If there are any bands out there that I can safely claim to have a major allegiance to, it would certainly be England’s Anaal Nathrakh. Maybe it’s because their magic blend of black metal, industrialized noise, grindcore, and even some power metal elements strikes a nerve with me like few other bands do. Or perhaps it’s because, whenever you hear people talk ill about any type of metal (kill your mother, rape your dog, etc.), chances are the music that Anaal Nathrakh spawns are the exact sounds these people actively imagine in their heads. Whatever it is, the duo has been on a tear since their face-shredding debut, 2001’s The Codex Necro. But after 2009’s unfuckwithable In The Constellation of the Black Widow, it felt like the band was just slightly retooling their formula. So I approached The Whole of the Law with some major trepidation.
And for the first few listens, I wasn’t feeling it. The trademark buzzsaw guitars, nonsensical shrieking, and everything being cranked up to 15 sound-wise perpetuated a migraine more than anything else. I worried that, like the last three albums prior (especially 2014’s Desideratum, an album I initially loved but have since only spun tracks here and there), that they’ve run out of ideas, spun their wheels into the ground so deep that any change brought forth by Mick Kenney or Dave Hunt would end up being forced or, worse yet, a betrayal. Thankfully, after much perseverance, two weeks of listening, and a quiet location, The Whole of the Law won me over. Yes, you read that correctly; an Anaal Nathrakh album that’s a grower. Hell truly is empty, folks!
What Desideratum, and its older siblings Passion and Vanitas, lacked that Constellation had in spades was successful layering of riffs. Whereas the last three traveled a more streamlined path, Whole screams “fuck it” and decimates your eardrums with riff after goddamned riff. Kenney eschewed the metalcore-ish leanings entirely to bring back the bleak-but-melodic landscapes he painted effortlessly on Constellation. As such, Whole features some of the strongest songs Kenney has penned to date. The all-out savagery on “We Will Fucking Kill You” meshes well with Hunt’s growls and maniacal shrieks. Kenney’s solos have also improved immeasurably, with his leads on “…So We Can Die Happy” and proper closer “Of Horror, and the Black Shawls” flying beautifully over the chaos like some sort of diseased archangel, surveying the decimation below. In other words, Kenney lit an inferno underneath himself and channeled Armageddon while doing so.
And Hunt? His sky-shredding shrieks, troubled guttural howls, and mad-prophet-with-Hell-in-his-eyes clean vocals improved significantly as well. His multi-layered chorus on album highlight “On Being a Slave” echoes back to the epic feel of “More of Fire Than Blood” while simultaneously throwing it into more depraved depths than ever imagined. “We Will Fucking Kill You” matches Cattle Decapitation in throwing a “harmonized” growl/scream chorus that’s both dirty and fucking awesome. And to further throw a wrench in the gears, “Extravaganza!” features Hunt doing a King Diamond-esque falsetto! The jury’s still out on that one, but it showcases Hunt’s versatility, and cements him as one of the best vocalists in metal today.
What the jury is not out on, however, is the severe sticking point of Whole, and I’m firmly aware that I could be a vocal minority on this. The “everything to 15” mixing job has got to go. Even at low volumes, Whole induced more migraines for me than any other AN album to date. I get that the need for distortion in your music to portray a certain sound and feel is necessary, but this album is so damn strong that the production and mixing job became major setbacks instead of assets. Also unnecessary are the two covers included. Their version of The Specials‘ classic “Man at C&A,” while an interesting interpretation, felt largely out-of-place, while their tremolo-heavy retake of Iron Maiden‘s “Powerslave” sounds muddled and less unhinged than we expect from AN. At least it showed that, if Bruce Dickinson were to leave Maiden again, Hunt would work in a pinch.
Anaal Nathrakh steered their ship back to crazier, bleaker waters just in the nick of time. While not as immediate as their last three albums, The Whole of the Law feels more like the direct descendant of Constellation, and in some ways even surpasses it. Hands down, The Whole of the Law is Anaal Nathrakh‘s strongest effort this decade. To quote Hunt in “Hold Your Children Close and Pray for Oblivion,” “This is what you wanted. This is what you need.”