In the extreme metal community, Anaal Nathrakh are one of the most exalted bands in the field. Their experimental music is constantly challenging and consistently pushing boundaries. I was blessed with the opportunity to speak to Dave Hunt about their latest album The Whole of the Law, the band’s excellent cover of Iron Maiden‘s ‘Powerslave’, their recent tours and working with Atilla and Shane Embry from Mayhem and Napalm Death, respectively.
Jack: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Dave Hunt: Ok, thanks. Too much to get done, not enough time to do it.
Jack: You’re about to release your next album The Whole of the Law. Do you read reviews of your releases?
Dave: Not very often. You could have the best reviewed release in history, and although it would probably make you feel happy, it would also give you an inflated sense of your own importance. Or you could have a really badly reviewed product, which would make you too miserable to pay attention to what might be valid constructive points. Either way, it’s not much use. Reviews are a natural part of making music, and they can be useful for people making decisions about what to buy. And I appreciate the craft and effort that many reviewers put in, especially when they’re complimentary. But reviews can also be badly written, misinformed, or biased – in either direction. If your aim is to produce the best music you can, then they’re best left for others to read.
Jack: Are too many bands obsessed with looking at reviews?
Dave: I have no idea, you’d have to ask them. We certainly aren’t obsessed with it. We’re not confirmation-seeking narcissists, but at the same time we’re just as subject as anyone else to the tendency to remember negative comments more than positive ones. So all in all, reading reviews, certainly if they’re harsh, but even when they’re really good, doesn’t appeal to us all that much. Plus of course chasing review scores is no way to produce good music. You have to follow your own vision for what you want to do, and fuck anything else. That’s not to denigrate the art of reviewing, of course reviews are valuable for other people. One of my favourite things I ever read was a review of a Sex in the City film by Lindy West. We just don’t pay that much attention to them ourselves. And to be honest nowadays, people can check music out for themselves quite easily via label streams, Spotify etc, so the importance of reviews has diminished compared to what it was a few years ago. They’re mostly signposts now, rather than definitive commentaries.
Jack: What was the recording process like?
Dave: Mick recorded the music at his place in California, and then he came over here so we could record the vocals in a house just up the road from where I live. That suited me, as I don’t really like traditional recording studio setups, they feel too sterile and exposed. Give me a room with no lights and I’m much happier. No windows is even better. In this case, there were windows, but they just looked out onto a bleak view of deserted allotments in the grey rain. Which was nice. There were a few new tweaks to the process for this album, a new way of getting a guitar sound, a different mic for the vocals etc. But the changes were fairly prosaic and not very interesting unless you’re specifically into recording. What matters is that the conditions were just right for us to work, so we could focus on what we were doing, rather than how we were doing it.
Jack: This is your second release on Metal Blade. How is it like working with them?
Dave: Fine. They’re a bigger label than we’ve worked with in the past, and that shows through by the number of people at the different offices we end up speaking to, etc. The basic function of most labels at this level is the same, though – they know what they’re doing because they’re a proper, established company with experienced, competent people working for them. But they’re not high powered corporate executives trying to tell you what to play and how to look in photos, etc. The most obvious aspect from a band’s point of view really comes down to the personalities of the people you deal with, and in Metal Blade’s case we have a pretty good relationship with them. Other than procedural matters like that they seem to be good at their job, and happy to let us get on and lead the creative side of things, which is the only way we will work. So it’s been good so far.
Jack: You recorded a cover of ‘Man at C&A’, by The Specials, why did you decide to do this?
Dave: We were asked by Decibel Magazine to record a cover of our choice for their flexidisc series, and we thought it would be good to choose something a bit left field by metal standards. We knew the song well, and we knew the music would work. And the lyrical side was right up our street. We were really pleased with how it turned out. But with it being originally released only with a magazine, and only on a rather weird format, a lot of people probably hadn’t heard it. So it seemed a good choice to include it as a bonus track with The Whole of The Law.
Jack: You also covered Iron Maiden’s ‘Powerslave’ which I thought was fantastic. Why did you decide to cover this song? Was it for the Kerrang! compilation and you just decided to add it to the album as a bonus track?
Dave: Yeah, Kerrang! got in touch with us and asked us to record a Maiden track, and purely by coincidence it happened to be just as we were going to start recording the album. So we thought why not, and tracked it on to the studio sessions for the album. Again, the fact that it was for a magazine which as far as I know is only widely available in the UK meant that most people outside the UK wouldn’t get to hear it, so it was a good one to include as a bonus track. And again, we were pleased with how it came out. It sounds strangely like something we’d have written ourselves, especially the main riff of the song. We’ve never really had a conscious Iron Maiden influence, but I suppose it demonstrates a fundamental compatibility across metal styles.
Jack: Was it hard converting it to the Anaal Nathrakh style?
Dave: No, not really. The signature riff and chorus – the major recognisable building blocks of the song – translated easily. For other aspects like the solo style, our old live guitarist is a big Maiden fan, so he was only too happy to play on it for us. Everything went quite smoothly, and it was nice to be able to add the ‘dragged to hell’ part at the end, as it was in keeping with the idea of the lyrics.
