Anaal Nathrakh are a black-grind duo from Britain consisting of vocalist V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and instrumentalist/writer Mick Kenney, previously known as Irrumator. Consistent with their penchant for achingly long song and album titles, In the Constellation of the Black Widow is the two’s fifth studio album.
Anaal Nathrakh sound less and less black metal every time I listen to them. There is always the characteristic underlying eerie melody to their spastic sound, and every few songs there is a sung chorus, but other than that this band is very much grindcore, and at some points skirts the edge of death metal. V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’s vocals are almost painful to listen to, less like screaming and more like agonized howling. Mick Kenney’s writing and performing is similar to that of the best grindcore bands: with blistering speed, but also blisteringly catchy. As an added bonus, the two seem to like beating amateur “core” bands at their own game, via V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’s well-placed pig squeals and the breakdown in “The Lucifer Effect”.
To summarize up front, In the Constellation of the Black Widow does what every album by any band should do, which is be better than the previous album, right? On Anaal’s previous album, 2007’s Hell Is Empty and All the Devils Are Here, the band experimented with slower tempos and almost more melodic songwriting. It made for an interesting but ultimately disappointing record. On In the Constellation… (I’m not writing that all out again), the heavily layered sound from earlier records like When Fire Burns Down From the Sky, Mankind Will Reap As It Has Sown noticeably returns. This whole album has a dark, thick feel, while Hell Is Empty… almost sounded thin, like a demo. Now, Anaal really pull out their full potential with Kenney’s insane shredding, violent fretwork and freshly polished knack for writing the most brutal melodies. Dave Hunt’s (V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’s not-so-mild-mannered alter ego) vocals are brilliantly caustic, and despite being absolutely agonizing, never stray into arrhythmia. His dynamic singing in “So Be It” and “More of Fire Than Blood” and his omnipresent supersonic shrieks and burbling pig squeals merge perfectly with the raging tide of embedded hooks and rabid blastbeats that flood the entirety of the album.
But what makes In the Constellation of the Black Widow really tick? The supposed “black metal” elements. Mick Kenney’s blindingly hook-filled riffs and the handful of sung choruses add the final flourish that brushed away my expectations. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the almost misplaced solo at the end of “Terror In the Mind of God” and it’s Amorphis-esque melo-death quality, and by the brilliant chorus in “More of Fire Than Blood,” which is so forceful it’s practically thrown in your face. Unlike on previous albums, the cleans and the ferocity slur together in a significantly improved manner. The short clips of clean vocals in “So Be It” blend with the screeches so excellently it makes me wonder what happened with the sloppy sounding chorus in “The Final Absolution” from Hell Is Empty….
The songwriting is amazing for the genre, the instrumentation is immaculate, and the vocals are polished. So, to summarize again, In the Constellation of the Black Widow is a superb album. All professionalism aside, I love it to death. But after countless listens to this album, it’s not quite a classic for me, as much as I want to say it is. Something about it falls just short of a 5-star, it’s more of a blazingly entertaining record and less of a life-changing Discordance Axis-style musical experience. However, it IS Anaal Nathrakh’s best work hands down, and I challenge them to do better with the next record.