[Cover art by fivetimesno]
Animate the Emptiness, the first full length from New York’s Luminous Vault, is by definition a heavy metal album, and yet, it is also not a heavy metal album. To frame this contradiction (with admittedly a bit of a false equivalence), send your brain back to 1973 and imagine people listening to Dark Side of the Moon for the first time. While it’s now seen as a pinnacle of progressive rock, Pink Floyd’s most celebrated album isn’t exactly what you think of when the term “prog rock” enters your mind, and the mood isn’t exactly suitable for a binge of Yes records. It is indeed progressive, but it is also something else.
The band’s membership provides a good clue as to why this is. This is the two-man collaboration of guitarist/vocalist Mario Diaz de León (of dark ambient/electronic acts Bloodmist and Oneirogen) and bassist Samuel Smith (of very-much-metal acts Artificial Brain and Aeviterne, both of whom also have great 2022 records). Together with a drum machine and various other synthetic touches they weave a musical tapestry that ends up somewhere between the various sounds of Dødheimsgard, Fields of the Nephilim, Godflesh, and Aphex Twin (and Oranssi Pazuzu and Bauhaus and Blut Aus Nord and All Very Good Things). That’s a lot of names, but it’s all brought together into a unique and thoroughly cohesive sound. The result is an album as drifting as it is pulsating, as jangly and jarring as it is beautiful, and as welcoming as it is hauntingly mysterious.
The entire 36 minutes of Animate the Emptiness works as a kind of push and pull between all the varying moods and styles. Opener “Invoke Radiant Gleam” starts with fuzzy IDM throbs but doesn’t take long to introduce a simple black metal riff over industrial beats and a catchy, ascending hook that seems to claw its way to the forefront. It even ends with a collection of tremolo passages that sound more akin to post rock than corpse-painted frostiness. It’s among the more stylistically blended tracks on the record, but each tune offers its own touches, details, and ways to explore the band’s unique space. “Divine Transduction” spends a lot of time with driftier material, but also gets downright doomy for a while before unloading some blasts, while the appropriately titled “Regeneration” and “Earth Daemon” are the most uplifting and punishing tracks on the record, respectively (the latter is a serious thumper).
If those are the most uplifting and brutal tunes, “Incarnate Flame Arise” is the dreamiest and most escapist. One could be forgiven for mistaking the combination of beats and slight riffs at the song’s beginning as an outtake from Kid A, and when thicker guitar tones arrive, they manage to sound inviting despite their sorrowful nature. The tremolo lines, while harsh, have a jangly gothic rock feel, helping to give the entire song a somber and eerie but still quite soothing atmosphere. Feel and atmosphere really are big keys to the album’s success. This is absolutely a “drinking red wine in a candlelit room” kind of record.
The only minor quibble with Animate the Emptiness is that Diaz de León’s vocals sometimes seem like a bit of an afterthought. His voice is never bad or distracting, but he’s also never as commanding or desperate in the way, say, Justin Broadrick is during a particularly aggressive Godflesh song (which is understandably a bit of an unfair comparison). This is, however, a small criticism on an otherwise quite engrossing record.
Animate the Emptiness is a bit like that scary cave on Dagobah—exactly what the record gives to you personally might just depend on what experiences you bring to it (including those weapons). Sure, this can be said of any piece of music, but it’s especially true of something with such far reaching sources. This is an enchanting, unique album, and should have broad appeal to adventurous music fans coming from a wide array of perspectives. Not everyone that loved “Us and Them” got there through “Siberian Khatru,” after all.