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Emptiness - Not for Music album art

Not For Music

20th January 2016 – Season Of Mist

01. Meat Heart
02. It Might Be
03. Circle Girl
04. Your Skin Won’t Hide You
05. Digging The Sky
06. Ever
07. Let it Fall

Although they are often associated with the blackened death metal tag, it would be fair to say that Emptiness have always been off to the side on the peripheries of the genre, confidently hacking out their own musical path: they have not bowed to the growing blackgaze buzz; they do not aim to instill you with the coldness of the deepest of Scandinavian winters; nor do they meander into the genre’s more sombre and atmospheric territories in the style of Agalloch. Instead they exist in some unchartered plain of reality where all of these realms overlap, a distinct sound which gained the universal acclaim of listeners on their 2014 release Nothing But The Whole - but with this, their fifth full length release, the band strip back the black metal aesthetic and explore new avenues, drawing influence on post rock and synthpop to varying degrees of success.

With a title like Not For Music it feels at times as if Emptiness are deliberately trying to subvert your expectations and they achieve this superbly with the first track “Meat Heart” which opens with despondent warbling synths that are eerily reminiscent of Swans’ “Helpless Child“. As unlikely as it sounds, this opening synth motif transitions pretty tastefully into the album’s first tremolo picked guitar melody, buried up to the elbows in reverb for full black metal and post-rock effect – but aside from the low, semi-whispered vocals, that’s as close to black metal as the track gets; the slow-paced drumming that emerges creates a far more old-school feel by contrast. Even the reverb used on the snare sounds like it has been specifically manufactured to arouse your 80’s nostalgia.

It’s clear from the get go that the focus of the album is less on riffs and aggression and more so on atmosphere, the avant-garde, and psychedelia, and while that may not be to every listener’s fancy, at least Emptiness can be praised for stepping further into the shadows, to boldly go where no black metal musician has gone before.

Tracks like “It Might Be” and “Circle Girl” continue the more post-rock-esque direction of the album, whereas the clean guitars in “Your Skin Won’t Hide You” and “Digging The Sky” act almost like musical footholds. It’s in spots of the album like this where Emptiness sound more aligned to the post-punk and blackgaze-infused sounds of bands such as Amesoeurs and Alcest, but they maintain a unique atmosphere with strange production and song structuring choices; several of the tracks come to a whiplash halt out of nowhere, which should instantly remind fans of the finale of their previous album.

The only spots on Not For Music that feels genuinely out of place, and not intentionally idiosyncratic, are the final two tracks. The dramatic shift in tone of “Ever“, provided by the synthpop beat at the back-end of the song, gave me the slightly hilarious mental image of Emptiness religiously studying Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love album, specifically “Waking The Witch“, and as morbidly curious as this may sound on paper, the experiment proves to be a stretch too far in practice. This out-of-place feeling is only emphasised by the closing track which is by far the most aggressive spot on the record, so when these two are played back to back they unfortunately have all the chemistry of a slice of bread and a broken toaster.

This is a perplexing album. At times it feels like too many styles are being forced together for the sake of making an artistic point but if there is one thing that can be said for this album, with the exception of “Ever“, Emptiness clearly show themselves as masters of creating an unsettling, cavernous atmosphere. Not For Music is an album that raises more questions the more you listen to it but considering the contrasting styles on show here, that in itself adds to its charm and the impending sense of dread that will build in you once it hits your ears.