Review Summary: The Quintessential Drone Doom Album.
Bunkur have done it. They’ve made the definitive final statement on how far you can push metal into extremes. Nullify represents the paradox of such a radical attempt within its uncompromising design; so extreme and relentless, even in its less nihilistic (read: almost musical) passages, that it ceases being extreme and relentless through such motivation. It lives up to its namesake; presenting a plethora of concepts and thoughts in the listener as it proceeds on its way. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to ponder these notions. Questions such as ‘Why am I listening to this?’, ‘Why was this made?’ and ‘Was it really needed?’ are all perfectly legitimate questions.
This has been, for many reviewers a release that is incredibly contentious. On one hand, there are a handful of reviews in praise of this piece, some even handing out perfect scores. On the other hand, there are those who will give it the lowest grade without hesitation. It is easy to understand why this is. What is there to like in this piece? It’s not exactly pleasant listening; to an untrained ear it is static, tedious, nigh unlistenable. I think it should be put forward (as much as this is a heavily reiterated point), it is essential to understanding all the potentials of music, outside the binaries of enjoyable and unenjoyable. Some expressions can only be conveyed through an uncompromising focus on the latter. The nature of this piece alone ensures that it will likely remain forever obscure; and through it’s even less accessible interpretation of the genre, seldom appreciated. But I have no qualms in stating this is one of my favourite musical pieces, not despite its aversive, tedious nature, but more because of it. Though this is drastically simplifying the aesthetic pleasures I find in this release.
Make no mistake about it, this is an incredibly boring piece from a musically literate standpoint, but the album more than compensates in aesthetic intent. Representing no less than the full bodied realisation of the drone doom subgenre in one massive 77 minute track; Nullify favours the drone over the doom, but both interweave to create a fascinating, yet thoroughly polarising experience. The opening sound of a train slowly wheezing to live immediately hits on a audial pulse that I haven’t experienced anywhere else; listen with good speakers and you’ll understand. Whilst the chugging of the train engine indicating a long journey ahead is a not too subtle symbol, the fractured gargling of the vocalist certainly makes it seem like you’ve taken a few wrong steps down a deep, unforgiving path to hell.
As the train leaves the station, we find the drone pulled to the foreground, fluctuating about, a few sporadic drum beats here and there; a tortured gargle from the vocalist; a chord crashes in uneasily. Rinse, wash repeat. The first chord ‘progression’ of sorts comes about thirteen minutes in, but quickly devolves again to simple sustained chords. A few obscured spoken word samples emerge here and there, as incomprehensible as the vocals. This goes on for about 70 minutes. Granted, the conventions of musicality do make an appearance about 46 minutes into the piece, the drums take up a slow rhythm and the bass lines drag out a ‘short’ passage of coherency. But that soon dies away, fading back into the persistent drone that underpins the entire length of the piece. The rumblings of the train, having completed its pilgrimage of nihilism, fades away into the distance as we’re left wondering what just happened for 77 minutes.
How then, should you approach this album? Presuming I have not already alienated potential listeners with the notion of drone doom metal played as slow as possible, treat it less as a metal epic, and more as an enormous slab of ritual. Whilst it goes nowhere and takes its sweet time doing so, it is highly compelling given the right mindset and a heavy dose of patience. Instrumentally all the elements for unease, desperation, a sense of complete fractured torment and despair are there. They are however, used in such a fashion that they transcend these emotional traits and come to embody the titular concept of the piece. One thing Bunkur do really nail is naming their albums. Whilst I would refrain from calling it background noise, it can function in both background and foreground listening. There are several intricacies, as all the best drone albums tend to have.
Nullify succeeds almost as a satire (whilst also being a completely logical extension) of doom and the extreme pretensions that too often are at play among many bands in the genre. I was never too much of a fan of their first album, Bludgeon, which in its own right seems satirical of doom (ie. What should be a six minute track stretched to sixty five), but Nullify is an inversion of its predecessor. Instead of being bombastic and crushing (sure, it’s still very long), the sonic dirge that runs through this track is, with the right mindset, akin to a dark/black ambient piece, slow, hypnotic and contrary to how the description above may imply, always evolving (albeit at the pace of a snail traversing a desert). It is in fact, the semi-musical segment of the album that is the ‘weakest’ section of the track; but is still essential in the structure. It’s almost a slap in the face really; 46 minutes of drone with barebones of musicality, then a sudden rise almost suckers us into thinking it’ll reach a pinnacle of drone doom heaviness. But the album does not function this way, however comforting the hope it would may be. This section feels like the last remnants of musicality slowly being beaten out of the song, nullified, and wiped from existence. It’s simultaneously a terrifying and fascinating idea, negating music, structure, purpose, everything that makes music and indeed life (for many of us at least) worthwhile. This is only the tip of the iceberg, readers. There are many philosophical revelations you may encounter whilst spending time with this album, and I won’t uncover them all for you.
My hope is that Bunkur realise that this release is quite literally the definitive drone doom album (hence my highest recommendation) and pursue a different path ahead in their career. Any further explorations of this genre for them would be redundant. Recommended to all adventurous music fans.