Belgium’s Emptiness are a band that I’ve not paid enough attention to. Sharing their bassist and guitarist with black metal stalwarts Enthroned (who also released an album this year that you might have missed…), and their drummer with Pro-Pain, Emptiness certainly have plenty of experience in their ranks, but given that I’ve never been particularly enamored with either of those bands, I didn’t feel a great urge to seek out Emptiness’ releases. But this year, after reading nothing but the praise for Nothing But the Whole and falling in love with the distinctive, creepy album cover, I decided to give the band a chance. This was an entirely excellent decision.
Nothing but the Whole is intensely claustrophobic. And ill. I’m not sure I’ve heard music that felt so thoroughly diseased. Imagine being trapped in a plague-ridden quarantine zone in an inhumanly overcrowded, dystopian city [AKA New York City around Christmas. — Steel Druhm]. In the future. This record would be the soundtrack. Even during the opening of the title track – a riff that would sound triumphant in any other setting – the ambiance, mix, vocals, and dissonant harmonic touches leave you unsettled. Yet the atmosphere is far from one-dimensional. Sometimes Emptiness go for groove (the main riff of “Behind the Curtain” or middle of “All is Known”), managing to be both oddly danceable and deliciously sinister. Other times they almost out-Godflesh Godflesh with grimy, industrial hammering (“Tale of a Burning Man”). They are masters of both the slow build and the in-your-face blast (“Lowland”). And it’s all somehow tied together into a uniquely ugly but cohesive whole through excellent arrangements and performances. The deep growled vocals are a particular highlight, sounding otherworldly as they echo around the mix.
If I were in the mood to pick nits, I might complain (half-heartedly) that, despite the excellent songwriting, the album feels a tiny bit on the short side for a record of such grand scope. Comprising seven tracks in 39 minutes, Nothing but the Whole doesn’t outstay its welcome, instead leaving you craving further punishment as the dark emotion of closer “Lowland” is cruelly cut-off mid riff. The mix is appropriately thick, with surprisingly strong bass and a crushing but cold guitar tone. The limiting is heavy handed though, so the already dense heavy passages are made almost uncomfortable. But as with Voices’ London, that’s sort of the point.
Nitpicking aside, this is a surprisingly varied, intense, and unique contribution to extreme metal that is highly likely to muscle its way into my top 10 for the year. If combining the sickly atmosphere of Altar of Plagues with the industrial grit of Godflesh and ominous evil of Evoken sounds up your alley, this should disturb and delight you in equal measure.
Tracks to check: “Nothing But the Whole,” “Behind the Curtain” and “Lowland”