Jack: Would you consider playing it live?
Dave: Probably not. It works fine as a cover, and as a bonus track, but to my mind it doesn’t really fit the atmosphere of one of our shows. Maybe one day we’ll reconsider, but for the time being we’re more interested in concentrating on our own songs when we play live.
Jack: In interviews you’ve talked about wanting to go out to Japan and this year you finally went, how was it playing there?
Dave: It was fantastic. Obviously when you go somewhere you’ve never been before, especially a place as far away and culturally distinct as Japan, you don’t know what to expect from shows. But they were all filled with really enthusiastic, appreciative people, and we were extremely gratified by the reaction. And of course just seeing Japan itself was wonderful. Mount Fuji, a huge temple we visited, the bustling neon cities, even the fury of a typhoon which hit Tokyo while we were there. It would have been nice to get a bit more time to really have a look at the place – we basically got half a day at the end of the tour, and it so happened that three typhoons hit Japan simultaneously on that day. So hardly ideal conditions. But overall it was wonderful, and we eagerly hope to be able to get back over there in the future.
Jack: You also completed your first coast to coast North American tour, how was your first time in America?
Dave: We’d been to America before, and obviously Mick lives over there, but yeah, it was our first time seeing the country from coast to coast, one mile at a time. It was great. America is a fascinating place to travel through like that, the huge differences in climate and scenery for a start. Down in Arizona for example, it looks like a different planet compared to the forests of the north and Canada. Both breathtaking in their different ways. We ran into a couple of problems with less than professional promoters cancelling shows without notice, and a cramped van isn’t necessarily the most luxurious way to travel over 8000 miles in two weeks, but for the most part it was an excellent experience. Plus of course we finished the tour at the Maryland Deathfest, which was a great show to play. As far as I’m aware it’s one of the only European-style large festivals which caters to that kind of music in America, so it’s a pretty big deal to quite a lot of people over there. And it was great to be back there and see how it had grown since the last time we were there.
Jack: You also just finished a short UK tour, how have the fans been receiving the new UK material live?
Dave: I wouldn’t call it a tour, it was only three gigs. But yeah, we played one of the new songs at those shows and the other shows we’ve played recently and it seemed to go down really well. The audiences were all receptive to hearing new material, which is of course a good start. I saw a review or two from the shows because the label sends round ups of press coverage every now and then – like I said earlier we don’t necessarily pay close attention to it, but you pick up bits and pieces, and the reviews seemed very positive, plus the people at the shows went appropriately barmy. Seeing a guy in his 60s with a long white beard crowd surfing the length of the room in Birmingham was a particular highlight.
Jack: Are audiences and the music scenes noticeably different in different countries?
Dave: Not really. Obviously there are local idiosyncrasies. The crowds in, say, Glasgow like to sing and try to be funny. And sometimes they manage it. Whereas in some places, people seem not to understand that stage diving is a two part process and requires the actual dive part, rather than just standing there for ages. But for the most part shows have been similar everywhere in our experience. A cacophony and a mosh pit – they’re fairly universal things.
Jack: You’ve been working together since 1998, what has kept your relationship so strong?
Dave: I think that in general we like and respect one another. The band comes after the personal relationship. We’re friends, not colleagues. I don’t know how anyone could work otherwise.
Jack: What does the future hold for Anaal Nathrakh?
Dave: How should I know?
Jack: Finally, ten years ago you released Eschaton, do you have fond memories of making the album?
Dave: Was it ten years ago? I have no idea. Someone else said to me the other day that it’d been fifteen years since our first album came out, and I had no idea about that either. We don’t have a sense of perspective or feel like we’re veterans of the scene or anything like that. We just think about what we’re doing now, what we want to do next and so on. I actually have a sort of time dyslexia, I suppose you could call it. I nearly always get it wrong when I try to think when things happened, and I can’t really envision the future at all. I don’t think Mick has quite the same dysfunctional perspective of time, but essentially he just doesn’t care all that much. Yesterday was yesterday, why bother thinking about that. About the only engagement with our past that we have is to laugh about hilarious things we remember. Beyond that, we have very little appreciation of where we are in time.
Jack: What was it like working with Atilla and Shane Embury?
Dave: Great, in different ways. Shane we’ve known for a long time, and especially he and Mick are good friends. So it was quite natural and Shane brings a pragmatic enthusiasm to virtually everything he does. He gets really into things. So it was a pleasure to work with him, and we always enjoy running into the Napalm guys. Plus of course an honour for us to be able to work with someone we consider a legend. Attila is a totally different kind of guy, quite eccentric but very focused and committed to what he does. He’s also willing to experiment – Mick got him to record a load of miscellaneous stuff and built a track out of it, and we got him to record a guitar solo even though he couldn’t really play the guitar. Or at least, he didn’t play it as if he knew what he was doing! [Laughs] But that experimental edge is something we value ourselves – some people only want to do things in their own safe, established way. We prefer to try whatever seems right to try, and Attila was into that idea of being willing to sail uncharted waters.