Review Summary: A musical conundrum of the highest calibre.
Although it was usually a call for admiration some two decades ago, a metal band boasting extreme technical skill on their debut album is rather common these days. Understandably, the listeners’ enthusiasm for frequent tempo changes, odd time signatures and ostentatious arpeggios played at inhuman speeds has waned, and many bands hoping to distinguish themselves from the crowd are pushing the fold of innovation to the extreme. However, avoiding the perennial comparisons to Gorguts and/or Deathspell Omega seems to be a challenge for just about any band that opts for a complex and dissonant take on either death or black metal. Ad Nauseam aren’t immune, either. From the opening measures of “My Buried Dream”, it’s clear that the aforementioned acts have had a profound influence on the Italian four-piece, but Ad Nauseam manage to mould their influences into something that is faithful yet idiosyncratic, with an intensity that few can match.
The level of proficiency displayed on Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est
comfortably usurps my ability to dissect and analyse the theory behind it in any great detail. Unorthodox chord progressions and chromatic leads constitute a good portion of the guitar work, bearing resemblances to that of acts such as Ulcerate, Artificial Brain and even Portal, but sounding imitative of none of them. Ad Nauseam combine the visceral, bludgeoning and oppressive nature of their contemporaries with an academic panache. This is enriched by the inclusion of atonal backing strings reminiscent of composers like Alfred Schnittke, exhibited most vividly in the closing minutes of “Key to Timeless Laws”. Now, lacing your compositions with string sections that flirt with serialism can very easily come across as contrived and pseudo-intellectual, but the manner in which the band integrates them is both tasteful and mercifully sporadic. With the bells and whistles confined to climaxes and interludes, the core instrumentation still drives the majority of the album, skirting the line between accessibility and total bedlam but never drifting too close to either end of the spectrum.
Underneath the disorienting presentation are arrangements that have been methodically composed, revised and fine-tuned. Each song is rapidly evolving into something different, and though refrains and hooks are present, they can be rather difficult to decipher on account of the eccentric material and seamless transitions. Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est
requires several astute listens before everything begins to unravel in a way that makes sense. Yes, it can still feel a little disorderly at times, but any such moments are few and far between. Aural respite comes in the form of melodic ceases, in which notes and chords often ring freely to create a palpable air of suspense, before the band shifts into gear and repeatedly catches you off-guard. The inclusion of these musical ceasefires also brings to light how beautifully produced the album is - each instrument has an equitable place in the mix, as well as crisp and clear yet organic timbres across the board. Combine the acute balance and rich textures with spacious mastering and you have what is arguably the best death metal album of 2015, so far.
With the amount of time and dedication that Ad Nauseam have clearly expended here, it would be a shame for this opus to be dismissed as just another Obscuracore product, because it is so much more than that. Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est
is a labyrinth of an album that takes time and patience to absorb, and should you afford it just that, your efforts will surely be reconciled.