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When it comes to rough and violent black metal, you can easily take your pick of the thousands of bands in the style playing anti-religious or war infused riffs to evoke tempered feelings and head banging. When the duo Anaal Nathrakh (consisting of V.I.T.R.I.O.L on vocals and Irrumator on everything else) began, their style on the debut (The Codex Necro) leaned heavily towards that regular, riff-based kind of aggressive black metal, somewhat along the lines of what bands like Watain, newer Mayhem and Gorgoroth were doing in the post-second wave of black metal. So while The Codex Necro was fine by its own merits, Anaal Nathrakh knew their brand of raw black metal needed a pick me up, and so, in 2004 on their sophomore, Domine Non Es Dignus, the duo started sprinkling grindcore elements into their music to create the unique brand of violent black metal, which they continue to play to this day on Venitas.
As I mentioned this is pretty violent black metal, what with grindcore in the shotgun on this one. While black metal on its own can be quite intimidating, here it’s grindcore’s trademarks such as sonic blast beats, slithering, indecipherable barks and screeches, riffs that ignore any rule of melody or speed, and heavy, low-end tremolo picking (bringing out the punch in the more thin, trebly aspect of the black metal elements, sometime even verging more on death metal) that does most of the hard, heavy work. The points in which the two work together are devastating, with their ominous, sinister black metal riffing hitting light speed, hacking and slashing the listener with it’s trebly, rusty tones, and the grindcore heavy low-ends and robotic drumming matching it, one can witness the true extent of the monster these men have made. Although I’m astounded at how coherently the more violent bits were, as I would assume such cacophony would be but a mess of white noise, but instead, ended up coming through.
With all this talk of violence, I should let you know that Anaal Nathrakh knows they can’t just focus on pure, physicality. If anything, I’d say the band’s strongest point are their more melodic aspects that, while still plenty violent at times, really cut through the stress and pulls the listener directly to them. With soaring choruses that utilize VITRIOLS amazing, opera-esque voice, the choruses that are created are actually really well defined, and give songs like Forging Towards the Sunset, In Coelo Quies, You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying and A Metaphor for the Dead,a perfect balance of heaviness and extremely catchy melody, making them extremely memorable. And finally, in the middle ground, the band has absolutely perfected it’s ominous, evil passages, not only in the trebly, cold riffing they owe to their Mayhem influence, but also in the well written lead work which utilizes dual leads (and anti-leads, if you want to call them that) to twist and curdle your mind. The grand, opera vocal work also helps to evoke the feelings of a twisted, Italian opera singer commanding the ravages of hell to, uh, ravage like on the tracks The Blood-Dimmed tide, To Spite the face and Todos somos Humanos.
The only place I can really find the inconsistencies in this bands riffing are with the odd Meshuggah-influences that have an odd moment of spotlight (again, the opening of To Spite The Face) with syncopated, groovy riffs and bombastic breakdowns showing up from time to time. I guess they’re not bad, but just sort of random, and sort of a step towards the exact opposite of the two genres that make up this record. Another odd tidbit I found on this record were the rare moments where industrial elements would be pushed through, such as purposeful, robotic clipping, or blasted, rubber toned sounding drum beats, which were clearly done via programming found on songs like To Spite The Face. From what I know, these bits have been here and there on past releases, but have somewhat diminished here on Venitas, which I’d argue is for the better; but a blackened industrial grindcore just sounds way to weird for me.
For a combination of genre’s that are both synonymous for the words noisy, cluttered and low-fi, Venitas actually does a great job of keeping the chaos controlled. While it’s still a cacophony, one can still hear everything in perfect conjunction, the black metal gets to keep its thin, cold, scratchy riffs and grind keeps the low ends and brutal rhythms, as neither cancel out in the mix. I’m not sure who did the engineering and sound, but whoever did must be one hell of a wizard. Most of the moods on this record range from sinister, violent, triumphant, stressful and foreboding, mixing together some of the key atmospheric elements of the Norwegian reign, such as the cold and eerier atmosphere of the slower and cleaner parts as well as the more supernatural kind of feelings one doesn’t find in grindcore.
While fans of Anaal Nathrakh were somewhat disappointed in the mildly watered down nature of last year’s Passion, I think a rekindling of everything that makes this band great can be found on Vanitas. It’s not only violent, evil, ominous and energetic, but it’s melodic, catchy and memorable. While the band is clearly rooted in black metal territory, the interesting and creative grindcore elements on this record have surely cemented Anaal Nathrakh with some of the greatest in the UK extreme scene, along with bands like Napalm Death and Carcass; not only do they create something unique, but they also have the pure creative staying power to sustain it.
(Originally written for AXIS OF METAL as Adam Korchok http://axisofmetal.com/2012/11/anaal-nathrakh-venitas-review/)