The Codex Necro
When Fire Rains Down From The Sky, Mankind Will Reap As It Has Sown
Regular readers of this site know I value sonic aggression higher than most folks. Harder faster louder more – that’s my credo; always has been. Well, Anaal Nathrakh’s The Codex Necro is one of the nastiest albums in the history of metal. For sheer noise value, it feeds everything else I’ve ever heard in the black metal genre into a shredder, cackling and vomiting as the shards of lesser CDs split and crunch. Originally released on the tiny Mordgrimm label in 2000, it’s now received its first U.S. issue on Earache, accompanied by the equally import-only When Fire Rains Down From The Sky, Mankind Will Reap As It Has Sown EP from 2002. Both are justified by the addition of extra tracks – four from a 2003 Peel Session on Codex, three from the BBC Rock Show circa 2005 on Fire.
It’s hard to do Anaal Nathrakh justice with words on paper, or on a screen. In every genre, there are only a few acts that genuinely live up to the rhetoric. Lots of black metal acts stamp their feet, brandish their swords, paint their faces up, and insist they’re the evilest thing that’s ever been. And a few come close to being genuinely frightening. On their second album Terror Propaganda, Sweden’s Craft seemed really onto something, their guitars buzzing and crackling like an endlessly frying circuit, the vocals an unhinged, lupine howl. Denmark’s Nortt goes in the opposite direction, conjuring a pervasive melancholy with ultra-reverbed, liquid piano atop the usual hiss and fuzz. But the two Brits in Anaal Nathrakh (great name, by the way) have chosen a path all their own. First of all, no face paint. Finally revealed inside the booklet of their latest release, Domine Non Es Dignus (Season Of Mist), they look like nerds – the vocalist in particular seems likely to turn into Robert Fripp when he grows up. No photos of misty forests or distant castles, either. Like the music, the artwork is sheer nastiness, images that wouldn’t be out of place in Hostel or Wolf Creek or another of the recent mini-wave of “torture porn” movies. But again, the music justifies the packaging.
The Codex Necro is an astonishingly well-mixed record, considering that the primary goal seems to be coming up with the most fucked sound imaginable, then pushing it through an array of distortion devices you’d need eight legs to operate in a live context. The vocalist shrieks like a malfunctioning subway PA. The drums are programmed, set for Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Ministry-style machine-gunning of the eardrums. There’s guitar, but again, it’s so distorted it could be a keyboard, or a belt-sander, or pretty much anything at all. There are probably synths, too. Layers upon layers of sound, all roaring and pushed right to the brink of red, without ever toppling over into mere noise. Though comparisons to Merzbow wouldn’t entirely be out of order, because like Akita, these two guys know exactly what they’re doing. They’re in exquisite control of their seemingly self-destructing machinery at all times.
I must admit, though, that Codex is, to date, a singular achievement. The album’s sheer sonic density and ferocity are not equaled on the six-song Fire EP (though there are some impressively abusive moments), or on the recent Domine. In fact, Domine represents a retreat of sorts, as songs like “The Oblivion Gene” feature nearly intelligible, human-sounding vocals and guitars that sound like guitars. Disappointing, to say the least. The live-on-radio tracks are just okay, too - despite the presence of Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury, they can't quite capture the blind hatred and world-destroying washes of distortion that are the hallmarks of the duo's studio output. Fans of extreme noise terror can only wait and hope that the Nathrakh boys recover their inhumanity, crawling back into whatever dank and unlit basement spawned their debut, for the recording of their next opus.
(Cross-posted at Bagatellen.com.)