Death metal needs bands like Nothingness. There’s nothing wrong with sticking firmly within a specific genre and making art that doesn’t stray from the boundaries of what makes that genre unique. Bands do it all the time and plenty of my favorite bands aren’t the most experimental in their approaches. There’s nothing wrong with that and when you have a killer formula, why mess with what works? That being said, to truly push the envelope and expand that most worthy of extreme metal subgenres requires bands that aren’t afraid to do things a little differently and take big swings. Nothingness does just that on their second full-length, 2023’s Supraliminal.
Whenever you hear someone talk about a death metal band pushing the envelope, it’s usually being pushed more out of extreme metal than anything else. Look, I dig plenty of death metal albums that incorporate clean vocals and clearer passages but the more progressive side of death metal doesn’t always do it for me. So, when I hear that a band is taking death metal and bucking trends with it, I’m usually a little wary that I’m in for Opeth Wannabe Band #617. Nothingness is the other kind of genre-pushing band: the kind that takes death metal and, rather than add softer elements, incorporates hallmarks unique to other forms of extreme metal while still being within the death camp. As a huge fan of things like thrash, black, and doom metal, this style of boundary busting feels tailored to my particularly interests. Suffice it to say, guitarist and main songwriter Alex Walstad and the rest of his Minneapolis-based crew have penned a record that is going to stay with me for quite some time and one that I won’t be surprised to be talking about when December rolls around.
Musically, Supraliminal pulls from a lot of different fields while still staying comfortably within the death metal genre. Hallmarks of blackened death abound on the record, with tracks like “Catapulted Into Hyperspace” showing off how effectively Nothingness can meld black and death metal. The seven-minute epic “Beacon of Loss” trudges into doom territory and you can find thrashy riffs littered throughout the album on songs like “Inviolate Viscera” and “Horrendous Incantation,” the latter of which also veers into a doomier territory. It’s precisely that mix of whatever the Hell Nothingness wants to put on the record that makes this such an exciting release. It can be easy for a band to fall back on genre parameters in order to not turn off potential fans that might not like as much experimentation in their music. On Supraliminal, Nothingness throws convention to the wind and we are all the better for it.
If you like records that stick to a certain tempo, this one probably won’t do it for you. Walstad and company have composed a variety of songs here that shift speeds and moods at a breakneck pace, all anchored by the steady hand of Jason Hirt (who the band parted with following the recording) behind the kit. Expect the unexpected is the key to Supraliminal. I really didn’t know if I was in for a straight death metal song when I started a track or if it would shift into slower, doom sections. How many bands would include a break using an instrument called a vibraslap that sounds more jazzy that death metal? It’s seemingly disparate elements like that break in “Inviolate Viscera” that got me grinning from ear to ear while listening through the record.
One thing that’s also readily apparent rather quickly is the depth put into this record by lyricist/vocalist Barclay Olson. It’s always been a cliche that bothers the living shit out of me that metal lyrics in general, and death metal in particular, are either lazy, all surface, or just stereotypical buckets of blood type stuff. Barclay’s lyrics on Supraliminal jumped out to me right away, thanks to the depth of emotion on display as well as the word usage. Opener “Curse of Creation” is, on its surface, another song about how existence is anything but a gift. For other bands, this would be pretty standard fare but with lyrics like “Formed gilded, rotted, repeated, malformed deities adorn gardens of spiritual decay. Death feeds, mankind breeds. The flame consumes resplendently,” there’s a poetic nature to the songs that you don’t always get in extreme metal. That’s just one example but the record is filled with wordplay that I really dug and that provided different things to think about and chew on while listening to the record. You can definitely take each song at face value but if you want to dig a little deeper into them, you’ll find plenty to reward your effort. Vocally, Olson just straight up murders this record. His guttural growls dominate the low end of the register but he’s more than adept shrieking out as well.
Supraliminal does not take its time hooking you in and it leaves the same way by making a huge impact over the final two songs. Penultimate number “The Anvil” drops in as heavy as the iron block that shares its name and builds itself into a stellar track that’s not quite death-doom but, like many of the songs on the record, is its own beast that mixes elements of the two. Barclay has some truly sick sounding vocals on this one as he puts the full range of his talent on display too. Closer “Decimation Mechanism” builds a strong atmosphere with a patient intro that bleeds into the monster riff convention that the song turns into. It’s a Hell of a number to close on and it feels like lesser bands could have based half an album around the ideas in this one song. For a band that spent the previous 40-odd minutes chewing up genre conventions and spitting them out into one of the most eclectic death metal releases of the past few years, there’s really not a better finale for Supraliminal to leave fans with.
Final verdict: 4.5/5
Photo at top: Supraliminal album cover.