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'The Codex Necro' is the first full length album by UK black metal outfit Anaal Nathrakh, namely Mick Kenney aka 'Irruminator', responsible for all instruments, programming, production and artwork, and Dave Hunt aka 'Vitrol', responsible for violent tortured screams.
To talk about this album I first need to mention 1997 film 'Event Horizon', starring Sam Neill and Lawrence Fishburne, which reconciles modern sci-fi with the Hieronymous Bosche-styled Hell of old. A salvage crew are sent to investigate an experimental craft called the 'Event Horizon' which was designed to create a black hole to bend space and time but ended up disappearing along with its crew on its maiden voyage, only to mysteriously re-emerge several years later. The Event Horizon has been journeying beyond the known boundaries of the universe and when it returns it brings back with it something unspeakably evil. The ships log appears to show the crew going insane and brutally murdering each other, gauging out each others eyes and tearing out tongues, the sightless captain leaving a chilling message in Latin for any who should find them- "Liberate te ex inferis": Save yourself from Hell.
The film is basically Hellraiser in space, and is an unremittingly grim sci-fi horror of the highest order. Throughout the film there are subliminal flashes of the horrific acts that the Event Horizon crew endured- imperceptibly quick images of hands being rammed down throats, swarming piles of maggots, festering wounds, hideous impalements and contorted faces slick with blood. I mention this only because Irruminator once stated in a magazine interview that he went through a period of seeing these images whenever he closed his eyes. True or not, this aptly sums up the Codex Necro, which is essentially a concept album based on Event Horizon.
Everything about the album reflects the film, right down to the artwork, which features shrieking, struggling figures clawing at their throats as slick tendrils from a source unseen coil around and asphyxiate them. The music itself is essentially furious black metal interspersed with doomier sections, and accompanied by multi-layered, fuzzy, agonised screams of pain. Whilst im not normally a fan of drum machines, Anaal Nathrakh have always seemed to get away with it, their sound benefitting from cold, clinically accurate and often insanely fast computer-programmed hammering. Vitriol puts in a superb vocal performance, vomiting forth utterly horrific screeches of the "gargling broken glass" variety interspersed with the occasional guttural bellow. These sound incredibly genuine and disturbing, and are hugely reminiscent of the garbled, agonised screams of the Event Horizon crew, the atmosphere being further increased by the incorporation of numerous samples from the film throughout the album, (including the "Liberate te Ex Infernis" message at the start of track 6). High pitched vocals are occasionally employed as well, managing in their brevity to avoid sounding silly and instead only accentuating the sense of unchecked insanity.
There is enough variation in the tracks to avoid them from becoming stale as they lurch from pounding mechanical blastbeats and insanely fast black metal riffs to sickeningly heavy, filthy sounding up-tempo doom and back again. A guitar solo of strangled melody occasionally rises briefly above the chaos, and industrial/techno beats often appear, before being replaced by hyperspeed black metal of even greater intensity. It calls to mind an object hurtling aimlessly through space at unimaginably breakneck speeds against a backdrop of sadistic torture and pain, illustrating how successful the album is in marrying its devastating sound with the horrifying imagery of the film which inspired it.
Its rather hard to find fault with this album, so good is it at what it sets out to achieve. It's an extremely intense listening experience, but such is the variation within that it stands up to multiple listens. I would say it is overshadowed only by the scathingly harsh EP that was to follow, namely the crazily titled "When Fire Rains Down From The Sky Mankind Shall Reap As It Has Sown". Whilst the melodic grind efforts of later Anaal Nathrakh are still hugely violent and enjoyable, 'The Codex Necro' remains their best album by far.
Birmingham black metal duo Anaal Nathrakh have their passionate admirers and detractors, and both groups are wrong. This inhumanly fast and aggressive music isn't the future of black metal, particularly as there are earlier, more devastating releases out there, but at the same time it isn't just two blokes going mindlessly crazy over a relentless drum machine. Alright, it is mainly that, but Irrumator's guitars and V.I.T.R.I.O.L's vocals can both boast of incredible force and intensity paralleled by few in the extreme metal world. Brummies have always had a natural talent for this metal stuff.
So extreme is this music, that it often requires metal fans to concoct meaningless terms to describe it, particularly the frequent accolade that it's "total f**king necro" (a term derived from the band's demo of the same name). However ridiculous it may seem to describe harsh industrial percussion, roaring guitars and a range of screeched and roared vocals as "necro," Anaal Nathrakh succeeds in conveying a sense of a really, really screwed up nightmare future, one in which all hope has been lost and the only survivors will be fragile old people forced to endure this noise perpetually. Blessed with great production values, this is a far cry from traditional black metal that aims to evoke an evil and depraved atmosphere, and it doesn't have the riffs of death metal either. The inescapable mechanistic sound of the drums isn't exactly to my tastes, but fortunately the band avoids the electronic black metal stuff for the most part - there are distorted samples at inconvenient intervals, but the blasting drum machine never deteriorates into a thumping techno beat or any other such rubbish.
Although it's detached, a little repetitive and lacking in ideas, this is still first-rate example of metal that's extreme for the sake of it, but still pulls it off with admirable determination. Not something to inflict on your friends, young children or expectant mothers unless you fancy a laugh, and not something I could listen to all day unless I was reviewing the discography or something stupid like that (what the hell was I thinking?), but it's surprisingly good considering I stopped enjoying bands like Behemoth when they evolved from traditional black metal into similarly death-inspired directions.
When I was fifteen, the early albums of Fear Factory and grindcore bands used to give me a headache, but I persevered with them anyway. I'd suggest similar initiation in the dark shades of metal before attempting to tackle this beast, paying particular attention to the sub-genres with the stupidest names.
1. The Supreme Necrotic Audnance
2. When Humanity is Cancer
3. Submission is For the Weak
4. Pandemonic Hyperblast
5. Paradigm Shift - Annihilation
6. The Technogoat
7. Incipid Flock
8. Human, All Too F***ing Human
9. The Codex Necro
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Supreme Necrotic Audnance
2 When Humanity Is Cancer
3 Submission Is For The Weak
4 Pandemonic Hyperblast
5 Paradigm Shift Annihilation
7 Incipid Flock
8 Human All Too Fucking Human
9 Codex Necro