Review Summary: Brutal, precise, and surprisingly accessible, Desideratum represents another solid album in Anaal Nathrakh's trophy case.
Don’t let the “soundtrack to the apocalypse” tagline fool you; while Anaal Nathrakh’s mission statement is far from unique, its hybridized sound is something worth checking out. Anaal Nathrakh’s core members, Dave Hunt (vocals) and Mick Kenney (everything else), have been fine-tuning their craft for sixteen years now. In that time, they have covered ground from traditional misanthropic black metal to brutal death, industrial, grind, and noise. Desideratum
, their eighth effort, is a densely layered piece of extreme metal that builds on the foundation of 2012’s Vanitas
. Though its sound takes influence from the relentless assault of Emperor as much as the wordless screams of Converge, calling it particularly close to either would be somewhat misleading. At its heart, Desideratum
is an album of sustained ferocity, and while works of its ilk can easily become exhausting, Anaal Nathrakh knows better than to simply bludgeon without mixing things up along the way.
Hunt’s vocals are a focal point throughout Desideratum
, and one of its main attractions. The sheer amount of different sounds he can make is astounding: “The Joystream” features at least four styles, from banshee shrieks and low growls to strong, melodic cleans and mid-range rasps. The cleans are emphasized here more than in the past, and these moments of clarity give each song on Desideratum
handholds for the listener. Standout cuts “The One Thing Needful” and “Idol” both have strong vocal hooks that act as choruses, and in each case Anaal Nathrakh backs up those moments with some awesomely heavy blast beat-backed riffs. Sure, what Hunt is saying is never particularly clear, but in the words of Ikillya’s singer Jason Lekberg, “Many great musicians can display emotion through their instruments, but a great vocalist can do that even without words.”
Despite loads of heavily distorted guitars and snarled vocals, everything on Desideratum
sounds extremely crisp, though whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the listener. While the drums here are programmed, the sharp double-kick and tom work is at least believable – think Hellhammer’s work on In Sorte Diaboli
– and this allows the percussion to stand out and drive the songs. The keyboards and samples on tracks like “A Firm Foundation of Unyielding Despair” add a cold-hearted industrial element, backed by processed vocals set far back in the mix. The fit is a surprisingly good one, as Kenney’s drum work already sounds like an unstoppable machine. For what it’s worth, all of this clockwork does tend to detract from the human element of Desideratum
, so fans wary of overly-polished “modern” production may find the album to be a little short on personality.
As for song-to-song variation, Anaal Nathrakh does a decent job of mixing things up. Proper opener “Unleash” rages with call-and-response tremolo guitar riffs and pounding backbeat percussion, and also introduces the first of several infectious vocal hooks. “Monstrum in Animo” turns up the intensity with layered screams and relentless blast beats, while “The One Thing Needful” opts for a more intelligible melodic approach. Hot on the heels of “Idol” comes the album’s most metalcore track in “Sub Specie Aeterni,” whose wailing guitars and fill-heavy drum work could probably infiltrate All We Love We Leave Behind
and at least get inside the front door. So while Anaal Nathrakh is working with elements we’ve heard before, the band’s propensity to use a slightly different selection for each song certainly adds to Desideratum
’s overall listenability.
The album as a whole runs a curt forty-one minutes, which (mercifully) alleviates ear fatigue considering the overbearing nature of Anaal Nathrakh’s music. Desideratum
is a largely air-tight affair that relies on its precise execution and broad palette in equal turn, both of which are hallmarks of Hunt and Kenney’s experience as they churn out another in a string of solid albums. Fans of Anaal Nathrakh’s previous work will likely find Desideratum
a satisfying, if somewhat more approachable, entry in the band’s catalog, and that combination is also likely to earn the group another boost in the size of its audience. Pick this up if you’re in the market for some sure-footed brutality, as Anaal Nakrath seem to have found a groove as one of extreme metal’s better crossover acts.