Emptiness - Not for MusicIf there was a saying that Papa Grymm would instill in us kids (besides to clean our rooms), it would be to make ourselves as uncomfortable as humanly possible. I don’t mean wearing sweater vests in the summer, folks, but rather stepping outside those little boxes we build for ourselves. Discomfort begets growth, after all. And what can be more uncomfortable than atonal, ambient black metal? And few do weird as well as Belgium’s Emptiness. In 2014, they caught my attention, thanks to Jean-Luc Ricard‘s stellar coverage of Nothing but the WholeA grotesque, otherworldly experience, Whole garnered a ton of press and attention, and its follow-up, Not for Music, continues down stranger, weirder roads usually untraveled.

Back to the topic of discomfort, one thing that’s readily apparent is that Not for Music largely left their black metal roots behind. Opener “Meat Heart” lulls the listener with an ethereal dream-like keyboard, with a barely distorted guitar playing a repetitious tremolo under Phograth’s mumble-growling. Whereas Whole used black metal as a skeleton to build their bipolar beast upon, on here the band decide that Katatonia‘s earlier period (namely Brave Murder Day) would better suffice for a more grotesque, uglier creation. Midway in, just when you think the band is building up to a great crescendo, all goes quiet again, keeping the listener on their toes. The song finally closes out not with a bang, but with pained gasps and distant howls.

It’s these moments of disharmony and uncertainty that propel Not for Music. Immediate follow-up “It Might Be” continues on the shoegaze path until an out-of-nowhere didgeridoo knocks you on your ass at 4:10 and deafens you for a few seconds. “Ever” would fit right in on a Til Tuesday album, if Aimee Mann were to be mysteriously replaced by Phograth. Album highlight “Your Skin Won’t Hide You” emulates Sweden’s favorite dead-end kings with its rubbery opening melody, creepy atmosphere, and crafty songwriting. By going off the beaten, blackened path, Emptiness created a worthy follow-up to Nothing But the Whole. In fact, only on closer “Let It Fall” does the band exhibit flourishes of blackened ferocity, but by then, they’d successfully won me over.

Emptiness 2017What didn’t win me over were some of the production choices. Jeordie White (Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson) produced the album, and while the overall sound has some decent clarity despite its lack of dynamics, there is some noticeable clipping and distortion at low volumes, especially during 1:03-1:08 of “Meat Heart” and the didgeridoo in “It Might Be.” The bass also takes a hit, sounding a bit too fuzzed out for its own good (“It Might Be”). Also, “Digging The Sky” drags during the first half of the song until the band picks up some much-needed energy three minutes in.

Still, Emptiness impressed me during the time of the year where it takes quite a bit to do so, and all they had to do was bring their uncomfortable A-game. While Nothing But the Whole is still my go-to for discomfort, Not for Music displays a stranger, fucked up snapshot of where the band could be heading, and I’m intrigued to see how far down the rabbit hole they’ll go. If you can get past some of the production woes, Not for Music will reward you in repeated plays.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites:emptiness.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Emptiness.be
Releases Worldwide: January 20th, 2017

  • LookinLike

    My most anticipated album of January. I’ve become a huge fan of these new black metal inspired bands that don’t really sound like the genre much anymore. Surprised you didn’t touch on the lyrics at all, as I was interested to see what direction they took. The lyrics of Nothing But the Whole were some of my favorite in a while.

    Either way, will definitely be listening to this focused with my eyes closed.

    • Grymm

      No lyric sheet to go by, sadly.

      Hell, I’m buying this at my earliest opportunity.

  • Man, I love this record. It has such a great vibe! It reminds me of old Moonspell, and indeed Katatonia, but also of Nevoa’s experimentation. The ritualistic nature, the synths, the growly whispers (grhispers)… And still it feels too warm to be discomfortable, to be honest.

    Oh and I recently saw them live – do so as well if you get the chance. Very cool experience.

  • “Nothing But the Whole” was great. I really liked the cymbal work, of all things. Looking forward to checking this one out, thanks for the review!

  • Internetman

    Thank you so much AMG. Really enjoying this.

  • dduuurrrr dddduuuurrrr

    This review pleases me

  • Thatguy

    Already on my wishlist. Thanks for the review, Grymm.

  • Josh

    Great news! Nothing But the Whole really stood out for me. Felt very dark and almost like an unfamiliar world when I listened to it. Excited to check out Not for Music in its entirety.

  • hubcapiv

    “especially during 1:03-1:08 of “Meat Heart” and the didgeridoo in “It Might Be.””
    Poor didgeridoo recording technique is really the bane of heavy metal.

    • Grymm

      I’m glad SOMEBODY agrees with me!

    • Here’s Johnny

      Has Jorn Lande released an album of didgeridoo metal hits yet?

  • Doesn’t one of you owe me a beer for Emptiness? I thought so at least. Preordered for sure.

  • Frost15

    This is a solid 4.0 to me, but great review anyway!

  • junkyhead

    Nothing but the Whole was magnificent and this one goes down the same path while being softer.

    • Grymm

      And that’s the thing. It may be softer, but it’s definitely well-crafted and enjoyable, not to mention fucked up (which is a compliment).

  • contenderizer

    Still love Nothing but the Whole, listened to it just last week, but I’ve been quite disappointed by the two Not for Music tracks I’ve heard so far (“Meat Heart” & “Your Skin Won’t Hide You”). Low key, vaguely industrial goth-rock just doesn’t interest me, and Jeremy “Phorgath” Bezier’s spookshow vocals seem ridiculous outside the alien-metal cloaking. I miss the weirdly deconstructed arrangements & production, too.

    Unless those two tracks are much, much less interesting than the rest of the album, this is shaping up to be one of the new year’s biggest letdowns.

  • manimal

    For some reason I’ve always imagined this band to be a good musical companion to Robert Aickman’s short story, the Hospice, that made a baby with Lovecraft.

    Then, they go to church.

  • The Unicorn

    Oooooohhhh…Unicorn likey….

  • Innit Bartender

    Kudos to Grymm for name-dropping Aimee Mann. I think it’s the really first time her name resounds in the AMG Hallowed Halls.

    • Grymm

      I think so too, and she’s amazing.

  • sir_c

    it is a very discomforting record, and that is in the good sense. An interesting listen, for sure!

  • Adrian Rigter

    Vaguely reminds me of last year’s Oranssi Pazuzu album. interesting creepy weirdness.

    Have there been any other good releases in January?.

  • basenjibrian

    Ah! This was in my iTunes account download this morning. Creepy, creepy stuff. I LOVE IT! 4 OUT OF 5 FOR ME!