Anaal Nathrakh is quite special band. Combining elements of black metal, grindcore, death metal and even symphonic metal, they have gained a considerable amount of fans since its creation back in 1999.
Although they’re not known for giving a lot of interviews (probably due to lack of time instead of ideological reasons) I was lucky enough to meet with Dave after his outstanding performance at the Neurotic Deathfest.
While people outside of the metal community usually assume that we’re no more than a bunch of mumbling idiots who can hardly form a sentence (let’s remember Zappa’s phrase “”Rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read”)Dave surprises me by his deep philosophical ideas (after all, he’s doing a master’s in philosophy) as well as his diverse interests.
Dave and I sat down at a local Irish pub and started this interview that lasted for about 30 minutes. After the camera went off, we just continued the conversation.
Metal Blast: Despite its increasing popularity, the band is still somewhat “obscure”. How would you describe to those who aren’t familiar with Anaal Nathrakh?
Dave: Well, Mick and I have an idea in our heads that sounds… well, I don’t know how your microphone works but it sounds like [screams]. That’s it. That’s pretty much how we describe it.
We use bits from any kind of music or sound that we like. We don’t really like if it’s supposed to be this or that thing. It’s just music we like. Mostly, it’s extreme metal, but other than that, leave your expectation at the door and open your ears.
MB: “Anaal Nathrakh”, “The Serpent’s Breath”, comes from the movie “Excalibur”. Did you just like the sound of it, or was there a deeper meaning to it?
D: We just liked the way it sounded. The way we think about the name of the band is that it means nothing after it refers to the band. When you first encounter a word, you first think “Oh, what does that mean?”… but what is a Metallica? it’s irrelevant what the word actually means, because it refers to that band.
So, yeah, we took the name from that film we liked. There were things about that film, things involved with those words, that we liked; however, they’re not particularly important, it’s just a label.
MB: The band started as “Studio only”, but little by little started to play more gigs. Are you now open to do “proper” tours, or is it still something exceptional?
D: There seems to be this idea that we had an opinion of ourselves or an agenda. People would tell us “You were never going to play live, this was never going to happen!”
We never had an internal law against doing that, we simply didn’t do it because we didn’t think it was possible. We didn’t know that drummers could play that music, that was the most important thing.
Nowadays you have Necrophagist or with ridiculously fast drummers who can play everything. It’s fantastic to watch them, but when we were doing that we didn’t know any of those bands, so we didn’t think it was possible to do it. When we finally did do it with Nick Barker, the first thing he did after being in Dimmu Borgir was to play with us. Then we found Steve Powell, who played with us tonight, who’s stupid (in a good way) at blast; he’s one of the best blast-beat drummers I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know anyone who can play that fast with no triggers on the snare drums. Normally, anyone who plays that fast has triggers, but Steve plays the snare every time, from up to down a million times a second. When we found him we realized that we could do shows, so we’ve done a few tours and we’d be happy to do some more tours. We’ll see what happens.
MB: How do you choose the musicians you work with? Besides talent, of course.
D: Friends! That’s the most important thing. You can find people who can play any kind of music, that’s not difficult, but the most important thing, if you’re stuck in a small van for weeks, is that you’re able to be friends with one another. The only people we’ve only played with were people we already knew beforehand. If we’re ever in a position where we need to find someone we don’t know, then I want to talk to him first, to get to know who they are, I don’t care if they can play the song as much as care if they’re a decent human being and if I can have a conversation with them.
MB: Is V.I.T.R.I.O.L., your stage name, an actual acronym?
D: Yes, it means “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invennies Occultum Lapidem “ or, in English, “Journey to the center of the Earth and through purification you will find the hidden stone”. It was an old thing from alchemy, a medieval pursuit to turn lead into gold. It was a reference to philosopher’s stone (which was eventually found). I like this philosopher’s stone makes thing comprehensible, makes it possible to understand things. At the same time, in alchemy, Vitriol means sulfuric acid, which is a very corrosive type of acid. So I like the idea of something that in one way dissolves and destroys everything but, in another way, leads to understanding.
MB: “Excalibur”, Alchemy, The Philosopher’s Stone… are this type of topics your source of inspiration?
