Anaal Nathrakh – An Era of EndarkenmentSunday, 20th September 2020
In a year that seems to be intent in bringing about Armageddon all on its own, who better to release an album than the swirling masters of chaos in Anaal Nathrakh? Seemingly hitting the nail on the head with scorching relevance, even before the COVID pandemic began, Endarkenment delivers all of the apocalyptic musical destruction you’d expect from Anaal Nathrakh with a razor-sharp focus and vision. To get an even clearer picture, we were able to chat for a bit with vocalist Dave Hunt [V.I.T.R.I.O.L.] to get some insight about concepts within the band’s new album, ‘reading the comments,’ music as catharsis, and if there’s much hope left for humanity.
Dead Rhetoric: What strikes you about Endarkenment as Anaal Nathrakh’s latest effort?
Dave Hunt: I’m not sure that I’m very good at answering that [laughs]; that might be a better question for a reviewer I suppose. To me, it’s kind of like a monolithic mass of all of the experiences we had putting it together. While I’m talking to you, I have a big image of the cover. That strikes me quite clearly.
Other than that, I don’t think we have the right perspective to describe the songs much, but I definitely have a strong feeling that there’s something sort of zeitgeist-y about it. It’s not as if we have ever tried to turn out an album to have it be irrelevant, but it kind of feels like that although this was recorded way earlier in the year, the way that things have gone with the course of the virus and all of that, it’s made it more relevant – even if we couldn’t have anticipated what was going to happen. So it does kind of feel quite ‘today’ to me.
In terms of the sound, I think it’s possibly more direct. I think it may have gone into a press release, but I think it’s more comprehensible. You can feel more clearly what is going on without it being lightweight – it hasn’t lost any intensity but it’s possibly sharper than things were before.
Dead Rhetoric: I was thinking along the same lines in terms of the sound. It does seem to have a greater ear for melody without losing the visceral part of Anaal Nathrakh.
Hunt: It’s more sharply focused but yeah – the amount of times that people have said that a new album is more melodic than the other ones, or saying, “I preferred them back when…” if they had always been right we would probably sound like Taylor Swift by now [laughs]. I’m pretty sure we still don’t. So I don’t think it’s lost any intensity but there’s clarity to it, possibly more than before.
Dead Rhetoric: It kind of felt like there were more of those King Diamond-esque falsettos too.
Hunt: I think if anything there might be less actually. We’ve always done that, but they usually aren’t like the lead. We remember recording them the same way we recording anything else, but the way that the layers go into the mix – they have been in there for a while. A few albums ago, we did an album called “Extravaganza!” and it had that King Diamond impression as one of the main parts, so to me, that was kind of the high water mark for the King Diamond-isms, but yeah, they are definitely still in there. They aren’t something that we will give up willingly, we’ll put it that way.
Dead Rhetoric: You already mentioned there is a bit of current relevance to the album. I assume the title and concept of the album appeals to being the opposite of ‘enlightenment’ and the way the world is heading.
Hunt: Yeah, more or less. There are various things that you can look at in the last few years in the world’s history, so it’s as complicated as ever. Just as the original Enlightenment was something was something that we could spend more time than we’ve got just talking about that. But yeah, one of the principle things that struck me, I know you are in the US but I’m in the UK. It seems there was some quantum entanglement between our systems at roughly the same time. They both became quite populist and seemingly marked by intentional ignorance.
The thing that really made it clear to me over here was part of the Brexit debate, of the UK leaving the European Union. One of the things I noticed as a hallmark, if you are looking at debates on people on either side of it, was that neither side believed it was suffering from an information deficit. Just like the way the Enlightenment values worked – if you are disagreeing with someone, it’s almost as if it’s just a matter of information. If you could present them with the right information, or if they could show you the right information, disagreement could be resolved. But it seemed that it’s more widely the case, and it’s during the Brexit stuff that I noticed it: it didn’t really matter in terms of what one side said to the other in terms of providing their information. They still weren’t going to get any closer to agreeing. That struck me as being particularly contrary to the Enlightenment values. The availability of objective truth and rationalism, and all of that stuff. It seemed to be one of those things.
