As grind-infused industrial black metal levelers Anaal Nathrakh put the finishing touches on the band’s as-yet-untitled ninth full-length — tentatively slated for an October release via Metal Blade — Decibel caught up with vocalist Dave Hunt for a illuminating chat on aging n’ raging, the fifteenth anniversary of The Necro Codex, how intensive philosophy research can inform extreme music transgression, literature, the “pig fucking sacks of shit who have co-opted the doctrine of original sin,” the upcoming Anaal record,” and much more…
You are very upfront on your University of Birmingham doctrinal researcher page about your work with Anaal Nathrakh and Benediction.* What do your colleagues and peers think of this facet of your non-academic life?
To be honest it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone from the music world would find that page! It was just an exercise that everyone in the department was asked to do and that’s what it seemed like I ought to write! [Laughs] So to be honest I don’t know. I’m pretty quiet in real life with people I don’t know, and I do university stuff part time and don’t attend campus very often. With the kind of work I do, that seems the natural way to do it to me — it’s just me and the stuff I read and write, rather than a collaborative effort or anything. I don’t have that much contact with the other people in the department. They seem a friendly enough bunch of people, and it’s a pretty active department, but I just naturally keep myself to myself. My supervisor Jussi knows that I do music and probably not much more than that, and I expect the rest of the department just wonder who the weird guy at the back who shows up sometimes is. Like, “Os he the one doing that scary stuff about how morality is a myth or was that the other weird guy I met once?” [Laughs]
Has studying philosophy changed your outlook on or approach to writing lyrics?
Oh yeah, I’m sure it has. A famous philosopher once said that the unexamined life is not worth living, by which he meant philosophical examination. I’m not sure I agree with him, but the corollary of that is that doing philosophy changes how you experience the world, and that part is surely true. Most things that you spend a lot of time working on do to some extent. Put a significant chunk of your life into something and you’ll come out a different person than if you hadn’t done so. One thing it has definitely done is show me that so much of how we view and act within the world is just confused bollocks. Take an area such as metaethics, which is my primary focus at the moment. It’s basically the study of what moral terms mean; what the conceptual underpinnings of moral thought are. And probably the most powerful thing I’ve taken away from the work I’ve done is the extent to which morality seems like something we’ve got a pretty good handle on, when actually we haven’t at all — we might disagree with one another about what we ought to do in a given situation, but we still think we have a pretty good idea of what right and wrong are. If we say something like torture is wrong, some people might agree, some might disagree under certain circumstances, and so on. But we take ourselves to understand at least broadly what we’re actually saying, even if we feel differently about it. But time and time again I’ve found myself thinking, “Fuck, I hadn’t even thought of seeing it like that.” I have always been suspicious of them, but it’s made me even more wary of cunts peddling certainties, even as I become aware of more certainties myself. The emperor gets more and more naked each day.
This year is the fifteenth anniversary of The Codex Necro. ** What do you think when you look back on that record and its songs?
I actually didn’t realize that. It has a pleasing rawness and an uncompromising feeling to it. Our music remains pretty unequivocal in a paradoxically schizophrenic way, but there’s something endearing about the way that album paints with a more limited palette. It does seem a bit adolescent to us now perhaps, but that’s just appropriate for people who’ve moved a long way in the intervening years, and it’s not really a slight against the album in and of itself. It still seems driven by a similar spirit though. What we do may have broadened and got more dynamic, but it hasn’t been diluted I don’t think, and it’s good to think of the source sometimes. Obviously we’ve learned a lot in terms of song writing, recording and production techniques and so on that we simply didn’t know then, so technically we’ve moved on almost entirely. But the feel is still there, and the more serious side of that album is still very much reflected in the conceptual aspect of what we do. It feels like back then we were discussing evil, whereas now the narrative perspective is more from the point of view of evil itself. But the barbarism was definitely there, and it’s cool in retrospect to think that we managed to make an album like that with such limited resources and experience. It’s still an album to be proud of, I think.
It has been two years since Desideratum. Does this upcoming offering feel for you a reaction to or continuation of that record?
In a way, both and neither. At the moment it feels to me like an evolution from Desideratum, in that it feels more mature and more complete. It feels more densely put together. So to that extent, I suppose you could say it was it was both a continuation of what we thought was good and a reaction, because it improves on what went before. At the same time, as always, all we really had our eyes on was making the best album we could now, with little thought paid to anything other than that. We don’t tend to operate in the context of what we’ve done before, if that makes sense. We’re not chasing some previous perceived high point or anything like that. We are only thinking about now.
Did anything about the new music Mick’s been coming to you with surprise you at all?