D: No, it’s usually more modern things. I don’t know if the word “concerned” is right… I’m interested in the way the world works; I’m interested in how human beings interact with one another, and I’m convinced (I could bore you for hours with this) that there are things going on in human society, that most people don’t understand are happening. The fact that we’re sitting here in a certain sort of place, where the chairs are made of one thing and the table is made of another… these things come from somewhere, they don’t spring into existence for fun. They come somewhere, and the reason why they come from that place, as opposed to a different place, the reason why we speak in one way, as opposed to another way … all of that stuff makes me thing that we don’t appreciate what the world is. We take the world from granted, we assume it works the way we think, but it doesn’t. Finding the cracks in this is what I’m most interested in.
I’ll give you an example… better yet, I’ll give you somewhere to look for those examples. I won’t tell you what you should think, only give you an idea. There’s a guy in Ljubljana, a professor of cultural studies called Slavoj Žižek. About three years ago I read a book by him called “Violence”… he writes in English, his English is probably better than mine and he’s a scarily smart man. He will show you the world in a toilet; there’s a thing on Youtube where he’s speaking about… well, you know when you sit down to take a shit there are different designs of toilets? In England it’s pretty much a whole, so you don’t see anything; in parts of Germany and Holland, there’s a “shelf” where you… deposit the shit and then water washes it off; then in other countries is something else, and so on and so forth. He will show you why that explains something about the character of a nation. I’m not necessarily saying he’s right, I just find it fascinating that he can draw conclusions from those things. Anyway, in that book “Violence”, what he wanted to explain or articulate was the fact that there’s a lot of violence in what we consider to be everyday life. He talks about forms of neocoloniamism, forms of everyday interactions like when you say “hello” to someone, since you’re already thinking whether they’re bigger than you, etc. You may not realize these things, but you are doing them. The tone of voice that you use when you say “hello” or the accent you have, also indicate something about your social standing. Žižek’s point was that there’s a lot more violence involved in human society than human believe exist. We sit here and, since nobody is punching anyone, there’s no violence; however, he will explain to you why actually there is violence.
Of course, this is not the whole idea, but all of it fits into what I said about how the world doesn’t work the way that you think it does.
This is just a general example, I don’t want to tell you what is what, I’d prefer if you go and read the book for yourself and see what you thought about it.
MB: Although you have these concerns about violence, you chose a rather “violent” form of music to express them, namely Brutal Death Metal. Why?
D: I can’t speak for Anaal Nathrakh as a whole, because we knew what we wanted to do before we came together. For me it’s because this is more truthful than anything else. It’s satisfying.
One of my favorite bands in the world is Whitehouse. It’s an English noise band. They wen’t from 1992 until 2009. One of the things they wanted to do was to point out things like child exploitation, the sexualization of children, for example. If you walk down the street you’ll see a lot of shops with small mannequins with clothes that they shouldn’t be wearing! They should be wearing, I don’t know, all –in-one suits so they can roll around in the mud and ride their bikes, because that’s what children should do… but no, that’s not what happens. You have people taking “artful” pictures of children, presenting them in a certain way. I’m not saying pedophilia is the entire point that I’m going on about; it’s just this idea that things are different. This was an idea that I’ve always had, I didn’t think that everything around us was the truth. I didn’t see why you should join in with what other people do. To an extent you should, because it makes your life easier, but I didn’t see why it was right or morally correct to do so. To me this is where extreme metal came in; In your head, you’re not allowed to be, but you’re also amazingly angry, walls are crushing down around you! Extreme metal was the thing that made that real, in an escapist way. So this is why I ended up liking extreme music.
MB: On a lighter note, while you chose V.I.T.R.I.O.L, Mick chose “Irrumator”, which means face-fucker. Why?
D: I found it and gave it to him! It’s because we thought that the idea of people trying to be famous was kind of irritating, so we used pseudonyms. No to join in with other people who had fake names or anything like that.
MB: Like Lordi?
D: Exactly; Or Gwar… Lordi are just a Gwar cover band.
I kind of understand the idea of being just pure theater, but what we wanted to remove ourselves from it. After a few years (we’ve been doing this for a while) since we’re not strange people, although we have a few strange thoughts, it became known amongst a lot of people who we were. After a while, Mick dropped the name, since everyone knew that it was Mick, so it was pointless to use the name.
The reason why we used the name at the beginning was to separate ourselves from the world a little bit. It was to say that what we do with music is not necessarily what we do every day; it’s rather something for you to look at as a piece of art (although I don’t like to use that term)… kind of like looking at a thing on the wall and seeing what you make of it. Don’t think about the guy standing next to you who might have done it, because that takes away part of the experience of looking at it. I don’t particularly want to meet Rembrandt, I just want to absorb his paintings; he may or may not have been boring.
