Written by Kep
Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
Avant-Garde Black/Death Metal from Italy
Released February 12th, 2021
Via Avantgarde Music (Vinyl/CD)
When we think of the term “avant-garde”, what does that bring to mind? On a definition level, we might think of the ideas of pushing boundaries or rejecting traditional concepts. On a musical level, we usually associate the avant-garde with dissonance and atonality, complex polyrhythms, and envelope-pushing experimentation. We metalheads probably think of Gorguts, or maybe Ulcerate, perhaps Blut aus Nord, or Dodecahedron. Well, get ready folks, because if you didn’t think of Ad Nauseam when you thought of avant-garde, after you listen to Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, you might think of them before anyone else.
Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is the sophomore release by this Italian four-piece, and it comes out of the gates swinging, and we’re not talking fists. Ad Nauseam is swinging a ten-ton dissonance hammer straight at your head from the very first moment that “Sub Specie Aeternitatis” begins. The riffs alternately swirl in delirious circular motions and then pitch suddenly and violently, keeping the listener’s ears in a constant state of unease as they are assaulted with layer after layer of intricacies. The effect is one of intense chaos, but throughout this record Ad Nauseam simultaneously accomplishes something quite unique: despite the churning, miasmatic chaos, there’s still a feeling of structure and organization. Take the first section of “Human Interface to No God”, where the sequences of syncopations and polyrhythms should utterly wreck any sense of our rhythmic bearings, and yet the framework of the band’s writing keeps us from feeling like we’re floundering completely. It’s little things like this that are the difference between an experience that is so disorienting that it’s unenjoyable, and one that makes you want to come back and understand more on the next listen.
The band’s approach to sound quality is something that deserves its own entire article because on that level this album is an absolute triumph. In their own words: “Ad Nauseam takes a step back from the synthetic, flat and fake sound of modern production trends, going in the opposite direction…less is more.” To that end, there is no doubt that this is one of the finest records you will ever hear from a mixing standpoint: every single note, hit, and roar sounds authentic and present. I swear it feels like you can reach out and touch the drums, or if I take a step back I might bump into the bassist. Ad Nauseam states that the post-production part of creating this album took a backseat to an intensely detailed study of how to best record the live instruments in an authentic way, and there’s no doubt that this paid off.
They also claim to have devised an entirely unique tuning system that allowed them to create new harmonies and forward-thinking riffs, similarly to when Meshuggah made the decision to switch to 8-string guitars. There is certainly no shortage of distinctive moments on Imperative Imperceptible Impulse that will grab you urgently by the ear. There’s the section a little over midway through “Sub Specie Aeternitatis”, where Andrea S.’s drums repeat a multi-measure accelerating figure over and over while the guitars swirl nauseatingly above, making you feel like you’re trapped in a churning vortex. There’s the moment that “Inexorably Ousted Sente” begins, growing menacingly out of the eerie strings that ended the opening song; I literally said out loud, “Oh god, it’s starting again.” How about the absolute mindfuck three-quarters of the way through the album’s centerpiece, “Coincidentia Oppositorum”, where the instruments all break from headlong death metal fury into a momentary frantic roller coaster of triple meter? Or in the title track, where a slithery, filthy chromatic guitar lick becomes the anchor point for the whole song, and then is slowed and stretched over a bare rhythm section while Andrea P. snarls “Since I am and I am not / I can be and be no more”? Maybe you’re looking for the opening of “Horror Vacui”, where strings introduce a horror movie score riff that is then devastatingly translated to the guitars. Or perhaps what will really make you sit upright is the final song, “Human Interface to No God”, that furiously delivers violent polyrhythms and harsh guttural screams for 4 ½ minutes before running off a cliff into the void, and then closes with minutes worth of strangely unsettling jazzy harmonies. Even when the record allows the listener to breathe with a few moments of ambiance, it doesn’t feel forced or hollow, as so many similar passages do; instead, it feels poignant and meaningful, embodying the idea of the void that frequently appears in the lyrics.
Up above I asked what ideas the term “avant-garde” brought to mind, but what I didn’t mention was its literal meaning. In the original French, “avant-garde” literally means “vanguard”; it comes from their term for a section of the army that goes ahead of the rest. There’s little question that with Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, Ad Nauseam has squarely positioned themselves at the forefront of metal, envisioning and succeeding in forging a daring new path ahead of the body of the genre’s other bands. It’s not an easy listen, but why would you expect something this groundbreaking to keep you comfortable?
Favorite track: “Imperative Imperceptible Impulse”