Interview – Anaal Nathrakh

Anaal Nathrakh are the ungodly result of black metal’s icy winds colliding with the bleak industrial landscape of Birmingham, spawning an utterly evil aural maelstrom in it’s wake. Vocalist Dave Hunt told M3 about their new album, the transition from studio to stage & the falsities of digital democracy…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Dave Hunt – I sing for Anaal Nathrakh, we are a two-piece extreme metal band playing something involving black metal, grindcore, that sort of thing.  We record and produce everything ourselves, and have successfully released an album in the past through the other member’s label, FETO, as well as working with various different record labels.  So we’re pretty experienced in the various aspects of music.  I also sing for Benediction, a veteran death metal band again with a lot of experience.

What inspired you to form Anaal Nathrakh? What is your own musical background?
It was mostly that we weren’t hearing what we wanted to hear at the time.  We were both into all sorts of extreme music, with a particular shared appreciation of black metal.  There was a lot of emphasis on keyboards and romantic themes in black metal at the time, Cradle of Filth sort of stuff, and we wanted something harsher and more directly misanthropic.  And we’d been in a band together before, so when Mick wrote some new, particularly harsh material, it was fairly straight forward for me to sing on it.

For a band that began as a studio project, Anaal Nathrakh have been touring fairly extensively of late. Was this a conscious decision to become more of a live act, and has this affected your song writing process at all?
No, it wasn’t a conscious decision, in the same way that it wasn’t a conscious decision not to play live for the first few years of our existence.  It was just something that happened quite naturally as we went along.  To begin with we didn’t think it would be possible to play live – drummers who could play our sort of stuff weren’t nearly as common then as they seem to be nowadays.  But once we found a lineup and started playing live, everything we’ve done since just followed naturally from that.  And no, it hasn’t affected the song writing – when you’re writing songs for an album, it’s the album that you have to concentrate on – that’s the thing you have to make the best it can be.  And if that means writing music that will be hard to play live, then so be it!

Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
It depends a lot on who you are.  It’s true that that record sales nowadays are much lower than they were in previous years – if you’re selling the same number of records today that you were selling 10, 15, 20 years ago, that actually represents a far greater stature than it did back then.  But whether you make up the difference in income from live work varies greatly from band to band.  In our part of the musical map, the fees for live shows haven’t changed all that much, certainly not to the degree that they’re proportional to the decrease in CD sales.  But farther up the ladder, with either very popular niche bands or with more mainstream styles of music, ticket prices have gone up massively as artists and the people who represent them attempt to maintain their income.  So while the sentiment you mention is true, it’s not true in all the cases that people try to apply it to.  It’s true only for a comparative minority of bands, who were the same people, or at least in the same position, as those who already made quite a lot of money out of music to begin with.  So in most cases, touring isn’t particularly any more efficient as a way of making money, but if you want to make any money, you need to do more of it.

Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store,and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
I don’t know that it’s as simple as the digital age in general killing record stores, but it’s certainly the case that a lot less record shops are around nowadays.  I don’t really think it’s better or worse, just different.  There used to be a sense in good record shops of walking into an Aladdin’s cave, it was a special and even magical place for the young music fan.  But it was also one of the only places where you could access music and related paraphernalia.  Obviously with the internet, that’s no longer the case – huge amounts of music, and information about music, are available now in a way that they would never previously have been.  A few years back I ordered a Masonna tshirt from Japan – before the internet I would never have known that it existed.  Personally I miss that sense of wonder that I used to get in record shops, but I think people who hanker after it often forget that they have other resources in its place.  So it’s not a one way street of loss, it’s just change.  Plus of course, if an album is out of print now, you can still get hold of it when previously it was pretty much lost.  Major artists will always be continually re-pressed, but for the more obscure stuff that I’m into, that was a problem which hardly exists any more.  Want to find an album that hasn’t been on sale since 1995?  No problem.  What I do NOT buy, and have come across numerous times, is the argument that piracy is democratising the music industry, almost as if people have a right to what they download and are giving the finger to ‘the man’.  In some cases at the more corporate end of the music industry that might be the case, but the effect down here at our end is disproportionately deleterious.  But yeah, that’s life.  Whether the progression was necessary or not I don’t know – I suspect it wasn’t really necessary.  But things have progressed regardless, so rather than wonder why or what it means, I think efforts are best directed at understanding and dealing with the inevitable fact of what’s going on today.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music(eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Personally CD, because I’m mostly interested in the sound itself, rather than collectible objects (though naturally I have hundreds of the things).  With decent audio equipment, I can hear the shortfalls of many MP3s, and even with the half decent gear I’ve got (i.e. budget Arcam, NAD and an outboard DAC), lossless files don’t sound quite as good as CDs.  Many audio purists prefer vinyl, but to be frank, I can’t afford the kind of vinyl gear that might sound better than CD, and I tend to think a lot of people who prefer vinyl are either convincing themselves of its superiority, or have a better turntable than their CD player.  Give me a Linn Sondek and some serious electrostatic speakers and I’ll probably admit that vinyl has its strong points, but for general use and budgets, I think CD makes the most sense.  I use virtually all formats, but CD is the best one for me.

Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
To an extent, yes, but only really for the casual listener who may well not have paid all that much attention to the finer points of previous formats.  When I first got a CD player as a kid, I thought it was a shame that CDs always start from the beginning.  With tapes, they carry on from where you were last time, and so you get to know the whole album rather than being very familiar with the first few songs but probably knowing the later songs less well.  So the true start-to-finish experience was already half way gone well before MP3s came along.  But the easy and free availability of digital music does I think mean that people cease to value individual albums as much as they used to.  If you can get hold of something with virtually no effort at all, it will almost never feel as special as something you had to actually try to get.  Even if that just means a walk to the shops, it’s something more than sitting in the same chair you spend the rest of the day sitting in and clicking a few buttons.  But that is offset by the fact that people who do care about what they’re listening to will be able to get much more involved in their music by finding out more information, similar artists, talk to people about it all etc on the internet.

Recently, there seem to be a large number of bands offering their releases for free via sites like Bandcamp. What do you think of this distribution method, do you think it is a realistic solution to the problem of illegal downloading?
No, but it might be the only thing they can do about it.  Giving away music for free as a response to people downloading it illegally for free isn’t really solving anything, it’s more like claiming victory in a war by surrendering.  I don’t personally see any new market form or incentive to buy cropping up that isn’t simply selling music more cheaply or giving it away.  So maybe that form of distribution is the future, but it is moving the goalposts as opposed to solving the ‘problem’.  If it becomes the established norm, I have no doubt that recorded music as a phenomenon will carry on one way or another, but the industry itself will look very different indeed.

What is your take on the current SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I find it thoroughly unsurprising.  People with huge amounts of money feel aggrieved, push governments to make laws to protect them, and governments either use that as an excuse to get a bit of extra control, or misunderstand the practical details and effects of what they’re proposing.

What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Same as they ever were, really – people with more money and knowledge of the industry who will try to exploit you.  And with shrinking profit margins, companies are becoming more exploitative than ever as far as I can tell.  For example, so-called 360 deals are becoming more common I believe.  So my advice to anyone considering their first record deal or whatever – get legal advice, or at least advice from someone unbiased who has a lot of experience in the music business.  Because while you probably just want to make music and get out there and play, the fact remains that it is a business for the people on the other side of that contract. Although there are good guys out there, make sure you don’t let the bad guys screw you.  The wider issues about MP3s etc don’t apply as much to new bands I don’t think, because they’re coming at it all with less prior impressions – they’ll take it as they find it.  Obviously it will affect them compared with similar bands in the past, but they’re not in the past, so they’ll acclimatise and adapt more easily.

Finally, what does the future hold for Anaal Nathrakh?
We have just finished recording a new album, which should come out later in the year, it’s quite, quite mad.  And we have various festivals etc planned  during the summer.  Plus we’re looking into playing in some less obvious places.  Beyond that, we have no idea.  This whole thing is a journey into the unknown, we just see where it leads.

For more information about Anaal Nathrakh, you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

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About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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