MB: In “Passion” you worked with Mories, from Gnaw Their Tongues. Why did you choose him, and are you planning to work with him again?
D: We chose him because I love him! I think he’s brilliant. As you know, he is not only in Gnaw Their Tongues, but also in Cloak of Altering and De Magia Veterum… you know, lots of things. About a week ago I was sent the new Cloak of Altering album, which will be released in autumn or something like that, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard. I just like the idea of this somewhat obscure evocation of something that’s in the back of your head and not in the front of your mind. I like how “not obvious” is everything that he does.
A that time, I was listening to Gnaw Their Tongues quite a lot, and I thought “Who could we have in this album?… I know! I want him!” Just because he’s strange and unusual, and he has an idea of what sounds… well, not good but the opposite of good! He has an idea of what sounds awful.
MB: Are there any other artists that you’d like to work with?
D: There have been only two people who worked in a similar way, and with whom I wanted to work. One of them was Philip Best, from Whitehouse, but he is the only person who has ever said no to us. He was very busy, he got a PhD recently, he works a lot in consumer electronics… but at least he was nice enough to reply, which made me happy.
The other one was DJ Ghost, I don’t know if he still goes by that name, from G.G.F.H., Global Genocide Forget Heaven, which kind of works well with Anaal Nathrakh. I spoke with him a few years ago, and asked him if he’d like to work together on a track. He said yes, but we couldn’t do it at the time. We ran out of time, we had to give the album to the record label, so we couldn’t do it. Then, when we came to do another album, since he was missed DJ Ghost the last time, we were going to get him. We looked him up on the internet, but he had sold all of his equipment and didn’t want to do music anymore.
Other than that, I don’t know anyone who would fit into that bracket. I wish I did, but I just don’t know that much about that kind of music. I know bits I like, but that’s all.
MB: It’s been one year since the release of “Passion”. Looking back, does it represent everything you wanted, or do you think that some things could have been different?
D: I think it represents everything we wanted to do with that, it doesn’t necessarily represent everything we are. At that time, it was perfect.
I tend to think that if you record an album and you’re not happy with it, then you haven’t finished. Don’t stop yet. Keep working until you are happy with it! I think that if you release a new album it should always be, in your mind, not necessarily objectively, the best thing you’ve ever done. Otherwise you haven’t finished.
For us, at that time, “Passion” was exactly what we wanted it to be. Now we might want to do something else.
MB: Would you say that you are demanding and thorough when it comes to your own music?
D: Yeah. We are our own sternest critics. Apart from the whole thing of the internet. Now you get people sitting in their bedrooms, just in their pants, saying “that’s shit, that’s shit, that’s shit”. Of course, you will never satisfy everyone.
I am a fan of our band, I don’t think it’s embarrassing to say it. It’s one of my favorite bands! It would be strange if that wasn’t the case. From that point of view, I was happy with what we did, so if somebody else wasn’t I consider that their problem, as opposed to us not having done the right thing. I think that this is the only way to approach music.
MB: Are you already working on new material?
D: We already recorded a new album. It’s done! We finished it about three days ago. The title for the album is probably going to be “Vanitas” (latin for “vanity”). I don’t think I’ve told this to anyone else.
MB: Good! We have an exclusive!
D: It might be called something else, but it’s already finished. I went over to California, where Mick lives, in September or October last year, and did all the vocals. We’ve been mixing it ever since. Now it’s finished. It’s done!
The album, however, won’t come out for a long time, because of the record companies. We give it to the record companies, saying “here’s our new thing, we think it’s great! Get excited!”. Then they say “wait… your last album just came out in July”. We say “We don’t care! We have a new album!”… and they say “… your album only came out in July”.
Candlelight Records, if we stay with them, was talking about putting in out around September, something like that. If we go to another label it might be released sooner, but it will probably be around that time.
MB: Any final words for your fans?
D: Think for yourselves. Don’t believe anything I’ve told you or anything that others tell you. Think for yourselves.
The only thing I will ever try to do, if you listen to us or if you listen to me, is to point you towards something that might make you able to think in a new way. Other than that, don’t ever listen to anyone that tells you what to think. Make your own mind up!
(After this interview, I went back to the venue to interview Gorguts. Dave and I were going to continue talking at the pub when I got back. However, once I returned, he was gone…
You hurt me Dave, You hurt me!)
Thumbnail Photo: Jonas Rogowski