One you notice it and start thinking about it, you see it everywhere. Just as another example, a few years ago I used to watch debates with Christian Apologists. I had a particular interest in that at the time. I would watch people like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris debating with different people. I noticed that Sam Harris is now on some sort of black list of people because he’s an unrepentant atheist. But you can’t be unrepentant in debating anymore because people don’t like to be told that their beliefs are rubbish. It’s this running away from anything that upsets people’s feelings. People take their feelings to represent the truth. Whether the truth actually corresponds to their feelings or not.
I could go on about it for much longer, but these kind of themes are touched on in the lyrics without there even thinking of an album title like Endarkenment. It seemed to crop up a lot of different guises as I was looking out on the world. It seemed like it was an idea that sort of emerged from the world and through the lyrics as they built up, and it seemed to capture something about how the way the world has been going in the last few years, and it continues to go that way through the pandemic too.
Dead Rhetoric: I don’t want to go on too far with this either, but did want to mention that I’m a science teacher and I feel like I am pointing out that stuff all the time. I see it in all of the things that I am teaching kids with evolution and genetic advances, and it’s crazy that even in the last few years that such a divide has grown between facts and your feelings.
Hunt: Yeah, there you go then. I didn’t know you are a science teacher but it’s one of those things that it shows up again in all sorts of different areas. There’s a whole area – science education. Kind of proving me right, not that I want to be. But it is weird that you can see it in these different parts of life.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the lyrics. There’s a lot of notes that accompany the record, is this something that fans have been asking for given the depth that the lyrics often have?
Hunt: Yeah, it turns out that apparently there is an Anaal Nathrakh lyric research group, or something along those lines. I haven’t been exposed to it myself, but our live guitarist Dan told me about it. I have bumped into a few people who have had involvement with it. So there are people out there who are trying to figure out what’s going on. I don’t like the idea of spoon-feeding things to people. Part of the point is to try to say, “Here’s an interpretation about something. Think about it for yourself.” Not so you can impress me by tracking down a book that I’ve quoted something from, but so that you get something out of it, potentially.
I’m always quite careful to say that it’s something unnecessary in order to listen to one of our albums. You can just listen to it if you want to. But if you want to engage in it, I didn’t want to inundate people with the information available. But to have a few snippets of lyrics and at least a partial explanation of where some things are coming from, over the last couple of albums we’ve started to think that it wouldn’t hurt. We thought that people who were into that thing might enjoy it and maybe get something out of it. They might engage with it more than they might otherwise. So fuck it [laughs], let’s stick it in and see what happens. For the most part, when anyone has expressed any opinion that’s bad, they’ve still had an interest in it. Plus, you don’t have to read it, it’s just a way to engage with it. I think it’s been a good thing.
Dead Rhetoric: I went through and read it all myself, because “Why not?” Going along with the notes for “Punish Them” and the idea of ‘never read the comments,’ do you actually check out what people say about the band on social media and/or YouTube?
Hunt: Not much to be honest. The thing is, you are very unlikely to get anything that’s going to help you. Even if all the comments are positive, it’s still no good. If everyone tells you that you are great, you get some weird distortion – the same as if everyone told you that you were terrible. So I don’t think it’s conducive. Really the only thing you can do in our position is to do whatever is compelling yourself, and do it to the best of your ability. Then it’s on to everyone else in the world. I think reading the comments doesn’t’ really help with that. So I would sometimes read the comments about other stuff, but about us, I tend to ignore it.
