On its debut album, Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est, Italy’s Ad Nauseam offers a bizarre take on technical death metal that is complex, and jarring, but at the same time engaging and even astounding. Weird death metal has a long history, reaching at least as far back as Demilich’s Nespithe, but it’s never been a crowded field, so although Ad Nauseam certainly isn’t the first band to hammer death metal out of a giant pile of the wrong notes, the band’s style still comes across as relatively fresh.
Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est is dissonant, noisy and seemingly chaotic, and I can’t really tell when one song ends and another begins. Despite all that, this album comes across as finely, even meticulously crafted. I cannot help but think that there is a grand plan here, but I am just not smart enough to comprehend it. Not that it matters, because this album is perfectly enjoyable when taken riff by riff.
Ad Nauseam, by embracing dissonance and a little micro-tonality , has a far bigger palette to draw from than most death metal bands: Ad Nauseam is using the big 64 crayon box of Crayola’s while most death metal bands use the standard eight crayon box. There’s a lot more going on here than yellow and blue makes green. The guitarists rarely play in unison and rarely utilize standard death metal techniques. Somehow, however, the parts end up meshing like a zipper, to create something musical, compelling and often catchy, even when the results sound more like power tools, a ray gun or an earthquake than the product of guitars, bass and drums. Then again, sometimes the music is more than the product of guitars bass and drums, as in “Key to Timeless Laws”, when a violin comes from out of nowhere and delivers a demented solo, perfectly in keeping with the album’s style.
The vocals and drums are what tie Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est most firmly to death metal. The vocals are perhaps the least remarkable element of the entire affair. They are perfectly serviceable, but nothing more than an average death growl. In an album this chaotic, though, an anchor in normality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The drums are busy, but not too far out. They provide a focused, straightforward aggression that puts a lot of the heavy in this heavy metal.
In the second half of Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est, the tracks seem to stretch out a bit and become more atmospheric, which dilutes the ferocity somewhat. The songs are still magnificently twisted, but one questions the wisdom of letting off the gas in the home stretch of an album that is almost an hour long. As taxing a listen as this album can be, by mellowing out a bit I think Ad Nauseam risks losing the listener. This, however, is more a problem with the running order than it is with the songs themselves.
I am not one to place a high value on weirdness for its own sake. Novelty has its charm, but it is the masterful manner in which Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est is constructed and executed that is real draw here. This is good death metal every bit as much as it is weird death metal. If the likes of Gorguts and Pyrrhon twist your ears in just the right way, then Ad Nauseam is well worth investigating.