2020 has been chaotic. In addition to (as well as fueled by) the pandemic, financial and political crises have arisen around the world. The resulting uncertainty has given way to a concerning rise in conspiracy theories, extremism, and violence; at the same time, governments have used the cover of this chaos to expand their powers and violate civil liberties. Since moments like these are often fertile ground for authoritarianism and totalitarianism to arise, it is no surprise that Anaal Nathrakh have decided to sound the alarm, in the form of their new album, Endarkenment.
The Enlightenment refers to the period of time in the 17th and 18th centuries where the Western World started to develop its modern conception of society. The modern idea that the state exists to serve its citizens, and not the other way around, as well as values such as freedom of speech, secularism, and even the scientific method, can all be traced back to this era. And while it’s undeniable that these values have not always been respected (totalitarian system such as Nazism, Fascism, Marxism, as well as theocratic system, all go against enlightenment values) we still see them as essential for a healthy society. That’s where the concepts behind Endarknment come into play, criticizing the increase of populist appeals that go against the enlightenment values that we have so far embraced.
As if to eliminate all doubts as to what this is about, Anaal Nathrakh went ahead and even recorded a video for the title track, borrowing several elements from Orwell‘s Animal Farm (about the Stalinist USSR) as well as openly mocking Donald Trump’s bizarre handling of the media and the COVID19 pandemic. Similarly overt political references appear in songs like “Thus, Always, To Tyrants” (with a disparaging remark against Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s crypto-fascist president) and “Feeding the Death Machine” (about the bureaucracy of the holocaust). As usual, the band doesn’t mince words when it comes to unleashing their rage, and they’re not exactly shy about singling out their targets. What makes this rage is interesting, however, is that it’s unleashed in a very different way from what you normally get in heavy metal. It’s violent chaos, sure, and the screams and shrieks are as eerie as they can get it, but the words don’t seem full of the kind of braggadocio that accompanied the anger of bands like Pantera, for example. While there’s definitely a defiance towards injustice, the defiance sounds more like a matter of principle, and not so much like they actually think they are going to win. There’s a certain nihilism to Anaal Nathrakh‘s music (both lyrically as well as musically) and I think that’s what really makes them resonate with me.
As far as the music goes, the album is probably one of Anaal Nathrak‘s best. The power and rage is evident in the music, which hits you at full speed from the very beginning of the album, all the way to the end of “Requiem”, the last track (and which, aptly, incorporates sections of Verdi‘s “Dies Irae”). Although an album that is constantly going at full speed might sound a bit exhausting, if not downright tedious, they’ve made sure to keep things varied. While songs like “Beyond Words” and “Thus, Always, To Tyrants” are more in line with the all-out extreme sound of classic songs like “Forward!”, and will appeal to those who want their music to hit them like a sledgehammer, songs like “Libidinous” almost have a melodic death metal feel to them, with Dave Hunt‘s vocals going from shrieking to (relatively) clean, in a much more “musical” (i.e. less cacophonous) way than usual. This is not to say that the album is any softer than anything they’ve released before. It’s just that the band has learned to channel their rage in a much more targeted and effective way.
Endarkenment is one of the best albums that I’ve listened to this year, and it has been great to see Anaal Nathrakh come back with such a great release. While music alone is worth the prize of admission, the lyrical content is interesting enough to warrant a spin of its own. Give Endarkenment a chance and, while you’re at it, read some Orwell.