NOTHINGNESS – Supraliminal (2023)REVIEW

Dangling on the threshold in morbid apprehension. — Minneapolis, Minnesota-based death metal abstractionists Nothingness paint in a quasi-blinded state, shading automatic ideas into three-dimensional shapes from an elemental palette while only accepting the one major stricture of “death metal” as a point of format. Their name considers a state of void as a point of modus, the blankness of the mind simply flowing without predetermined grasp or premeditation until it arrives upon a salvageable idea. In plainest terms, the main songwriter becomes inebriated and by coincidence and muscle memory alone creates. The phenomenon resultant, pulled from a point of loosened meditation, is communicated less as a state of non-being, or, “something out of nothing” but instead an apeiron in the purest sense — A font of creation and dissolution where the mindset is a destination from which all things are sourced and where they will all eventually fade. In the case of their second album, ‘Supraliminal‘, the collective entity no longer represents a corridor of ambitious greenhorn mashing but instead collates a many veined leaf of exploratory voice which is necessarily bridled by the need for technical grooves, blunted tones, and anxiously emergent tangent. The philology inherent to a motoric feat given structure begets no meaningful translation beyond a swarm of identifiable actions and in this sense the identity of such a band is potently experiential for its lack of limitations beyond the ‘self’ in the process of eternal rediscovery.

Formed in 2018 by way of guitarist and main songwriter Alex Walstad (Aberration) and vocalist Barclay Olson we don’t have a lot of valuable precedence set for Nothingness in the past work from either musician, though we could at least give a deep frown for Olson‘s eh, prior work as a guitarist in a commercial metalcore group. The band describe the process of creation as if extracting some ephemeral concentration of existential dread from themselves, ideas which spring from unplanned and unhindered mindset, and while this makes for good interview copy I suppose the sense that the guitar driven dissonant death metal which they create comes without pretense or expectation is well received and reads as uninhibited. Where I believe most listeners will lost interest is in the lack of agenda carried within these riff-centric movements, most of which follow a range of simple to moderately complex arrangements which are at times arguably closer to those of post-hardcore rather than classicist death metal notions. It won’t suffice to label them a dissonant death metal band though that is one aspect of Nothingness‘ sound, their solution to myriad influences emerging within the waves is the suggested “cauldronous” death metal tag for the sake of a stewed approach in service to none but their own aural linguistic barriers.

My introduction to the band was their debut full-length (‘The Hollow Gaze of Death‘, 2019) which the band had submitted prior to release and I’d been impressed at the ambitious blur served to start. I’d generally wrapped my head around Nothingness‘ style by the end of that month, setting it on the Top 20 for September while still tentative about their sound landing somewhere in between dissonant death/doom metal, sludge metal, and some chaotic hardcore/metalcore feeling progressions. It’d be fair to say that much has changed since that first release and most of the band’s development will be easily read in passing. Improved production values and some tightened variety of experience showcase a band tested by performance and better equipped with the possibilities of a solid line-up which now includes Ghost Bath drummer Jason Hirt who’d joined after providing session work for the first album.

While pacing and flow comes as a well considered, expected value from these still relatively green folks on ‘Supraliminal‘ the need to foster an impactful relationship with the listener is primarily provided by confrontational yet spongey guitar tones, blunt-nosed riffs, relatively dry vocal bark n’ rasp vocals, and an uptick in the brutality of their rhythms. This record asks much more of the rhythm section and works many of the best pieces into a galloping, whirring machine slicked with the mud of pick-scraped downtuned guitars and slow rolling grooves. The render of the album is richly dynamic in response to these atypical but not unheard of motions, acting to capture the harried and not-so glaring sub-genre clash which occurs within Nothingness‘ work while still lending space enough between performers to allow for a deep breath when needed. Signaturetone Recordings seems to have been the exact right choice here in terms of allowing for feature of the exaggerative coloration we find throughout the full listen while giving the record its sludged-out primitivity when the rhythms call for clobbering. As we approach the first portion of the recording we find the three initial pieces exploring a similar, almost neatly adjacent mode which resembles a sawtooth cut at more barbaric death metal with a nauseous swerve in and out of brutality. “Catapulted Into Hyperspace” cuts into some ‘blackened’ rhythmic touches and a slightly different vocal cadence as we step toward the bigger highlights to come on the full listen, allowing for a spirited and clambering introductory fit before the rhythms begin to really shine. This song features a unique and apparently improvised lead from YhA of Suffering Hour and though it is a brief blip on the radar it begins to make the argument for a bit more lead guitar interest beyond fretboard noise as the record churns on.

“Temple of Broken Swords” is the first of what I’d consider exemplar or representative pieces which cue the listener into what makes Nothingness unique in the realm of skronking non-conventional death metal, showing their first sings of slowing down for the sake of changing gears. It’d make sense to consider ‘From Wisdom To Hate‘ as a reasonable analogue for this shift in movement, especially as we step thigh deep into “Festering Abstraction” and beyond. This is a pretty natural moment for the technical umbrage of the album to peak as the rhythm guitar language has revealed its unpredictable nature by the time “Inviolate Viscera” hits its creeping break. From my point of view the grooves are entertaining rather than vexing at this crucial midpoint on the full listen and though it is a curious ride to take I didn’t find any one place to anchor my interest beyond the ride itself. Though I don’t know if communicating a nihilistic point of view is the intent or if it might be part of the general concept of the band but I’d felt this constant pinging of emergent pieces lending itself to meaningless yet evocative moments. In the darkness of this thought we find the bandaged gaps, the emotional bleeding of the psyche in the form of “Beacon of Loss” a song which manages a sludgy melodic dramatism which has precedence in the similar standout moment of “The Wretched Ground Beckons” on the previous album while showcasing, in ideal terms, just how far Nothingness‘ve honed their craft a ways down their pipeline.

The numbness of ‘Supraliminal‘ fades a bit with the reveal of “Beacon of Loss” and the full listen begins to round out with its inclusion but I can’t help but find this deepest point of their Fibonacci-esque progression as a Point B of no return, wherein all of the leadup to this point had been making the argument to do something a bit different. The choppy rhythms of “The Anvil” and the Morbid Angel-esque box fan strafing of “Decimation Mechanism” did well to hold my interest but I definitely walked away from this album feeling like the band were already ready to go somewhere else with it, to keep going even when the full listen ended. When reflecting upon the full listen it became clear that this is not a place of rest or a identity to root oneself into deep contemplation but a tunnel toward actualization which does ultimately serve some curious and unique action.

We don’t arrive upon profound meaning in conclusion nor is the collapse of ‘Supraliminal‘ all that spectacular beyond the cool-ass song that finishes it off but this is a natural result for a work without boundaries or fully intentional structure, a feat from a band forever in transit for the sake of the festering process of growth which Nothingness are yet undertaking. Again, the spectacle and the greater ride through this is solid in its entertaining, sometimes unexpected turns taken and this ends up informing my recommendation of it. There is yet a lot of potential to be explored but in the here and now the main success of ‘Supraliminal‘ is consistency of performance, an ideal stylized sound design/render, and the slushing together of their amorphous groove-centered craft into something moderately tuneful. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Everlasting Spew Records
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

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