I did sort of go against that to an extent, since we released a video not long ago. I was curious, just because the video was done under lockdown conditions and not what we would have ordinarily done but the world is what it is. So it became what it became. But I was curious how it turned out and I did read some comments for that and they were mostly positive, which was cool. One of the things I came across that was cool though, was someone did a fan art version of the cover and made a ‘family friendly’ version. So there’s this lovely rainbow logo and this picture of Peppa Pig with dicks coming out of the eyes [laughs]. That was rather wonderful, so I’m kind of glad I read the comments for that. But other than that, I don’t think it would help us.
When it comes to reading the comments on newspaper websites or things like that, fuck me you don’t want to do that. You are just going to be depressed and upset. I did it almost an experiment for that song and yeah, it lived down to every aspect of the experience that I anticipated really. But that’s people being people!
Dead Rhetoric: Anaal Nathrakh has been going for over 20 years at this point. As you get older, is it harder or easier to come up with visceral and aggressive material?
Hunt: I don’t think it’s harder or easier really. It’s always felt less like producing something and more like letting something out. It’s almost like there is a blast furnace and it’s a matter of opening the doors every once in a while and out comes an album. I imagine if you were faced with a metaphorically speaking, a blank page…or literally a blank page and going, “Right, I have to come up with something here,” I imagine working that way it would probably be more and more difficult to come up with things over time. Or maybe not, because a lot of this has to do with reacting to the state of the world. The world’s been kind of helpful in that respect [laughs] over the last few years.
But we don’t really experience those blank page moments. There’s always something buzzing in the backs of our minds anyway. It’s just a matter of hitting the right mood and it comes out on its own. So it’s less of an exercise and more of a state of being, if that makes sense.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you describe the relationship between yourself and Mick [Kenney] knowing that it’s been just the two of you, other than the live aspect?
Hunt: We are still the same as we ever were between the two of us really, maybe we are busier [laughs]. We have things we have to think about since we aren’t 18 anymore, but really we still relate to each other in the same basic way. The recording sessions we have, which are the principle times we get together, are still virtually the same as they always were. We might do things differently because we know how to do it better, but on an interpersonal basis, we are stable. We are who we are. I think if we were to start getting along with each other differently, that would have started 18 years ago. We know that we work well together and we get on well, so it’s pretty smooth usually.
Also, I think that one thing that hasn’t gone away is that we both appreciate the opportunity to work with each other. There are many people out there that we could work with. I don’t know anyone who could do music like Mick does. In terms of the way that it sounds, and his ability to turn a feeling into music like he does. He records people all the time, and works on projects with other people all the time, and he still values how I naturally come to it when we work together. That’s one thing that could have worn off in time, but we still have a degree of respect for the way we work together. So without wanting to fawn all over it [laughs], it’s a privilege to be able to work so well together. The fact that it’s still the same is very cool.
Dead Rhetoric: No band really sounds like Anaal Nathrakh. Do you owe this to not really listening to many of your peers or the spontaneous nature of the music itself?
Hunt: Both I imagine. Part of the reason that the music is spontaneous is because that’s what we try to do with it – it feels like the right way to do it. When you do that, you can’t plan how you want it to sound. I mean, it’s not improvised or that spontaneous – but if you aren’t overworking it there is a gut level that it doesn’t commit time to focus things in a given direction, more than just what feels right. Other than that, would it be impossible for another band to sound like us? I wouldn’t have thought so. Maybe no one wants to [laughs]!
As you were saying before with not reading the comments, I saw a couple of years ago someone had said that Anaal Nathrakh ‘lives up to the legends of someone in the genre, but it’s kind of derivative.’ I was like, “Of who? [laughs] I’ve never heard anyone who sounds exactly like we do!” But yeah, you’ve got to play to your own [sound]. I did an email interview earlier today and someone had asked what I would say to someone who is starting out. The obvious and immediate answer is to not ask me [laughs] because I’m not probably going to be able to help. The answer that I came to after I thought about it, was if you can imagine saying to yourself, ‘given that X exists, does the world really need this from me?’ If you can think of a valid value for X, then the answer is ‘no’ and stop.
