Sometimes a band can tweak the conventions of their chosen genre, not so much reinventing anything as just approaching things in a slightly different way, and by doing so they can set benchmarks for lesser mortals to follow. ENTOMBED's "Clandestine" comes to mind — on the surface, it was a slightly more progressive take on the Swedish death metal the band had already aced. But so many little elements — the insane and intense vocals, the clever arrangements — set the band apart, and as a result, the album holds up better fifteen years later than many of its more by-the-numbers peers.
ANAAL NATHRAKH aren't quite as startling now as they were when they started – one could argue that they share their penchant for oddball black/grind/death metal with everyone from ZYKLON to RED HARVEST. But this iconoclastic U.K. project remains the best at marrying drum machine grind, speed riffing death, and occasional moments of bombastic black metal grandeur to a depraved, filthy and overdriven musical framework, the kind of high-intensity clusterbomb of noises that can actually be physically exhausting to hack.
At their heart, of course, is a dark core of hateful, propulsive blasting black metal, laced with a grimy guitar tone and delivered at grindcore speeds. Occasional electronic flourishes, samples and the mechanized assault of the rhythm give things a sort of accidental industrial feel, very grim and futuristic in a "Blade Runner" sort of way. Vocalist V.I.T.R.I.O.L. adds quite an arsenal of perverted personalities to the chaos, with a forceful death metal vocal interspersed with manic clean singing, occasional lunatic shrieks, and a wild-eyed ferocity that puts most monotone croakers in the field to shame. The band eschews corpse paint and the usual trappings of typical black metal, but this guy inspires more fear and dread with his performance than any dressed-up band can muster in a photo shoot.
The end result, somewhere between the fuck-you punk hedonism of NATTEFROST and the precision grind assault of modern-day NAPALM DEATH (whose Shane Embury is somewhere in the maelstrom here, guesting in some capacity or another), is neck-snapping, vicious and (there's that word again) intense. Instrumentalist Mick Kenney has a firm grasp of dynamics, too, even in what seems at first like an utter cacophony — the sinister midtempo parts of a song like "Waiting For the Barbarians" set off the blasts perfectly, a harrowing exercise in tension and release that seems scientifically calculated to spread the most possible anxiety and disquiet.
Whether your tastes run toward space-metal nutters like MITHRAS, straight-ahead punk-informed black metal in the vein of IMPALED NAZARENE, or any of the previously mentioned heavy hitters, ANAAL NATHRAKH have plenty to offer you on "Eschaton". Malevolence oozes from every note, brooding insanity in every scream, and a mastery of just what makes extreme metal such a dark and difficult pleasure is evident from start to finish. Sick, ugly, essential.