Unfortunately, “isolation” has been an unusually busy time for me, and a consequence of this is that this blog has become a low enough priority that it has not seen an update since its first post. But there is somewhat of a lull now between the activities that have kept me occupied. So I would like now to revive this blog from its stillbirth.
The plan is to make this a first in a series of twelve posts in which I discuss (or maybe at times, drone on about) my favorite albums from each year in the interval from 2010 to 2021, in reverse order. Here is the one from this year.
This is the cover for Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, a work of dissonant death metal by Ad Nauseam.
Although (extreme) metal is easily my favorite (sub)genre of music, it is difficult for me to apply the term “masterpiece” to works from this genre in any way that is not extremely selective. In fact, there are only three albums to which I have been willing to affix this label. One is Mayhem’s 2007 album, Ordo ad Chao, with the caveat that is must be viewed with this label in the time that it was released. Another came out between 2010 and 2020, so I think I won’t spoil it. This release by Ad Nauseam is the third.
There is really a lot here, and this was clear to me on the first listen. What wasn’t clear to me immediately was that all of it is really worth listening to, unpacking, and digesting. I needed a few extra listens to understand this. I think it was the twang of the minor seconds that brought me back to this album after hearing it once. But others might not be fortunate enough to have some strange reason of this nature to come back to this album, if they do not already understand what might be extracted from it. So I want to emphasize certain aspects of this album which deserve to be noticed. Here is one such aspect.
- There is barely a notion of lead versus rhythm guitar here; there is only left channel and right channel. What the guitars play in either channel are different, usually very different.
The guitars are therefore contrasting in space. The album is supposed to be very dissonant, so this is a good choice. And despite the contrast, they are really complementary from the point of view of this style of dissonance.
It is very impressive to me, by the way, that the music for each guitar was written so well with such contrast. I don’t understand how this is done. The guitars are often so different that it almost sounds like the writing has to evolve out of some improvisation. But the music does not actually sound improvised at all.
- In the hellscape of dissonant metal, prominent yet distinct roles are played by tritones and by minor seconds, the former often being more prominent. Here the roles seem to be reversed, and this is essential to the atmosphere of the music.
- The result of the production is an organicity that allows for a lot of subtlety to be placed into the low end.
Often the riffs on either guitar switch between the high end and the low end quite rapidly, and a some of what is played on the low end often almost gets lost in the production. But this is a feature. I think if the production packed more of a punch, in a way which is typical of death metal, much of what happens on the low end would sound too weird and unnatural.
The percussion also deserves a good deal of praise, including the following point.
- Despite the rhythmic complexity of the drumming, the drum lines themselves are extremely memorable.
Surely this is a more subjective point. Here is what I mean by it: Often in avant-garde metal, the rhythms become very complicated, and a consequence of this is that it becomes very difficult to intuit what the drummer will do while one is listening to the music. This is even true, at least for me, even after several listens for some albums. I don’t experience this with this Ad Nauseam record, however. While the drumming is still very complex and interesting, it remains very intuitive. This must be an extremely difficult balance to strike.
I want to close this post by listing either one specific aspect or one specific moment of each of the six tracks on this album which I feel deserve attention. Look out for these points while listening to the record.
- The outro of Sub Specie Aeternitatis is lain over an “endlessly ascending” string riff; this is merely a loop during which the pitch does ascend, but the high end becomes quieter. This should be compared to the percussion during and just before this loop, which slowly accelerates, though not through tempo, but more discretely through duration of each note.
- Inexorably ousted Sente ends with a very interesting but brief passage wherein all instruments repeat every three quarter notes, but they do so on an off-beat mark, 11/16 into the measure. This creates a strong “record skipping” effect, possibly disorienting until it terminates.
- The passage before the outro of Coincidentia Oppositorum is possibly my favorite moment on the entire album. In it, the guitar in the right channel plays a chaotic riff in 9/4 timing which exists mostly in the mid-to-high end, something which is more or less standard on this album. But it is underscored by low end pulses emitted simultaneously by the bass and the guitar in the left channel. The thing to note here is that these pulses are quintuplets, but they may sound at first like they are in intervals of 3/16 (even though, were this the case, it would leave too much extra space at the end of each measure). This possible confusion might result because the drumming in this section is still in intervals of powers of 1/2, and certainly not 1/5. While this all sounds extremely disorienting, this passage somehow remains sufficiently coherent to be listenable. This demonstrates a masterful control of rhythm.
- The title track of Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is, at least at this moment, my favorite on the album, and there is a lot one can note here. But I want to draw attention to the progression of the entire track. Throughout the song, the music itself very slowly takes on a more positive attitude, which particularly begins to shine during the final third of the song. But then it is smothered in the outro, bringing us back to where we began.
- In the outro of Horror Vacui, the prominent riff is played by the guitar in the right channel, and it is borrowed from the passage just after the intro. These two passages containing this riff should be compared; at least to me, they sound significantly different, despite the fact that what is played by the other instruments, while different amongst these passages, is maybe not significantly so. I think this is due mostly to subtleties in the percussion. In the first of these two passages, the drummer plays a straightforward blast beat in triplets, while in the second, the accentuation of quarter notes is prominent, giving it a kind of “third-tempo” effect.
- Human Interface To No God is the most chaotic track on the album (until it becomes the least) and the way this chaos is accomplished is worth noting. The song is slower than the rest, and this gives the guitars room to move more than on the other tracks without becoming incoherent.
I can’t promise anything, but I hope to keep this blog alive from this point, or at least on life support. If this was a worthwhile read, keep an eye out for the post on 2020.