2018 marks an anniversary year of sorts. On November 11th, it will mark one hundred years since the end of World War I, a war that was supposed to end all wars, but instead introduced trench warfare1 and chemical weaponry, forever changing the landscape of combat to this day. To give attention to this, British duo Anaal Nathrakh, themselves celebrating twenty years as a band this year, crafted an album that gives respectful tribute to the writings, poetry, and the sheer terror that World War I brought to those who survived to tell it. A New Kind of Horror aims to capture that feeling of hopelessness and frightening awe that accompanied one of the most horrific wars in history.
In a couple of songs, they succeed. “New Bethlehem/Mass Death Futures” holds up a mirror, reflecting our modern leaders and their fascination of war as a profit generator, and features some of Dave Hunt’s best vocal performances to date, throwing out growls, screeches, operatic singing, and a surprisingly strong falsetto, as well as some inspired riffing and tremolo melodies by cohort Mick Kenney. “Obscene as Cancer” (and its terrifying video) paints an abysmal picture of combat in the trenches, lyrically taking clues from Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” and features one of the catchiest choruses Anaal Nathrakh has penned yet, with Hunt once again threatening to tear the sky asunder with just his vocal cords. On the strength of those two songs, A New Kind of Horror looks poised to stand amongst the top of Anaal Nathrakh‘s respectable catalog.
But there are other songs on here, and they pull things down considerably. We’ve all borne witness to the Skrillex-gone-deathcore direction of lead-off single, “Forward!,” and while it fits in within the overall theme of the album, it’s still far from a good song, and it outlines A New Kind of Horror‘s biggest problem. Plainly put, this is the most stripped-down Anaal Nathrakh has ever sounded, and that works so hard against the band’s favor. At their best, Anaal Nathrakh layered waves of melody beneath their brutal surface, adding depth to their music. With the exception of the two aforementioned tracks,2 those layers are greatly missing, leaving behind songs that are conceptually and lyrically rich but are also alarmingly thin musically.
For example, later in the album, “The Horrid Strife,” while containing a good groove, does little with it over the course of its three minutes. “Vi Coactus,” featuring singing by Bleeding Through‘s Brandan Schieppati, feels like stock Nathrakh-by-numbers. In fact, opening intro “The Road To…” also feels like a copy-and-paste job of prior openings but with added gunfire. By the time the hokey “Are We Fit For Glory Yet? (The War To End Nothing)” trips over the finish line, with a clean vocal part that is meant to reflect the glory of the war songs of old but instead comes across as one of the cheesiest vocal performances I’ve heard in a long time, I’m left feeling both dismayed and disappointed by how safe this sounds. Gone are the senses of majesty and insanity, and in their collective place stands a complacent, formulaic album that doesn’t surprise at all, and barely even captivates.
And you have no idea how much that hurts to write. If there was ever a band that provided the soundtrack to the frustrations, disappointments, and triumphs in my life, Anaal Nathrakh would be it. Eschaton and In the Constellation of the Black Widow are nigh-unfuckwithable slabs of pure nihilistic-yet-all-too-human rage at the world around us and got me through some rough patches in my life in the process. Hell, even 2016’s awesome The Whole of the Law saw the duo dig deep and return to inspired, majestic form after a three-album deathcore dalliance. A New Kind of Horror, however, sees the duo slip back into a comfortable rut, and “comfortable” is the absolute last thing I want from Anaal Nathrakh.
- Technically trench warfare got its start in the final years of the American Civil War, though it was taken to grand new heights of awfulness in World War I. – Steel ↩
- And even then, they don’t quite reach the same lofty, majestic highs that songs like “More of Fire Than Blood” or “Between Shit and Piss We Are Born” so elegantly (and viscerally) attained. ↩