Counterpoint: Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse (Well, Not Really a Counterpoint Because I Don’t Really Understand This Record So There Is No Point To Counter But Goddammit I Made This Post Anyway)
One thing is certain about the latest offering from Ad Nauseam: People Are Saying Things About It. Many things. Superlative things. There has been a groundswell of praise for this record, digitally bubbling up from the various morasses we inhabit, call friends, acquaintances, or enemies. It has been graced with top marks, the highest of the highs. It is innovative, avant-garde, pushing the boundaries of metal to frontiers unknown.
But most of all, it is smart. It takes time to fully understand, a text one must read repeatedly to peel its layers and discover the sonic enlightenment contained deep therein. Very deep. Because this is a deep record for deep people.
I am not a deep person. I swim in more visceral waters, waters where consonant verse-bridge-chorus can lap gently over my dullard brain and caress me to sleep with constant assurance that everything will be ok. Not that I am a stranger to dissonance or find it unenjoyable. It has its place. When used as a flavor, even a dominant one, it can play off the familiar, creating a sense of dread, unease, or imbalance within music that consonance cannot replicate.
Therein lies the rub. Dissonance needs a strong play partner. If left to its own devices, it becomes untethered from reality, a series of unshared logics babbling alone in a corner about which suspicious penguins have been surveilling them through the pavement. Sure, someone may find value in attempting to unravel the words being said, in the order they are, and accepting the madness as it comes on its own terms. But that person isn’t me.
And Ad Nauseam is, indeed, madness, though an intricate and tightly controlled one. The reviewers who fell in love with this record have described it perfectly: it is an impressive and creative technical feat of insanity. It jazzes and progs; it deaths and blacks. It swirls and changes, mostly at dizzying speeds, from one thought to another without much regard for health or safety. Because your health or safety is not its concern. Your ability to follow along is your own limitation. Just let the geniuses work.
So what happens when your music does not reach a genius (me)? What happens when an idiot listens to this and has access to an internet platform and no one cares about him enough to tell him to shut the fuck up and not open his big fucking trap to show his idiocy to the world? Well, I’ll tell you because no one can stop me: the idiot says that, despite all the smartness the idiot believes might exist, and is told does exist, in this record, the overall product sounds bad. It is aggressively and assertively unpleasant, dissonance without a friend.
While the musicianship is clearly off the charts and every note appears to have been planned with care, so much of the record is impenetrable nonsense to these ears. With every spin, I felt like I was ascending a mountain through dense forest hoping to find the summit for a breathtaking view yet finding myself in dense clouds once I reached it. Then I would fall back down and start all over again only to repeat the same experience, a Sisyphean task of grasping for some hold of commonality upon which to build. None came. I was adrift in space, watching the Earth get farther and farther away and wondering why I was intrigued/frustrated enough to keep pressing play.
Try as I might, I eventually gave up, defeated. I never reached enlightenment. I accepted that I didn’t, and don’t, speak Ad Nauseam’s language in the same way that I don’t speak Italian. I could pick up a novel and read along, every once in a while picking up a word or two that resembles English and extrapolate out from there. But I wouldn’t really have any idea what’s happening and I wouldn’t get much out of the exercise, which is where I am here. I don’t remember much from the album save for the cool spaceship-powering-up and horror-themed THX feel at the end of the opening track, “Sub Specie Aeternitatis”, and the loungy drift-off of closer, “Human Interface to No God”. I didn’t feel the hallmark dread or playful imbalance I look for in dissonance-heavy music. In fact, I didn’t feel much at all. I left every listen hungry for emotion; parched with thirst am I and dying.
I can’t score this album in any way because I don’t feel like I am its intended audience. How could I score a piece of art that appears to accomplish its aim but that aim is alien to me? I can safely say it has succeeded in being an extremely difficult piece of music, expertly played and likely expertly theorized in some academic sense. I can also safely say that it has failed in that it did not produce rewarding listens from which I could extract any enjoyment. And that’s ok. Ad Nauseam is obviously not looking to make any friends. They are confident in what they do, as they should be. I just don’t have to like it.