Anaal Nathrakh are, and always have been, one of black metal’s most violent and yet aurally interesting bands. With equal parts aggression and vast, fucking epic parts, the duo of Mick Kenny and Dave Hunt have pushed their music into darker and darker corners, and nowhere is that more evident than on Desideratum. I went in search of the source of the hatred fountain.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. First off, what is the most direct inspiration on your new record Desideratum?
The most direct inspiration? I confess I’m not entirely sure what that means. The desire to make an album of new music. The inspiration is to use the new musical ideas to make something that sounds ace, and to lance the mind pustules that built up since the last album. Our music can be complicated, but in terms of intent it’s quite simple – a rush, an atmosphere, a feeling. That’s our inspiration. All the bollocks I’ll probably come out with over the next few minutes is part of that, yeah, but the core thing that we’re about is making music with impact.
Anaal Nathrakh seem to have a very direct message of annihilation and nihilism. What makes that so relevant in today’s society?
I’d argue that our message is anything but direct, since we’re not actually trying to convey a message. Most music is like that, it has implicit values a lot of the time, but it’s not about specific statements. But yeah, annihilation and nihilism are important parts of our general aesthetic and sentiments. What makes them relevant? I’m not sure they are relevant to society. It’s more that I see them as inherent to or entailed by society, and they, along with things like rage, sum up a reaction to society.
I see nihilism everywhere, certainly most mainstream culture seems nihilistic to me, because of its commoditisation of everything for ultimately pointless gains. When something that seems like it should be genuine expression is co-opted for cynically manipulative reasons, that seems pretty nihilistic to me. Butterflies caught, killed and kept in a case held down by pins, and the reason has nothing to do with butterflies, only with what they can fetch as a niche product. A fascination with eschatological ideas and stuff like the anti-natalism in Schopenhauer just seems natural to me. I suppose in some ways it’s born out of a minor obsession with mortality, and that’s a pretty basic human thing. Really that’s all a pointlessly wordy way of saying that I think they’re themes relevant to being alive full stop.
To me you’re like the bearers of the end-time message. Are we as a race more likely to go out in a cataclysmic event or simply fade out into nothingness and obscurity as a species?
I used to think it’d be a distinct group of catastrophic events – a nuclear war or something like that. Nowadays I’m more inclined to think the species will endure through a form of internalised slavery. That is, we will essentially be slaves, but we’ll think that the way society works is right, and that we’re not enslaved. There are various things along those lines already in place, dogmatic support of capitalism, acceptance of society being in a permanent state of conflict with an ‘other’, the subdivision of populations into visible mutually antipathetic groups by less visible impersonal manipulators and so on. The literature most likely to reflect the way things will be isn’t footage of nuclear tests, it’s 1984 or something like a less naive Hunger Games. Only it won’t actually look like that. It’ll look like something much more normal.
The majority of your work is very highly acclaimed, is that satisfying or do you always feel there is more to achieve, more to improve between records?
If our stuff is well regarded then of course that’s gratifying, and we appreciate people’s enthusiasm. But we have never set out to generate acclaim, we’ve only ever been interested in making music that we think is brilliant. Surely that’s what all bands should be doing? To be honest, if you’re doing anything for the reaction of other people rather than because you feel it’s worthwhile in itself, I think you’re doing something wrong. I saw an interview with Pete Steele years ago. When asked what music meant to him, he said something like ‘a logical progression of tones intended to elicit a positive response from a listener’. Basically, he had no interest in it himself, it was a vehicle. Now I’m not saying that’s what he really thought deep down, in fact it seems very unlikely, but even if he just thought that at the time, how awful that sounds compared to the passionate involvement in music that other people have.
So yes, there is always more to achieve, but it has nothing to do with being on magazine covers or getting another album of the month or anything like that. It’s a better expression of what was there, imperfectly articulated, all along, or the expression of new things. If you can do that, then yes, the more superficial stuff could well follow, but it’s the task itself which is the point.
Desideratum is your eighth record, has there been any kind of link running through all the records or are they all standalone pieces?
I suppose you could link them by saying they all embody the same creative voice, or some try-hard bollocks like that, but apart from the fact that they’re all us, no, there’s no intentional link.
You’re a very productive band, what with 8 records in 13 years. Do you have a particularly work ethic that inspires such quick turnaround between records?
The Beatles released ten or more albums in five years, most of which went to number one and changed the world of popular music. I don’t think eight in thirteen years is all that much, it’s just that most other bands like us release less. We just record when we feel ready to record. No schedule, very little planning, just instinct.
You’ve used a number of samples throughout your career, is there anything you’ve really wanted to use on a track but not been able to? Do you have anybody you’d really like to record a spoken word intro or the like for you?
I’d absolutely love to have Philip Best do something like that. Or even better, have him write it and Joss Ackland read it out. He has one of the most amazing voices I know of. It’d certainly be striking, having a screed of fury and tales of dirty little secrets and self misrepresentation read out in that gravelly, expressive voice. Other than that, nothing leaps irrepressibly to mind. What we would like to do is some sort-of-cover versions of some unpredictable songs. By which I mean change them quite a bit but keep some of the spirit of the originals. Whether we’ll actually do any of them is another matter, we’ll have to see. But it would be cool to try.
An element of your music that I’ve always been fond of is the vast, clean vocals that seem to increase the scope of your lyrics and message simply with their grandeur and presence. In such a musical community where the addition of such elements could be considered ‘selling out’, was that a consideration when adding it to your sound?
No, it wasn’t a consideration in the slightest. We do what we do in order to try to make the best stuff we can. If some self appointed taste tsar considers something we decide to be impermissible, the only thing we’d feel is irritated. Certainly not that we shouldn’t do it. Quite the opposite, in fact. We use those vocals because we like them and think they fit with the feeling we’re trying to create – just like every single other thing we use.
Is there a record in your discography that you’re particularly proud of?
Desideratum. It might be a cliché, but if you’re not enthused by your own most recent stuff, you didn’t work hard enough on it.
Finally, what does the future hold for you guys, are we likely to see another album in the next year or is it likely to be more touring instead?
Within the next year? Possibly, but probably not. But we have already started talking internally about the next one, so it might not be much longer than a year away. We agreed on the working title earlier today, in fact. Touring isn’t necessarily instead of writing, but we are playing a fair number of shows this year. I always fail to keep track of what’s announced and what isn’t, so I can’t give you a list or anything – promoters can get awfully upset if you say you’re playing a show before they’re ready to say so themselves. But there’s quite a few happening one way or another!
Thanks for your time, if you have anything else you’d like to add, feel free!
Go and watch the film Network.
Interviewed by: Sandy Williamson