Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse Review

Ad Nauseam spilled into the avant-garde black/death metal scene in 2015 with Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est, a record that stood out for its audacity even among the most ambitious and experimental extreme metal records. Think Gorguts, think Baring Teeth, think Imperial Triumphant, and, yes, think Pyrrhon, but the Italian quartet are their own phenomenon. Through immense vision and an almost neurotic attention to detail, Nihil’s triumphant synthesis of death metal and 20th-Century art music stationed Ad Nauseam among the first row of the Avant-garde. With Imperative Imperceptible impulse, they advance. Almost every dimension of their sound is more refined, abstract, and expressive than on Nihil such that the mechanics of death metal and black metal within it are almost totally obscured.

The centerpiece of Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, “Coincidentia Oppositorum” opens with a dusty, parched solo guitar. It is the rambling of a desert rat long starved of human contact, not much in the way of narrative, but it serves as a warning and enticement towards the treacherous landscapes within. Ad Nauseam trace their way along side routes and game trails until suddenly there’s a stumble. A fall; the bass strings clatter against the frets as the guitars tumble like two feet trapped in different landslides. In the gulley below, limbs regroup and wounds are licked. The climb out will be no less trying than the descent.

That challenge is far from singular in Imperative Imperceptible Impulse. “Conicidentia Oppositorum” is almost an album into itself, and any attempt I make to summarize or translate it, or the rest of Impulse, with respect to the musical conventions of metal disintegrates as it flashes onto the page. Sure, there are parallels: the scratchy, knotty black metal of Norse; the sculpted, tonally dense death metal of Baring Teeth; the audacious abstractions of Dodecahedron. Ad Nauseam share outré techniques and shocking sounds with all of them, but Impulse seems to stand apart in the scope and success of its ambitions. Moment to moment, the record is so intractable and detailed that I find myself getting lost in short segments, replaying single phrases over and over to gawk at their shattered rhythms and bent notes.

The complexity and constancy of the guitar interplay on Impulse build on and surpass even the knottiest tech-death records – think Incurso or Relentless Mutation. Right and left guitars unify only for the rarest climax and live under different rhythms, each at times snapping back across measures to cut the other off, at times shading the other’s sprouting melody. Each phrase whips through the air like a willow branch, quivering, shaking, rattling until it is bent back and hangs limp from a strand of green xylem. And yet for each splintered bough a new twig sprouts from the burl to be challenged by yet more contortions, an obstinate thicket against the blasted surroundings. Though ostensibly impenetrable, this density creates moments of sublime beauty. The last three minutes of “Imperative Imperceptible Impulse” sound like an Ars Magna Umbrae record that’s been left out in the sun. While the right guitar repeats a transfixing lead line from several different starting pitches, the left scratches at sparkling chords in a rare moment of placidity.

Capturing each second is a downright staggering recording. Gently distorted guitars bristle and creak under skew chords and simmer in feedback. The bass frets clatter and pop above almost subsonic tones. You can hear every different place a drumstick makes impact and feel the scrape of the brushes in “Human Interface to No God” as they stroke the snare and ripple over the cymbals. You listen inches away from the hot breath behind the record’s screams, roars, and chants. Ad Nauseam didn’t just self-produce, didn’t just self-record; they built their instruments and equipment specifically to capture these sounds and make this album. One can quibble about the band’s decisions – I’d ask for maybe a nudge to the vocals and a stronger bass tone – but never question their competency.

Even as Imperative Imperceptible Impulse fades, it manifests something new and puzzling. “Human Interface to No God” drips to a close with a slick of slinking, caliginous jazz that recalls the eerie dispossession of Joel Fausto and the Illusion Orchestra. It’s totally unexpected, but that contrast deepens the record’s impact. Impulse resists every convention and becomes stronger with each subversion of form. Ad Nauseam put everything they had into creating a record that truly synthesizes and transcends its influences. They succeeded.

Rating: 5.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Avantgarde Music
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: February 12th, 2021

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