Record Swap: Anaal Nathrakh vs. Wülfhook
Heresy vs. melody. Grimy industrial black vs. power metal attack. The whole of the law vs. a wolf with a spear-saw.
Boss the Ross’ assignment:
Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of The Law (2016)
When I first brought up the idea of a Record Swap with Cybernetic Organism, I really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Was I going to get the deepest, dankest, darkest ambient project? Or would I be mechanically altered by the industrial metal machine? Turns out it was the latter, the album assignment: Anaal Nathrakh‘s latest offering The Whole of the Law. I had only heard the band’s name in passing, so their music was brand new to me and I was ready for anything, my account is as follows.
I stab play and I am greeted by maniacal laughter on a very eerie introduction track. Oh boy, this will be loads of fun! After the intro track is over is when the real horror begins, though. Evil operatic chorus samples intermix with the most ferocious, most anguished scream I have heard this year. Oh, and did I mention blast beats? Not your normal kind either they are superhuman speed, machine gun bass drum blasts that drill straight through my skull. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll make it out alive. I have a banshee’s wail ringing in my brain and a drill in both ears, but then something amazing happens. At the 00:57 mark on “Depravity Favors The Bold” an eloquent and melodic lead sits ever-so-lightly atop a slowed down drum beat. What is this magic? That doesn’t last too long however as I am then again pummeled into the dirt, yet again, by this industrial machine of a band. Luckily enough for me, salvation reaches out to me at 2 minutes and rescues my physical form from total death. The vocals are simply a god send. I can make it through the rest of this, no problem.
“Hold Your Children Close and Pray For Oblivion” starts and the band really starts to click with me. I haven’t listened to much industrial metal for a long time and even then I usually just jam entry-level bands like Ministry and Fear Factory, Anaal is a whole other beast though. The way they can bounce back and forth between complete chaos and melody is an exceptional feat! What is most impressive though, is how fluid their transitions are. Nothing seems abrupt, as there is always a well planned segue into each movement. The chorus of “Hold Your Children” is one of the album’s best examples of this technique and remains a favorite moment for me. As I start the next track, “We Will Fucking Kill You”, I am beginning to fully embrace the band’s message of hate, but this is when I start to notice the guitar tone. It was always there, but not quite at the forefront as heard here. It is just a little too “same” as I have heard on other albums. Now, this is completely personal preference, I just prefer my industrial metal riffs to sound like Demanufacture and not Genexus. The higher riffs sound fine to my ears, but the low ones just irk me ever so slightly. Perhaps this comes with the territory of extended range guitars, maybe it’s what they wanted them to sound like, just not my cup of tea. On the contrary, the solo from the same song is to die for! The tone and execution are blissful.
The next three songs are good examples of the continuous style Anaal Nathrakh developed with the beginning of this album and it is not until “Extravaganza!” that anything really changes. And boy does it change! We’re introduced with a fairly standard riff and guttural vocals but at the 00:54 mark Anaal Nathrakh’s vocalist goes above and beyond his duty to perform a chorus laden with an anguished, otherworldly falsetto performance. The best way I can describe this sound would be to quote President Waynecro from a discussion we had regarding this album when he stated “It sounds like King Diamond trying to escape from a box or something.” Initially, he meant that to be a negative statement, but due to my personal taste I can spin this positive. I was already astonished with the vocalist, but “Extravaganza!” blew my mind into tiny bits. And what does the band decide to do with those tiny bits? They stomp on them, mash them into a goo and leave me there to think about what I’ve done while they continue their tirade on humanity. “On Being A Slave” is possibly the strongest song on the album, it brings together the band’s defining elements of melody and pure chaos in a near 6 minute melting pot of awesomeness.
The album ends with two more bangers that keep up the energy as heard throughout this entire album. I’m quite amazed at how this album plays out and sounds during repeated listens. It took me a few tries to make it all the way through in one sitting, mainly due to time constraints, but once I did there was no turning back. The Whole of the Law is, hands down, an extraordinary album. Except for a few minor technical qualms I had with it, I can’t find any dealbreakers on this album and have enjoyed this experience thoroughly. Thanks Cybro giving me the opportunity to dissect this monstrous beast known as Anaal Nathrakh.
And the “Powerslave” cover tacked on as a bonus track? I dig it. –Ross T. Boss
Wülfhook – The Impaler (2015)
So typically in situations like this where a friend or colleague recommends a genre of music I usually avoid, I’ll always look for something about it to appreciate. Maybe there’s a a favorite film sample that opens the album, a killer bass tone I’ll try to emulate, or hey maybe the lyrics manage to connect with me on a deeply personal level (unlikely). Case in point: Boss’ recommendation of Wulfhook’s The Impaler. I had no idea what to expect. The cover art with its severed heads and pale purple looks like OSDM or tech-death, but no, this is fiery full-blooded POWER METAL.
Now it’s been a long while since I’ve non-ironically listened to power metal, so just for a reality check after I gave The Impaler a couple listens I shared the album with some friends who have listening tastes similar to mine. Our opinions were surprisingly on-target: on their own, Wulfhook’s riffs & musicianship are a blast. This is old-school heavy metal with classic galloping riffs, long stretches of double bass and timeless twin guitar melodies that everyone has liked, even juuust a little bit, at some point in their listening lifetime. The band has enough versatility and variety in their compositions that all the expected album highlights are present – a solid title track, mid-paced headbangers, a “dark” song or two and an album-closing cover of Van Halen‘s Atomic Punk. The album’s overall versatility is such that if you tweaked the production and tones in the right ways, say, by adding an HM-2, you could easily turn this into a Swedish melodeath album and hardly miss a beat. Let’s get a bit more into it.
Tracks like “Through The Darkness” and “Bridge Burner” make me yearn for a battle vest, a bonfire on a cold autumn night and an endless supply of cheap beer to facilitate hours of no-fucks-given headbanging. Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate influence shines through strongly in these riffs. “Samara’s Well” is a bit silly since The Ring came out over a decade ago (you missed the boat, dudes). “Eternal,” a fast-paced galloper and “Sacrifice,” a darker dirge are my favorites – both are very different songs in tempo and feel, but pairing them together makes for an effective latter half of the album. “Devil’s Harlot” has classic metal written all over it, with precise triplets driving the main verse like a well-oiled engine. None of these tracks will blow your mind with groundbreaking musical innovation, but they don’t need to – they simply need to invoke a specific time, place and attitude, which they do extremely well.
The big problem for me, however, lies in the vocals. Good lord, the vocals. I’ve never liked the soaring power metal falsetto, and this guy unfortunately uses it in extreme, off-putting excess. Credit: he can really nail those high notes. Criticism: he shouldn’t be doing it for every goddamned line of lyrics. With his vocal vibrato wavering like an unbalanced crab boat on a stormy Arctic sea, time after time and song after song there are points where his “AAAaaaAAAaaaAAAHHHH!” crescendo is purely filling up as much audio space as possible. And then in the very next line he’ll hit you again “AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!” with an even higher harmony behind it, sometimes not even singing a lyric, but just falsettoing as hard as possible. OH MY GOD FUCKING STOP ALREADY, SWEET HOLY SHIT I GET IT. Not every vowel needs to be an audition, dude. You’re taking away from the fun and memorability of each song with your extended edition vowel-howling.
To sum up: I actually found myself enjoying Wulfhook the band, but not Wulfhook the singer. Power and/or classic metal fans should find a lot to like here, and fans of heavier stuff may even enjoy it too if they can get past the vocal showboating (I couldn’t). Regardless, thanks to Boss T. Ross for the recommendation and playing along with the filth I sent him. –CyBro