Nothing – ‘The Great Dismal’ review: catharsis, crushing noise – and moments of monotony

The Philadelphia band's epic fifth record boasts moments of overwhelming power, but sometimes gets bogged down beneath its own colossal weight

Crushing sonic purges are nothing new to Philadelphia band Nothing. Their last album,  2018’s’ ‘Dance On The Blacktop’, was a blast of scouring fuzz; rough, intense, and deeply personal. On ‘The Great Dismal’, however, those great waves of sound are even heftier, their edges sharpened to a finer point. The guitars are richer and more densely layered, the drums more pummelling, everything bathed in a blaring, otherworldly wash of noise.

On a number of the tracks, there’s an extremely obvious, though valid, comparison to be made with My Bloody Valentine’s quest for the sublime through shoegaze. The precisely organised attacks of guitar that blaze all over the searing second track ‘Say Less’ come straight from the Kevin Shields handbook. Every now and then they blast so firmly on all cylinders that they recall Spiritualized’s transcendent all-consuming space-rock – see the hypnotic second half of ‘Bernie Sanders’, or the delicate strings and harps that decorate ‘A Fabricated Life’. Meanwhile, ‘Just A Story’ and ‘April Ha Ha’, they layer snarling riffs like golden-era Smashing Pumpkins.


All of which is to say that ‘The Great Dismal’ sounds big, and far grander in scope than anything the four-piece have done before; frontman Dominic Palermo even wrote the record with the first ever photograph of a black hole hanging above his desk. There are moments when they truly let loose with all that force. Guitars whip, howl and plunge on ‘Say Less’ like the winds of a category six hurricane; three quarters of the way through the already imperious ‘Famine Asylum’ comes a machine gun of drums and a screech of guitar to take you aback all over again. The gigantic space rock guitars on ‘Bernie Sanders’ burst and shimmer like a supernova, and ‘Blue Mecca’’s slow crescendo is totally overwhelming.

There are points, however, where the record gets bogged down under its own weight, where a wave of noise subsides without doing any damage. On ‘Just A Story’, the ebbs and flows of loud and quiet feel formulaic. On the toothless ‘Catch A Fade’, Palermo’s cool, melancholy vocals too detached to offer the kind of impetus the sound needs. For every moment of monotony, however, there are plenty more set alight with total cathartic majesty.


Nothing The Great Dismal

Release date: October 30

Record label: Relapse

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