Nothing but the Whole: blackened death metal with moody soundscape feel

Emptiness, Nothing but the Whole, Dark Descent Records, DDR105CD (2014)

This is definitely one of the more interesting 2014 album releases I’ve heard this year: “Nothing but the Whole” is a blackened death metal album all right, the rhythms and elements associated with black and death metal are there but they’re deployed in ways least expected of typical black / death metal fusions. It’s darkly atmospheric and trance-like, with several songs having a strong industrial-metal soundtrack feel. The sound is neither too smooth nor too rough but just right in order to convey a deep pessimism and to delineate the massively deep and serpentine black world that the music conjures up. What’s more, the album continues to open up unexpected and unforeseen soundscape vistas with each succeeding track yet sticks close to traditional song-based structures with lyrics, melodies, riffs and distinct rhythms dominated by strong bass guitar and percussion in most tracks. The vocals may not always be clear on most songs but the execution of the music, the attention paid to its sound and its ambience, and the moods and overarching atmosphere created as a result more than compensate for shortcomings by several orders of magnitude.

On first superficial hearing, the album plays like a fairly conventional black / death metal album with post-rock and ambient influences: a dark secretive atmosphere, almost paranoid, is present straight away and remains right through to the end. Subsequent encounters reveal ambient industrial and moody post-rock influences. Rhythms can be complex on most songs, keeping listeners on the hop and never able to settle down into a complacent fug knowing what’s to happen next. The lyrics are growled and whispered in a guttural rasp more than sung, adding to the album’s inward-oriented, secretive paranoia. Plenty of space features in most songs, the musicians never trying to load each or every minute with blasting guitar roar or drum thunder, and this allows for greater manipulation of volume dynamics and sound texture with stunning impact on listener awareness. There may be field recordings but they are very minor and they add intriguing nuance to the music. The lyrics seem to be very personal and to dwell on inner darkness and the fear of confronting one’s inner emptiness.

An early and highlight of the album is the title track which combines crunchy staccato rhythms, multi-tracked vocals and a synth backing that gives the song its claim to majesty and grandeur. The next couple of tracks have their good moments but don’t quite reach the peak of juggernaut aggression and thunder as the title track does. The guys go for unorthodox rhythm and riff loops backed by synth effects which lend the album an experimental air.

At times some of the musical arrangements may seem a bit fussy and after the title track has been and gone parts of the album sag a bit with songs packed with a lot of riff and rhythm structures that rarely if ever repeat and the songs not having clear identities of their own. The album picks up in a big way with “Lowland” which combines dreamy soundscape art works with sledgehammer riffing, strong bass melodies and riffs, complex drumming and dazed psychedelic lead guitar raindrops. The singing sounds stronger as well, which is important as the song has to tie up all the loose ends left behind by earlier tracks and finish the album on a high.

If the album had been a bit more streamlined with fewer and more distinctive riffs per song, the music might have become much more austere and even more hard-hitting than it is. There will be listeners though who will argue that the album is perfect as is and does not need trimming. What’s most impressive about “Nothing …” is the music’s overall presentation: it is deep and sinuous and though its style is clearly blackened death its details, inspired by other music genres, take the album onto another, more layered (in music, texture and insinuation) level.

Contact: Dark Descent Records

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