Ad Nauseam - Imperative Imperceptible Impulse

12 Feb 2021 - Stephan

Avantgarde Music | Release date: 12 Feb 2021 | Favorite song: Inexorably Ousted Sente

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Whenever a festival evolves beyond its initial profile there will be critical voices mourning the good old days. In Roadburn’s case this critique sometimes comes perplexingly late, since the claim “Redefining Heaviness” actually just describes a practice of branching out, which has been action since at least a decade by now. Of course some naysayers translate it to “not being heavy any more”, which is their good right, but honestly quite puzzling to me for various reasons. Here comes the first: How can folks seriously miss heavy stuff in the line-up, when already the very first name up there is Ad Nauseam, playing their complete 2021 future classic Imperative Imperceptible Impulse?

Rightfully this Dissonant Death Metal behemoth should have been reviewed on VoS long before, but there’s always so much music and so little time – if that counts as an excuse. At least it got a massive shout-out from yours truly as my album of the year, an assessment which still absolutely stands to this day. So what is it that makes this release so special beyond a title which is even more alliterative than even anything from Anvil? (Maybe someone told the Canadians, since their latest 2022 release Impact Is Immanent comes suspiciously close.)

The Italians have created a work of art which on one hand perfectly embodies not only its genre, but even its more specific subgenre Dissonant Death Metal. There are only very few moments like the Kayo Dot style Doomjazz vibes at the very end of the album, which are not exactly a hundred percent representation of that subgenre. Ad Nauseam don’t even include any non-Metal guest instrumentation and emphasize that with a “no synth” declaration, just like Queen used to have them on their 1970’s records. But - and that’s a big BUT – on the other hand, despite performing Death Metal to end all Death Metal, they couldn’t have pushed the boundaries of this framework further to a more singular result.

Even if you throw all those obvious great names in disharmonic extremism at them - Imperial Triumphant, Blut Aus Nord, Portal, Virus, Voivod, Oranssi Pazuzu… - Ad Nauseam always fall into a different pigeonhole. Something makes them different even among the different.

The key to that difference is the key. Or better the lack thereof, since the band has gone the extra mile to develop a completely new tuning for this record, to in their own words “allow a new harmonic vocabulary and to eradicate the players from the comfort zone of the usual melodic patterns every guitar/bass player is used to.”

Just like an avant-garde composer setting up a weird array of custom instruments or Miles Davis contemplating over the then more theoretical idea of Modal Jazz before recording Kind Of Blue, Ad Nauseam started their whole process with some serious conceptual nerd-work. Applying their knowledge in Metal, Jazz and 20th century Classical Music they reach for a special Kind of Dissonance, which seems far more strange and “out there” to European ears than Arabian microtonal music, which at least has a somehow familiar cultural backbone and should be part of any well-assorted music collection in at least some capacity.

The sum of all the lessons is a very targeted array of dynamic, polyrhythmic and harmonically challenging structures, all serving the purpose of an incredibly harrowing experience which in its traumatizing intensity and horror makes most other (not only Death) Metal look tame by comparison.

Even if you’re not in the mood to completely emotionally hand yourself over to this abyss of existential angst, the pure creativity and craftsmanship on display is a mind-boggling joy to behold. Just listen how during the second half of the opener “Sub Specie Aeternitatis” a nerve-jangling, seemingly chaotic crescendo gets transformed into an integral part of the songwriting! Or marvel at the band emulating a broken record on “Inexorably Ousted Sente” with stunning precision! The whole album is filled with amazing details like that and I haven’t in the slightest gotten tired of discovering or relishing them yet.

Let me be real here: The relevance of Imperative Imperceptible Impulse both artistically as well as just as a mind-bludgeoning banger probably won’t ever be mirrored by its renownedness. But – and that’s the second major BUT of this review – there’s still a lot of room to work on this, maybe starting with you! Just familiarize yourself with this masterpiece – or enjoy being overwhelmed by its furor live on the third Friday of April in Tilburg!