There’s a weird touch of classical music that I hear in some of it — the reason I say it’s weird is that Mick doesn’t hear it, and so he obviously didn’t intend to go for that! [Laughs] One surprise is that there’s a comparatively slow song which I think is probably our favourite at the moment because of how it turned out once we’d followed the flow of it to what felt like its natural conclusion. In that sense it’s all a bit of a surprise really, because we have little idea how it will all sound and feel until it’s done.
Do you find writing lyrics to be purely an act of expression? Or is there something about the process that aids in your own comprehension of your own existence and the world?
That’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought of it in the latter sense, but I suppose there is a bit of that in there. It’s mostly expressive, but I think in any process of articulating what’s in your head, it becomes clearer to you yourself what’s actually in there in the first place, if that makes sense. Teachers get a clearer idea of the material they’re teaching because they have to break it down and explain it. I suppose there can be a way in which the core of an idea can somehow be lost by distilling it, that’s why things like stream of consciousness poetry can be powerful, because they are as direct as possible. But I think our way of expressing things is sufficiently raw and direct that that doesn’t matter in our case. It’s already very direct and has a degree of spontaneity and intensity which can only be expressive rather than presentational. But nonetheless there’s a still a crystallization of previously vague ideas through the act of expression itself.
Much has been made of literary references in your lyrics. Do you get a measure of satisfaction out of the idea that fans of the band might pick up a book they otherwise would not have picked up as a result of that?
Yes, definitely, and it’s reciprocal sometimes too — I’ve discovered some fascinating things on the recommendation of fans and so on. For example the Jens Bjørneboe book that inspired the title of one of our albums, In The Constellation of The Black Widow — that was recommended to me on the internet forum we used to have. And I always try to at the very least give hints about what some of the inspiration behind my part in our music is, so people can check it out if they want to. We’ve always said that there’s no entry requirement for our music — it’s not like you need to read this or that to get one of our albums or whatever. I absolutely couldn’t stand the arrogance of anything along those lines. But if someone does pick up on something in what we’ve done and they get something out of it because we put it in there, then yeah sure, that feels gratifying. I’ll keep putting in what I put in to our music because it’s part of me and the overall point is expression, but if someone else can pick up on it, it makes it feel like it wasn’t a pointless endeavour beyond mere expression.
The consistent rage and brutality of Anaal is something else. As you get older does the fire that fuels this get stoked in a different way? What do you think the younger version of yourself who first roared into a mic would think of all you’ve created?
To be honest I think he’d be impressed that the rage was still so intense. When you’re a teenager, especially an angry teenager — like there’s any other kind! — I suspect there’s a tendency to assume that anyone who gets to thirty or so turns into a fat, apathetic wage slave. But I find just as much that pisses me off in the world now as I ever did. I’m calmer in how I go about living my life, but it’s all still there under the surface. I suppose it’s more focused nowadays, or maybe a bit more subtle. When I was younger I was more just miscellaneously angry. Or maybe angry about really big things — angry at God, I suppose you might say. Nowadays I’m incensed by the pig fucking sacks of shit who have co-opted the doctrine of original sin into a judgement about the characters of those from whom they profit, or the nebulous, unconscious demons which lie behind so much of what goes on in the world. People think memes are things you see on the internet with a picture and a funny line of text, but I came across them not in Dawkins but rather in a book called The Last Days of Mankind, where they’re described like tropes in societies — the God meme or the marriage meme or whatever. I think of those things as real, and like living things, and some of them are what I think of as demons. I think that would be a bit weird for the younger me to hear — partially because they’re just strange things to say — but I think he’d be chuffed to see that psychotic rage about them was still on the table now! [Laughs]
Even now that Anaal Nathrakh plays more gigs you obviously are not on tour all the time. What is an average day in the life like?
Wake up, hate the world for having woken me up, play a video game for a bit to clear my head, work on whatever it is I’m working on at the time. Spend the whole time while not working thinking about what I’m working on, or thinking that I should be working instead of doing whatever else it is that I’m doing. I listen to music virtually constantly when I’m by myself, which is most of the time. That or Radio 4, which is a kind of grown up talk station we have here in the UK with programmes about all manner of things — there’s a lot of news coverage and political discussion, but also lots of general interest stuff, various topical programmes on sociology, language, history, comedies, all sorts. There’s quite a lot of communicating and organizing that goes into the shows we play, and I take care of most of that. We have a booking agent, but we don’t have a manager, so there’s various prosaic backroom things which need doing. And obviously at the moment there’s a lot of album-related work, mostly involving talking to Mick over the internet about artwork and stuff like that. Then back to despising the world for making me too wound up to sleep, and occasional quests for oblivion through alcohol. Existential angst throughout.
* Excerpt: “I’ve released a number of albums with several bands, many of which chart an extended engagement with various forms of nihilism.”
** In a recent appreciation, the incisive Montreal critic Benoit Lelievre memorably describes The Necro Codex as “the most brutal thing I’ve ever heard that I would actually call music.”