Nothing’s strength was never their originality but how they repurposed bandleader Dominic Palermo’s anger into a heavier strain of shoegaze. Through Nothing Palermo channeled his frustration fueled by a mess of scandal, jail time, assault, brain damage, and death. The group operated in the heavier spectrum of shoegaze with crashing cymbals and dense riffs contrasting Palermo’s lackadaisical vocals. The Great Dismal reflects a personal maturation on the part of Palermo as opposed to a sonic progression. Musically the tenants of Nothing’s craft remain unchanged, but The Great Dismal nudges down the tempo and portrays a newly blossomed bud; levity. Even at their heaviest moments, like the torrential bridge on “Famine Asylumn” or the opening onslaught of “April Ha Ha”, Nothing is at peace. Palermo claims he found healing in the sounds inspired by his anxieties. His newfound tranquility is admirable especially when the global population is uncertain about, well, everything. The Great Dismal conveys a faith that one can weather the surrounding chaos.
Nothing’s new perspective appears most strongly on the opening track “A Fabricated Life,” an ambient piece that ditches the band’s shoegaze trappings. Instead of building towards a foregone heaviness it sacrifices itself to swelling strings. It’s the largest deviation on The Great Dismal, and while its lyrical themes are in line with the rest of the album its outright beauty is unmatched. The majority of the album rests comfortably within Nothing’s well-worn wheelhouse. Dense guitars howl amid blasting percussion with much of the track-to-track variation courtesy of the lead guitars and Palermo’s vocal melodies. The lead guitar is the key to Nothing’s wall of sound. It acts as a driving counterbalance to the locked in rhythm guitar and drums. “In Blueberry Memories” and “April Ha Ha” both display the power of the lead guitar, elevating them above the rest of The Great Dismal. But the heavyweight champion is lead single “Say Less.” Its forward momentum is propelled by a crushing rhythm drum, a wailing guitar, and Palermo’s strongest hook on the record. Sadly the rest of the tracks can’t maintain the single’s tempo and mostly reuse the concepts of “Say Less” without expanding upon them. The worst offender is “Bernie Sanders,” where Nothing fail to capitalize on some stellar opportunities. Palermo doesn’t get a chorus to make the best of his melodies, the twinkling tremolo guitars disappear too soon, and the bass holds steady to a fault despite its limelight.
The Great Dismal is a solid slab of shoegaze that’s representative of personal maturation rather than sonic progression. The varying guitar leads instill some virility to the mid paced shoegaze tracks yet Nothing are content to play within this realm instead of expanding their sound ala “A Fabricated Life”. Their reluctance to evolve could be taken as a positive sign of Palermo’s healing. In 2020 we could all grow to be more comfortable in a world swirling downwards. There’s value in Nothing’s ability to mine shoegaze to convey tranquility. Unfortunately one of shoegaze’s inherent qualities is its ability to balance dense guitars with relief. Nothing haven’t dusted off any undiscovered fossils. The group’s steadfast approach is admirable but it’s impossible to ignore the breadcrumbs they’ve left on the table of where The Great Dismal could have – and probably should have – gone.