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A Tactical Nuke On The Landscape of Metal - 96%

Crank_It_Up_To_666, March 21st, 2008

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.