Not for Music
Season of Mist/Rocket Distribution
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Belgium’s Emptiness are a hard band to satisfactorily categorise, being that they’ve evolved their sound rather drastically over the course of their now five full-length albums. From the black/death metal of their first two releases, to the slithering and creeping death metal of 2012’s Error, through to the rather unnerving amalgamation of death metal, industrial, and ambient on 2014’s Nothing but the Whole, they’ve been a band that’s refused to sit still. But even though they’ve continued to push their sound in ever different directions, there's also been a consistent underlying feeling of uncomfortable tension in their material which has added an air of familiarity across their releases, despite the obvious differences in musical approaches.
Not for Music sees Emptiness changing things up once again, or perhaps more accurately it sees them furthering the sound employed on Nothing but the Whole by doubling down on the atmospheric side of the equation and largely disposing of the overtly “metal” side. It’s not exactly the direction I was expecting them to go in, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense if you view Nothing but the Whole as laying the groundwork for Not for Music.
The longer I’ve spent with Not for Music, the more I’ve come to see it as an album that’s defined by its many contradictions. It isn’t a heavy album in the regular sense of the term, but it is nonetheless a heavy album, it isn’t an easily digestible album, though it is quite an easy album on the ears, and it isn’t an uncomplicated album, but it can often present itself as such. These seemingly incompatible attributes when coupled with the material’s underlying sense of tension have resulted in what is one of the more unusual but oddly and inescapably addictive albums I’ve heard in recent memory.
As I previously mentioned, there’s a heaviness to Not for Music that contrasts with my expectations of what would ordinarily constitute heavy. For the most part the guitars tend to favour higher registers with only the lightest of distortion (though they are frequently awash in reverb and other effects), with the heaviness coming from the distorted and often effects-laden bass and from the drums, which are both placed quite high in the mix. It’s a sound that brings to mind a blending between industrial and ambient in a lot of ways, but this is really just the beginning.
While there are several examples of a more rock-based song-writing approach throughout the album, more often than not Emptiness taps into other genres for their inspiration. Album opener, “Meat Heart”, with its use of synths and plucked guitar riffs, for example, is a melding of dream pop and shoegaze, while “Ever” floats from an upbeat, key-driven melody into an almost synthwave-esque section in its back half. Elsewhere, “Let it Fall” veers back into the avant-garde industrial territory of Nothing but the Whole, while mid-album number “Your Skin Won’t Hide You” spends several minutes building up an understated, uncomfortable, but not all that engaging riff before disposing with it and diving head first into a serene but equally strange melodic break that manages to bring about a sense of purpose in the preceding section before it is repeated to see the track out. Yes, there’s a lot of different approaches at work, but they all manage coexist and work together extremely well.
I’m very much a proponent of the philosophy that less is more with respect to most of the artistic forms that I consume, so it’s not too often that I find myself wishing that an album were longer. In the case of Not for Music, though, its 41-minutes seems to fly by each time I listen to it (and at this point I’m well into double digits in that respect). Its quirky but ephemeral nature makes for a listening experience that is diverse enough to hold your attention throughout its running time without the drag of repetition or redundancy, so perhaps the fact that it doesn’t overstay its welcome with a longer duration is something that I shouldn’t wish were different. Being left wanting more is far from the worst thing in the world, after all.
With over dozen 2017 promos already sitting in my library at this early juncture in the year, this is the first that has really grabbed me in a meaningful way. I’ve little doubt that Not for Music won’t be an album for everybody, but those who favour the challenging and the genre-defying will undoubtedly find a lot to like here.
More from Emptiness
- Error [review]