At first glance, EMPTINESS may seem an uncharacteristically atmospheric addition to the black/death genre, but the open-minded may find a lot to like about them, at least before the ideas that individualise them begin to cause their downfall.
The album starts off really well with Meat Heart, which begins with the band demonstrating one of their strongest elements: their use of instrumental dynamics and carefully placed audio samples to add an extra, disturbing edge to their coldly phantasmagorical instrumentation, which often sounds less like music and more like a sonic portrait of someone’s nightmare. The sharp inhalation of breath really throws the listener off, before soft synths draw them into a warm, dreamy atmosphere, before rumbling, muffled guitar turns it into something horrific and Jeremie’s vocals cut in after a sound of someone emerging from below water. The band play their instruments off each other really well, with the same instinct for psychological attack that FURIA demonstrated on their last EP. The low, tremolo riffs against the extended notes of synths and drones create a feeling not of musical energy, but of stationary anxiety. As for Jeremie, his vocals here, as well as throughout the album, have a sense of disconnect from the music, as if he is growling over it, rather than with it, which casts him as the monster in this song’s horrifying soundscape, and to great effect.
It Might Be carries over the atmosphere from the first track really well, once again using audio samples (here the sound of children playing) to give it that extra, surreal dimension and heightening the unease with simplistic yet disturbing instrumentation and guitar tremolos reminiscent of the Silent Hill theme. The nightmarish intrusion of the drones around 4 minutes in is a fantastic shift into the incredibly sinister and disorientating last two minutes.
The instrumentation gets a bit more intricate and complex on Circle Girl, with the band beginning to add lighter shades to their soundscape, and it sounds great. The synths chime like a grandfather clock and the guitar sounds lighter and more ethereal, and against the vocals this somehow manages to heighten the tension and anxiety of the first two track, leading into sensory assault of a build up where the guitar and synth seem to be daring each other to get louder first whilst Jeremie demonically rasps over them. Unfortunately it never comes, and that is when one of the flaws of the album suddenly becomes apparent: the instruments are fairly low in the mix, which often serves the vibe well but the sense of payoff in the songs suffer as a result.
And it’s particularly a shame on the comparatively mellow Your Skin Won’t Hide You, which would have been an outstanding instrumental track with echoing drums and an extremely effective mix of over-lapping picking and note-bending used to disorientate. But unfortunately a lot of the nicer moments have to take a back seat to unintelligible snarling.
It is only on Digging the Sky that the vocals begin to show some variation, opening with a choir of growls, which contrast nicely with the mellow guitars, and including whispers later on. Once again the audio samples are mixed in wonderfully, with the sound of sea waves reflecting the notes like a mirror. The tremolo riffs are haunting and retain an icy, empty feeling, but the darker tone in the last minute does not really work because they are turned down so low. You keep expecting them to burst out and dominate the track, but they just remain low in the background.
The disturbing sound effects help redeem the odd, synth-dominated Ever, which serves only to undermine the nightmarish atmosphere of the first half, and instead sounds like Jeremie intruding on a trance rave. And as for the final track, Let It Fall, the mixing seems to take a noticeable shift into the downright awful. Nothing sounds right, not even the vocals are noticeable now, and it just sounds like it was recorded and mixed during an all-nighter before the release date.
In summary, emphasising the wrong aspects of their sound cause EMPTINESS’ sonic shtick to wear thin as the album progresses, before becoming flat out detrimental.
Not For Music is out now via Season of Mist.
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