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The devils are here. So is the whiplash. - 95%

Alhadis, September 3rd, 2010

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)
http://vampirefreaks.com/musicreviews/comment.php?entry=3948