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Anaal Nathrakh's seventh release, Vanitas, is a promising thrust in a different direction, but it's not everything that it could have been. Parts of the album are nothing short of brilliant, but they are often lost in the muddle and confusion of Anaal Nathrakh's signature sonic attack.
I will qualify this review by saying that after last year's somewhat disappointing Passion, I wasn't quite sure whether Vanitas would follow in a similar vein, or if these guys would try something different. However, after hearing Forging Towards the Sunset, this album's leading single, I had high hopes for this album. The song was just as heavy as ever, but had elements that I either hadn't heard before, or were being used in different ways. For one, these guys were sounding more melodic than ever before, and the operatic clean vocals (something I'm a fan of) were better than they'd ever been. After listening to the album, these things still stand true for several songs, including To Spite the Face (my personal favorite of the album), You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying, and Feeding the Beast. The chorus sections felt like more than simply an afterthought, and there are even a few well-placed breakdown sections in some of these songs. Now, usually when I think breakdown, I think of "teh br00talz" deathcore crap, but instead of solely relying on breakdowns, these songs simply incorporate short passages that improve the song and make headbanging a little easier. However, much of the album flies by without grabbing the attention. I found myself not even realizing a new track had started a couple of times, and some truly interesting music came a little few and far between. If these guys had focused a little more on what they did with Forging Towards the Sunset and To Spite the Face, this album might have been a little better. Too many of the songs fly by without much variation, an a couple of songs, such as Make Glorious the Embrace of Saturn and In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas, feel like straight grindcore, except stretched out twice as long as they should be.
One of my main complaints with Passion was that it simply lacked its namesake for much of the album. This, however, was avoided on Vanitas. The music often straddles "In the Constellation..." territory and also has some of the gritty, fiery feel of earlier releases such as Eschaton and Domine Non Es Dignus. One of my complaints, however, is that the production feels a little bit too sterile and digitized, giving it a very flat tone. The guitars, however, have a very distinct "buzzing" quality which I enjoy, almost like a chainsaw filtered through a computer and then through a stack of amplifiers. The drums, while very obviously triggered, sound tight and punchy, and Dave Hunt's vocals sound like they always do, hateful, anguished and terrifying.
In all, the album is an above-average effort from Anaal Nathrakh. It's not their very best, but it's an improvement from Passion and sits pretty well with me. If you're an Anaal Nathrakh fan, then you should have this in your collection and will probably enjoy it quite a bit. If you're new to this band, skip this and try In the Constellation of the Black Widow or The Codex Necro instead.