Earlier this year, Grymm called Imperial Triumphant’s incredible sophomore effort Abyssal Gods “the best French black metal album in recent history” and lauded the half-Pyrrhon band as the new bringers of discomfort and disgust, mixing Obscura-influenced death metal with atmospheric black metal and the occasional ukulele. They’re not alone. Straying towards the more death metal side of the growing dissonant hordes, Ad Nauseam trade in that ukulele for screeching violins and a German expressionist piano on their harrowing and fascinating debut. Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est adds a new dimension to the combination of jarring dissonance, alien rhythm and crushing nihilism that has become my favorite musical style. More so than Dodecahedron or Baring Teeth their music owes its existence to the daring experimentation of 20th century art music composers.
But first things first; Ad Nauseam aren’t some abstract chamber group, and though their music is dense and difficult, they sure as hell know how to write riffs, including the Gojira-meets Gorguts pick-scraping monstrosity that appears early on in the album’s shortest song “Lost in the Antiverse.” Though it doesn’t get nearly the playtime it deserves, that golden riff sweeps you into one of the album’s most compelling songs, beginning with that neckbreaking groove and piece by piece melting into the album’s incredible peak. The zenith of Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est comes in the form of the paired “The Black Veil of Original Flaw” and “Superimposing Mere Will and Sheer Need,” the segue in-between which is heart-stopping. Strings and piano clamor together in an atmosphere of esurient chaos before the piano alone introduces “Superimposing” – and its skull-peeling beginning – in the most horrifying way possible.
Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est is perhaps most impressive not in its excellent writing or performances, but in its sound. The band makes use of atypical instrumentation and extended techniques throughout the album; the coordinated pick scrapes in “Lost in the Antiverse” and “Superimposing Mere Will and Sheer Need” prove highly impactful, but the guitars are among the least acrobatic of the instruments. A down-tuned bass spits fret noise while the recurring violins fly in only at the bleeding edges of their range. Instead of playing backing chords or melodies, the piano undergoes no end of abuse, its strings scraped and keys pounded with not disregard, but contempt for its safety.
This chaos is all captured in what may be the best recording I’ve heard this year; sound so crisp and lithe rarely makes its way onto a metal cd, but Nihil sounds chaotic and terrifying without being loud or compressed. You can hear every plucked piano string and every finger landing on a fret; the record is truly symphonic in its scope and feel, as if you’re sitting in on the world’s most dangerous chamber performance.
Eight songs long and five years in the making, Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est towers above its contemporaries, erecting minarets of rotting dreams atop towers of psychosis and fear. It is more encapsulating, more daring, more carefully composed and more meticulously produced than any other album to be released this year. Ad Nauseam have taken a movement spearheaded by the likes of Ulcerate and Dodecahedron and transfused into it the life-blood of the European avant-garde tradition. Nihil borrows just as much from Krzysztof Penderecki or Gyorgy Ligeti as Luc Lemay or Michael Hoggard.
This is the music that points towards the path ahead. After an arms race of technicality, metal has painted itself into a corner with no clear way forward; and so we mark time by continuing in the tradition of our forebears, whether we return to ‘70s doom or ‘90s death metal. But how can we revitalize the genes through such incestuous navel gazing? Only by reaching far afield can extreme metal remain extreme. The hybridization attempted by Ad Nauseam succeeds completely in flushing their music full of vitality and interest, paving the way for others to follow down side-streets of their own.
Tracks to Check: “La Maison Diev,” “Lost in the Antiverse,” “The Black Veil of Original Flaw,” and “Superimposing Mere Will and Sheer Need”