Chasing extremity has long been a game of Sisyphean foolishness. There will always be someone who can take fast faster, slow slower, or mean meaner.

Even from the start, Anaal Nathrakh was an unorthodox proposition, with the band's lightspeed Mayhem riffs constantly corroding into industrial-mottled noise. Over the course of eight albums, however, the Birmingham duo has demonstrated that pure extremity was more a means than an end. Their albums have become gradually more accessible, even as they retain a razor-sharp malevolence and white-knuckle intensity.

On Desideratum, the band's first album for Metal Blade, Mick Kenney's riffs retain their peak second-wave fleetness and Dave Hunt's vocals still sound like boiling blood about to rupture a fleshy membrane. This is mostly standard for Anaal Nathrakh, of course, but on this album, rather than ossify into rote extremity, the songs are cut with more extraneous elements than ever, which lends Desideratum an unpredictable atmosphere.

Though Anaal Nathrakh remains black metal at its core, on Desideratum they make seamless digressions into the fret-mashing breakdowns of deathcore and the sprightly Meshuggah chug of djent. They also include elements of several harsher variants of electronic music, including the often-maligned dubstep and the blown-out beats of gabber. One occasionally imagines that if Venetian Snares's Aaron Funk made black metal, it might sound something like this.

As such, Desideratum is a gleeful gob of spit in the eye of defenders of black metal's purity, and all the better for it. However, as the initial system-shock of The Codex Necro has worn off over the course of the band's subsequent albums, Anaal Nathrakh's continuing success demonstrates an interesting paradox: after a certain point, even the most nihilistic, destructive sounds can become workmanlike and predictable.

For those already well-tuned to Anaal Nathrakh's frequencies, then, the changes on Desideratum amount to tinkering rather than reinvention. Notably, however, there are fewer "big" moments. On many of its preceding albums, the band had one song that stood out significantly: "Do Not Speak" from Domine Non Es Dignus, "Shatter the Empyrean" from Hell is Empty…, "Between Piss and Shit We Are Born" from Eschaton, and so on. Those songs are all thrilling, but in a way they often overshadowed the rest of their respective albums. On Desideratum, there are no such obvious standouts. As a result, the album may feel either feel disappointingly flat or satisfyingly even, depending on your hermeneutic bent.

In times as roiled with discontent as these, maybe the routine-ification of sounds as horrifying as Anaal Nathrakh's pandemonic incantations is an apt cipher. After all, if hell is indeed empty and all the devils are here, who better to bear witness to the banality of evil?

—Dan Lawrence



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