In years prior, I used to always describe Núll with silly epitaphs like ‘The Most Ungoogleable Band In Iceland’ or other such nonsense. I’m going to stop that now. There’s nothing funny about this group and to even approach their music with humour now feels totally disrespectful and idiotic. ‘Entity’—their sophomore effort, which came out in August—is so naked and soul-scraping that you need to respect it. It’s a release that, to be frank, you should feel privileged to even hear. I certainly do.
The band, which has put in nearly a decade in the local scene, resides somewhere within the murky depths of black metal, doom and DSBM, but putting a label on them feels reductive. In fact, I’m only doing it right now to provide some basic bit of context for readers. Núll doesn’t exist within a genre; it exists within an ideology. There’s an ethos behind the group that’s impossible to ignore—one that permeates every aspect of their existence.
“Nothing,” guitarist D.G. responds when asked about this ethos. In typical black metal style, the members of the group prefer to only use initials. “The idea of nothing,” he repeats simply; his voice deadpan in a disarmingly steady manner.
Drummer T.I. nods. “Núll means nothing,” he reiterates bluntly. For reference, the word “núll” in Icelandic is zero, so it’s therefore hard for me to tell if, with this statement, T.I. is explaining the literal translation of the band-name, echoing the philosophy of the group, or doing both in a rather pithy manner. I’d lean towards the latter.
“It’s more centred around non-being, kind of like the Hebrew concept of Ain (אין),” T.I. continues. “The nothing before the nothing.”
Ain refers to the state of God before they created the universe. It can be more broadly explained as the substance of non-existence, which lies in direct contrast with the fabric of God post-creating light. Existence vs. non-existence. Matter vs. anti-matter. Something vs. nothing. Núll vs. Entity.
“[Entity is] pretty much the opposite of what Núll is,” D.G. admits impassively. “It’s irony. It’s a sarcastic title.”
Núll is notorious for such sarcasm. Over the years, they’ve consistently messed with what people would expect from them, showing up to gigs in Adidas tracksuits or drag—a far cry from the dark, ritualistic clothing many of their contemporaries don. But these aren’t laughs or stunts, no, just measures to point out the ridiculousness of everything—your expectations of a show included.
“[The album] revolves around the absolute futility of anything. It’s nihilistic but not in the sense that we’re all beat up and sad about it, it’s just a statement of fact. Everything dissolves. Everything ends. Everything will return to nothing,” T.I. states simply. “It’s also kind of a sarcastic remark in itself. We spent so much time working, recording the album and making it sound as grandiose as we could because, like the rest of mankind, we are essentially building a glorious shrine to nothing.”
The glorious shrine
My first experience with ‘Entity’ was painful. It’s not an easily digestible listen, even to a black metal fan like myself. As soon as singer S.S.’s first screams hit a few minutes into the fittingly-titled opening track “None,” I felt viscerally uncomfortable. It’s been a while since a release affected me in such a way.
And that was just the first song. From there, things only got more intense, crescendoing into the last two minutes of “An Idiosyncratic Mirage,” which might be some of the most overwhelming music you’ll ever hear.
“It’s supposed to be oppressive,” D.G. responds, when I tell him this. “You can’t control it. It’s just there. And it dawns upon you without a warning.”
The album is even designed to feel uneasy. “I always thought it was a pretty funny idea to start with the longest and slowest song just to ruin people’s moods before they hear the rest of the album,” he continues. “And after that is the shortest song, which is possibly the easiest to digest out of the whole album. Then it just keeps on going downwards.”
So it goes
While Núll’s overall veneer of pointlessness has provided an apt soundtrack for 2020, the album was written far before the pandemic. It was merely, as T.I. calls it, fate that it was released in the midst of it. But right now, the group is looking towards the future, awaiting the days they can play live shows again. But if not, as is fitting a band based around the concept of nihilism, they’ll deal.
“Wasn’t it Nietzsche that said that all an artist needs is bread and his craft?” T.I. questions. This earns a rare laugh from D.G. “I was reading that today!” he responds. “Twilight of the Idols.”
T.I. smiles. “So when it all comes down to it, if we can sustain ourselves and practise our craft, we have enough. We would still be writing and recording music even if nobody was listening and we will continue to do it even if there are no gigs or audiences. That’s not what matters. And I mean, of course, this is Núll,” he concludes calmly. “Nothing matters.”
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