“An explosion of cum-glazed fists between filthy sheets, followed by loneliness and maybe a quick cry,” V.I.T.R.I.O.L of British Extreme Metal duo Anaal Nathrakh sarcastically responds. He was not impressed when asked to compare their new album ‘A New Kind of Horror’ to a Michael Bay-esque explosion, which is understandable.
“It’s difficult to describe them fully and accurately, because it’s a very powerful piece of work,” referring to the emotions evoked in the Wilfred Owen poem Dulce Et Decorum Est. “War poetry hasn’t been a general topic of interest for us, more like just a minor personal obsession with that poem because it so strongly and horrifically captures something of the experience that we both think was probably the closest thing to hell on earth. I first came across the Owen poem, as well as the Sassoon poem that inspired the last song on the album, when I was at school. We had some really strong material pushed under our noses at school. A lot of it has probably faded from memory in the intervening time, but Dulce et Decorum Est especially always stuck with me. That, and 1984, which has been an inspiration to both of us throughout. So much of Owen’s poem is just inspired – to describe the clumsy attempt to put a gas mask on, an attempt which will end in utter unimaginable horror if unsuccessful, as ‘an ecstasy,’ for example – that captures something for me that’s very difficult to pin down, but you know it when you see or feel it. Or the line ‘his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,’ I just don’t’ think there could be anything more emphatic than that poem. It’s an astonishing piece of work. And then to think that Owen was killed just a week before the war ended, well it seems like if there were a god, he was taking the piss.”
In the 100 years since World War I, he continues, “Almost everything about those people is the same as us today. It can sometimes seem that people in history are somehow separate from us, somehow other than we are. But really they weren’t, I don’t think, not in any way that matters. They could so easily have been us, and our world could so easily come to resemble theirs. I think that easier parallels are to be found with the 1930s perhaps, but if things came to a head, the closest parallel would be World War I – war of a kind never seen before, with destruction on a scale and of a kind never before imagined in the real world – that’s partly the meaning behind the title a new kind of horror. Some things never change, at least not in their essentials – the impulses which lead to war among them. Both the obvious and the weakly acting yet still contributory factors. But the precise configurations of power and force, and the technological means and their effects, there’s always something brand new in every case.”
With such a thorough understanding and opinion, I wanted to know what war accomplishes from his point of view. “Well, war certainly doesn’t accomplish an end to war, of that we can be certain. It does tend to accomplish great leaps in lethal technology – I doubt there’s anything so well researched and funded as the topic of how to make humans die in large numbers. And then of course, look at things like Operation Paperclip. I think it also makes some people hugely wealthy, both in terms of the supply of machinery and equipment, and the financing of campaigns, and also in the divvying up of the spoils among the victors. Plus war defines eras and punctuates history. You could think of it as the cicatrisation of human society, I suppose. To use the word accomplish for these things implies that they’re good, so I should make it explicit that I don’t mean to imply that. But whether good or ill, war certainly makes things happen.”
Other concepts of the album criticise apocalyptic thought. “The idea is that framing history as culminating in an apocalypse is imposing a teleological narrative on to time itself, and this is an egocentric thing to do. Kind of like the grown up version of the way that doomsday cults always seem to think that the world will end within their own lifetimes. In reality, there is only chaos, and nothing is leading up to anything because the universe doesn’t care about us or our desire for dramatic finishes. Even if we do destroy ourselves, the universe will carry on without even really noticing. Having said all that though, I do think that nihilism offers the potential for reinvention, the creation of new values as some might say. And so in that sense nihilism is almost paradoxically hopeful. But that’s not really the nihilism in Anaal Nathrakh – that’s a lot darker and more concerned with bitterness, a gleefully expectant, apocalyptic nihilism. It’s possible to despise the petty vanity inherent in apocalyptic thought whilst also anticipating an apocalypse, I think.”
I would have thought with all of these concepts and ideas that the band would want to impart ideas onto the listener, however he explains, “I have no opinion about what those ideas might be. We’re showing you things, painting figurative pictures. But it’s up to you what you see in them and how they make you feel. We’re not here to tell anyone what to think – we don’t like it if people try to tell us what to think, and we’ll return the courtesy by not doing so ourselves. That the listener thinks, that’s a cool thing as far as we’re concerned. But if the listener just listens to the sounds and doesn’t engage with the deeper ideas, that’s fine as well. We make albums, not manifestos.”
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