted about the clean vocals on this album, on Eschaton the term clean, was quite appropriate, however with this release I feel the emphasis is much more on creating a chaotic and menacing sound within this vocal style.
It can also be noted that many songs on this album are very reminiscent of the 'Codex Necro' and 'Domine Non Es Dignus', songs like Lama Sabachtani and Screaming of the unborn would fit quite nicely on either of these releases.
In conclusion, 'When Hell Is Empty, And All The Devils Are Here' is a fantastic album and better than it's predecessor. However it does feel much more polished and accessible than previous releases. Anaal Nathrakh are a group who are obviously trying to introduce their music do those who may not necessarily have listened to them previously this can be seen in the way that they have a guest spot for Joe Horvath, vocalist from Circle Of Dead Children. Overall, Anaal Nathrakh are completely deserving of all the praise they should and hopefully will receive regarding this album.
Surpassed only in sheer brutality by their first release, The Codex Necro, Anaal Nathrakh have outdone themselves in this latest offering.
Just like their last album, Eschaton, Hell Is Empty... has something for every fan of Anaal Nathrakh. Want sheer, necrotic brutality from nihilistic viewpoints? This album is chock full of it. Want more epic, soaring choruses with more melody in the music? It has that, although not as much as Eschaton did. Which is a great thing. This album is more of a return to form. A return to old form. Although it goes backwards in time, it's a gigantic step forward for these British Black Metalheads and an even bigger step in the genre itself.
The song choices are catchy, brutal, and more mature than Eschaton was, which is a huge plus. Every song has a memorable part, whether it's the machine gun beginning of When The World Stops Turning, the epic apocalyptic vocals of V.I.T.R.I.O.L during the chorus of Virus Bomb, or the way the instruments come together under Irrumator to become something beautifully ugly as in The Final Absolution.
This is one of the best, if not THE best, of 2007, and definitely Anaal Nathrakh's best since The Codex Necro. Utterly setting and raising the bar that they themselves have set and raised before, any fan of extreme metal at all should buy this album now. And try not to destroy yourself while listening.
Being a big fan of this band I expected them to come with another great success. And they did. In some ways.
Well, this record is definitely different from the previous three full lenghts (maybe not so different from the previous one, but different still). As we know, AN has evolved in the past few years from just a raw and extreme black metal band to a more technical, quasi-death influenced and very unique band. Well, they seem to have taken another step (jump?) forward with this album.
From time to time I could describe the music as "Behemoth meets Wintersun", and the vocals as "manly version of Dragonforce meets Chris Barnes", but maybe I'm being a little extremist here.
They are becomin less and less minimalistic. Just like Eschaton was significantly more technical and death influenced than the previous albums, this album takes this characteristic to a further level. The drumming gives it's regular dosis of blast beats (this is black metal after all) but takes a significant ammount of time in a mid-paced tempo (which makes for the power-ish/Wintersun-ish aura described). The guitars mantain a rather low range of notes most of the time (except on the typical and chaotic solos we're used to), but manage to make up pretty good and sort of catchy melodies.
All in all this is another Anaal Nathrakh album. With this I mean that it holds its very characteristic essence, its dark but melodic riff work and the numerous vocal styles used, all of them recognisable trademarks of V.I.T.R.I.O.L..
In short, it's less noisy, more death influenced and maybe even heavier that Eschaton. It's probably AN's work I like the less, but that doesn't mean I don't love it or that it's not a great album nonetheless.