There’s a lot of stuff that sounds like a lot of other stuff. I don’t hear a lot of new bands, all I can hear is who they sound like. But I think we’ve managed to avoid that quite well just by not paying attention whatsoever. Long may it continue [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel the band provides catharsis for you or listeners, despite the brutal nature of it?
Hunt: I can imagine that it would for a listener. I have used music in that way as a listener. Though it usually more extreme than us. I like to use it to clear my head when I couldn’t anymore. So I can see that aspect of it. Every now and then we get messages from people saying that the music helped them get through a rough place or things like that. That’s a very gratifying thing to hear. But from the point of view of making it, I’m not sure. I can see how it should seem like it would.
I was thinking the other day and a phrase came into my head that captures it quite well. “If you spend time swimming around in shit, you are unlikely to get clean.” I think that is how it feels. It’s a way of capturing some very negative emotions and thoughts without imploding, but at the same time, it confronts you with all of that – if you are engaging with it as thoroughly and genuinely as you can in order to make the music good. I think it rubs your nose in it at the same time. In balance, maybe it’s roughly neutral. So I can see where it might seem that way, but in the way I experience it, it’s a little from column A and column B.
Dead Rhetoric: We’ve been talking about a lot of negatives in the world. Is there a way we can work backwards on this and maybe become less negative or worse-off?
Hunt: Not really [laughs]! An Anaal Nathrakh isn’t probably the place to turn to in order to solve the world’s problems but I don’t feel as if the things that appear to me to be negative forces, like the things I’m trying to capture with the term Endarkenment – I don’t feel as if they are in some kind of balance with opposing forces. Where one has the upper hand or what have you. I kind of feel like they are dominating the world at the moment. Obviously there are those who disagree with stuff. There isn’t just one way.
But every time I think, or I found myself thinking in the past few years, that something was a new low and surely it couldn’t take another turn for the worse, it always has. Every single time it has. Right up to some of the stuff – there’s a tendency in living through these times that you feel like the frog in a pan of water that’s slowly heating up. You don’t necessarily get the sense of alarm, which maybe would be appropriate to respond to. You think that it’s kind of okay. The US is the US – I’m not even going to touch it [laughs]. That’s for you guys to worry about! Just in the UK and certain other places I’ve been and am aware of, the government tried to stop democracy from existing in the UK because it couldn’t get its own way. It only was reversed because they went to the Supreme Court and they were forced to do it. Real 1930s kind of stuff that is.
It’s not quite the 1930s and all of that entails, but it’s very hard when you see phenomena like that, at that level, to go “Well, yeah but in a few years someone else will be in charge at it will be fine.” I find it hard to believe there’s any hope in the short to medium term. But you can’t plan for what is going to happen next, or you’d be a rich man probably. I have no idea. But to me, the only valued hope is that something unexpected happens. I don’t really see that sources of hope have a chance at succeeding anytime soon.
Dead Rhetoric: Anything else is going on with the band in the near future, outside of the new album’s release?
Hunt: I wish [laughs]! I’ve seen all of our tour plans go away, just like everyone else. Benediction, which I used to sing for, I saw that they have some shows for early next year and some festival line-ups for next summer. I’m really not convinced that it’s a good idea to plan anything at the moment. Back in March/April, when it was looking really serious a lot of the summer stuff was going, ‘we’ll move to September.’ That would have turned out well, huh? Until things become clearer, I don’t think its possible to plan anything.
There are bits and pieces that you can do anyway. I can talk to people like you. But I might do that under normal circumstances. But I’ve been trying to do a bit more of that sort of thing. Doing a guest DJ spot on a radio station, and all that kind of stuff. The most obvious activity for this is to play shows and I just don’t see how it’s possible to plan at the moment. But apparently Russia has a vaccine they are testing very soon, and other places don’t want their vaccine – they want to develop their own. But they reckon it will be relatively soon. So maybe it’ll change in the near future so we can hope. There’s that word again. We can maybe hope that some of those promises will come to fruition. But for the time being, this is it.