Extremity has been Anaal Nathrakh's stock in trade for more than two decades, and with 11th album, Endarkenment, they maintain their legacy of aural devastation. However, for all the furor they stir up, the duo have never been a two-dimensional entity, with a great deal of depth involved in everything that they do, and on many levels the new record is distinguished from its predecessors. "I think in terms of feel, it's brighter, more open and direct than maybe we've been in the past," states vocalist Dave Hunt. "Obviously I don't mean it's happy-go-lucky sounding, or suggestive of a sunny disposition. I mean something more like it burns with light rather than glowers with darkness. It's coruscating." The evolution since 2018's towering A New Kind Of Horror has been personal and profound, and is very much in line with that experienced by many of their listeners. "Personally, I feel more cynical, more bitter, with a greater sense that the world is fucked, and is continually re-fucked by people who have no idea what they are doing. Musically, I think we're more mature - not less frenetic, but better able to channel our energies where they'll be most effective. That's an ongoing process, you never finish growing into what you're doing and being better able to push at the edges of what you can do. But we aren't interested in evolving what we do, only how we do it. We remain unlike the vast majority of other bands in our sound, and we're proud of what we do."
With laying out a plan and then executing it not conducive to the kind of energetic, chaotic vigor Hunt and multi-instrumentalist Mick Kenney look for, the band follow ideas where they are taken by them and work spontaneously. Coining the phrase "riding a dragon" when recording - "making music with a sense that all you can do is hang on" - this very much embodies the tumultuous racket thrown up by Endarkenment, with its storms of blastbeat driven violence, frenzied riffing and panoramic choruses that suddenly change the direction of tracks. "We only really know what an album is like after we've finished it. Doing it any other way just wouldn't be right for us." One thing that was very clear to the band was the album's title and how prescient it is in current times, standing as the opposite of the Enlightenment, a movement that went against superstition and ignorance. Writing in the album's liner notes, Hunt says: "There has been, and continues to be, increasingly widespread rejection of Enlightenment-style values such as rationalism, skepticism, the rejection of faith in favour of judgements dependent on empirically verifiable phenomena and so on. There are local versions in many places, but in our native UK, this was summed up by politician/sinister gnome Michael Gove's famous claim that we've 'had enough of experts'. Thus we enter the age of endarkenment." With this as an overarching theme, Hunt, one of the more intellectual lyricists in contemporary metal, penned the lyrics to the record, exploring a diverse range of subject areas and looking in often uncomfortable directions.
"Singularity" not only looks at the concept of the singularity itself - the anticipated point at which artificial intelligence will overtake human intelligence - but its relationship to human decadence and its destructive nature. Writing in the liner notes, Hunt states: "This itself can be seen as a form of decadence, since it represents a culture producing an event which consumes that culture. A parallel is drawn to a growing sense that we live in an essentially feudal society - what happens to the world is ever more determined by the desires and whims of a small number of specific powerful individuals…A species which does not know what it itself even is at the most fundamental level, which has created a society which functions in ways it cannot control, is making itself obsolete via the will of a tiny number of specific powerful individuals. Wonderful. What could go wrong?"
Taking a different tangent, "Feeding The Death Machine" was penned on the day of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, after Hunt heard an interview with a prisoner who survived simply because she could play the cello. He writes: "Drawing on Jens Bjørneboe's devastating technique of horrifying the reader precisely by mentioning incomprehensibly horrific events in an apparently matter of fact style and without touching upon the actual horror, this text concentrates on the role of perhaps the most contemptible figure of all - the craven, self-excusing bureaucrat."
Closing track "Requiem" takes the album's central theme head on, Hunt writing: "The text here is taken from the Requiem Mass (in this instance, we were inspired by Verdi's setting of the mass). Given the album's theme of endarkenment, this track is intended as a mirror of Nietzsche's madman singing a 'Requiem aeternam deo' following his realisation of the death of God. Since that symbolised the advent of enlightenment, a new requiem, this time for us, seems appropriate as society turns towards endarkenment."
The music was tracked entirely in Kenney's studio in southern California while the vocals were laid down in an industrial estate in Birmingham, UK, in a unit just down the corridor from where an S&M porn was being filmed. "It occurred to me not long ago that we haven't recorded together at the same place twice for ten years or more, and I think part of the reason for that is that is that the place itself doesn't really affect us. It changes the experience of actually doing it in terms of being there in person, obviously, but it doesn't really make any difference to the way we work together. Dedicated studios, expensive gear, acoustically isolated live rooms and so on - they're all great, I'm sure, but give us a quiet room with a lightbulb, a laptop and a shitty mic and we'll still do basically the same thing. The music and the atmosphere and the inspiration are in us, not in places or pieces of equipment." The isolation of working there suited them well, setting up on a wallpaper pasting table and regularly working well past midnight in near darkness. "We could even, and did even, get a bit 'method' about it sometimes - there are vocal parts that were recorded with a semi-ambient mic across the room while I yowled and thumped the floor. As we call it, a necro attack. I know that in his production work, Mick sometimes has to get people to find why they're doing it. That's not how it is when we record Anaal Nathrakh. We seethe and expel. We vomit out. Then all that's left to do is wipe everything down and carry on."
An integral facet of the record and its message lies in the cover art, which features a close up of a pig with penises for eyes. Initially conceived of by Hunt and executed by Kenney, it's a striking image. "The idea is basically to depict the ideal human circa 2020. The idea is older, but the depiction is as current as it ever was. We are livestock, shorn of dignity, humiliated, and blind to the reality of our predicament because all we see and care about is libidinous rubbish," Hunt explains. "And even when one of us thinks they've found something real and rears up to jab their finger at the air, it's still often oddly fetishised - you can practically see the hard on and smell the groin sweat. And all too frequently, we who observe feel that, as the saying goes, 'the stupid, it burns'. Bill Hicks once talked about culture as a sedative or diversionary tactic - 'Go back to sleep, America…'. Zappa said something similar via the metaphor of cheese. The take implicit in our cover art for 'Endarkenment' is similar, but more aggressive and embittered. As the line in one of the songs on the album goes, 'pigs with cocks in our eyes, masturbating to the end of the world'."