A dark, disturbed and intensely immersive ride
Nothing is ready to take people for a ride. On their fourth studio album, The Great Dismal, they quickly develop an intense and all-encompassing darkness on the very first track, and dive right in for the extent of the project. The band maintains a similar energy to the man on the cover; they’re scarred and defeated, and their languid movements reveal an expectation for further pain and disappointment, but there just might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Frontman Dominic “Nicky” Palermo, drummer Kyle Kimball, bassist Aaron Heard and backup vocalist/guitarist Doyle Martin are completely on the same page, and move as a unit on this album. They clearly went into the production of The Great Dismal with a well-defined vision, and it’s hard to imagine a world where they were more successful at executing on that vision than they are on this fantastic set of grimy rock masterclasses.
The opener, “A Fabricated Life,” is absolutely gorgeous. The wistful vocals and tender guitar recall the moments at which one feels most isolated. Life is frustrating, not always rewarding and can easily devolve into a deeply unsatisfying experience; this first track is where Nothing begins to tap into these heavy but relatively universal emotions.
“Say Less” and “April Ha Ha” introduce Kimball’s driving drum work and an entirely different outlook on the role that guitar plays in Nothing’s music. On these tracks, Palermo and Doyle grind away at significantly heavier tones than what was employed on the first track. Moments like the latter half of “April Ha Ha,” at which they opt to take a step back and tap into a more relaxed sound, create a lovely contrast, and make the shift back into heaviness extremely satisfying. This back-and-forth shift in energy is a part of the band’s continuing effort to mold the album’s dire world view. Palermo’s consistently drone-like and pleasantly melodic vocals act as a great through line, connecting the vastly different tracks together well.
“Catch a Fade” is another great example of Nothing’s ability to make heavier musical elements mesh beautifully with softer and more sensitive sounds (like Palermo’s voice) in ways one could never expect. “Famine Asylum” leans into the band’s heaviest guitars once again. For a band that, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really breaking any new ground in terms of instrumentation, they sure do know how to switch up their sound in subtle ways at just the right time. At the halfway point of this album, the band has lost none of the brutal and nakedly emotional kinetic energy that they’ve been developing up to this point in the project.
“Bernie Sanders” is an interesting cut. It’s certainly one of the more enigmatic tracks; it’s unclear what any of this has to do with the leftist icon and deservingly revered Vermont senator, but it’s definitely still an entertaining take on the band’s usual drones. “In Blueberry Memories” initially sounds like it plans to stay in similar territory, before guitars explode through a brick wall and take the track to a completely different plane.
The album ends with “Blue Mecca,” “”Just a Story” and “Ask The Rust,” a three-peat of practically no-holds barred despair. “Blue Mecca” is where the group perfects the drones that they’ve explored throughout this album. The closer probably could’ve done a bit more to deliver on the ending that a project like this truly deserve, but it’s far from unsatisfactory. There’s a glimmer of hope here that helps to lift oneself out of the emotional sludge that Nothing has gone to such great lengths to establish.
The most satisfying albums tend to be the ones that create the most fully realized and satisfying front-to-back experiences. Simply put, if an album is capable of creating a genuinely immersive experience, and makes people feel truly transported for the entirety of its runtime, it’s probably great, or at least bordering on very good. What Nothing have done on The Great Dismal falls squarely within this description. They’ve built something here, track by track, that is capable of affecting one’s world view. It’s expansive, beautiful at some moments and grotesque at others. Sure, some tracks are better than others, but the whole is undoubtedly an impressive accomplishment. The Great Dismal (and Nothing’s future work, for that matter) is worth paying attention to, and dissecting at a deep level after repeat listens. This is the type of project that can teach people something about themselves, so enjoy it.