Belgium’s Emptiness just dropped one of 2014’s more puzzling records.
First off, just where in the hell are we planning on stacking this thing? In the death metal pile next to weirdos such as Morbus Chron, Tribulation, etc? The overall approach to the gruff & grumble vocals seems to point in that general direction, but brother, Nothing but the Whole is about as distant from a typical death metal album as you can get, so maybe we should just put it over here next to this Coil record and that small pile of mysterious and colorful pills we discovered under the couch cushions.
Second, are we supposed to feel this level of comfort and distress after listening to this thing? And can we even expect those two words to play together nicely in the same sandbox? Comfort and distress?
but the Whole by Emptiness&amp;lt;/a&amp;gt;Sure they can. Leaning heavier on the distress end of the spectrum: It’s like one of those harsh scenes in a film detailing addiction where a junkie slinks off to a decaying hovel to slam heroin and drool-stare at life’s rich tapestry of nothingness. Deplorable, dark and nasty, but comfort still manages to push its presence because the warm honeyed veins continue to numb some appalling slice of reality too grim to face when sober. “Tale of a Burning Man.”
Or tipping the scales a little more in favor of the comfort side: That moment just before drifting to sleep, when the harshness of the daily fucking grind slips away just enough to finally allow you to let your guard down. Anxiety still flecks the corners, but it’s clouded by dreaminess and the pleasant recognition that some manner of respite is ahead, no matter how brief. “Go and Hope.”
Nothing but the Whole bends all manner of varying degrees of distress and comfort, and it accomplishes the task under a truly weird umbrella of metal that’s quite difficult to pin down. The songs are sluggish, depressive and vile; they are gothic, jagged and trippy; and they’re also curiously pretty, like some strange dream-state collision between Prophecy of Doom, Blut Aus Nord, Vaura and Fields of the Nephilim.
Bassist/vocalist Phorgath’s deep, sullen grumble is at times the heaviest element in the equation, but even when Nothing but the Whole chooses to emphasize many of its more relaxed, glidingly gloomy states—the jangly and bass-bubbling bulk of “All is Known,” for example—songs such as the aforementioned “Tale of a Burning Man,” “Behind the Curtain,” and portions of the excellent closer, “Lowland,” all utilize a burly, proggy denseness and (please don’t take this the wrong way) “groove” that adds ample weight and a very unique hook to the album’s overall temperament.
In the end, I suppose that old adage about one man’s sleeping pill being another man’s wonderfully gratifying narcotic trip to a bent, shadowy world of grotesquely exquisite death rings loud and clear here. As far as this ol’ banger’s concerned, Nothing but the Whole represents precisely the sort of wrinkle in death metal’s fabric that’s highly worthy of investigation and reflection.