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Now I'm sad. Thanks a lot, Cameron. - 90%

Valfars Ghost, June 14th, 2016

Nullingroots is no longer a strictly instrumental affair. On its latest album, Cameron (last name unknown), the band's sole member at the time of recording, added vocals to the mix. With the thing that made him stand out from the rest of the blackgaze world gone in most of Take Care's songs, one gets a feeling going in that Nullingroots will simply sink into the mire of samey Deafheaven and Alcest wannabes saturating the market, an expectation this album dashes. Nullingroots don't need no stinkin' instrumentals to stand out. When your production is this rich, your drums this vibrant and energetic, and your tone this melancholy, dark, and angry, and when they're presented with such sublime control, you have ascended to the upper echelons of blackgaze-forging talent.

We've got something much darker than Nullingroots' previous zen-inducing releases on our hands here, folks. A concept album about death and depression, there's not as much room for the uplifting chords blackgaze is known for, especially when they have to compete with so many raging maelstroms of anguish. Those more positive-sounding elements are used more conservatively and more wisely this time around. When they do appear, which is still fairly often, they don't exude hope like they used to. Now that they're often used within spitting distance of the utmost dark and sorrowful black metal, they become somber recollections of happier days the atmosphere would be incomplete without, reflective of a longing for something the unnamed narrator will never get back. These touches of light, upbeat ambiance that would normally give us a feeling of hope are introduced into a hopeless environment, somehow augmenting the despair.

There are times, especially if you're reading the lyrics, where it seems like Cameron is trying a little too hard to coax those tears out of you. Anything that could possibly happen in the story the album tells that could make you feel worse for the character happens and is often related to the listener multiple times. In the final song, the narrator says that he (I guess it could be a she) is dependent on pills just to function, which we already know, something that makes the album seem like it's saying, “You're not sad enough, damn it! Pity this poor bastard more.” Despite all this, Take Care is an emotional experience that, while it can be heavy handed, mostly avoids shoving sadness down your throat.

The album's music is a great companion to the story. The slow, mournful bits embody numbing sadness, the warmer passages, with their thickly woven ambiance, mirror the desperate wish for a dead loved one to return, and the more traditional-sounding black metal segments, with all their furious aggression, perfectly represent the rage one grapples with while trying not to be overwhelmed by the world's shittiness.

Aside from just evoking emotions, this music is more than satisfactory as entertaining black metal. Cameron's guitar playing is nimble, often switching from slow ambient moments to sublime tremolo picking to scorching power chord-heavy segments that have more than a slight touch of death metal influence. The album maintains a good amount of diversity throughout its runtime, moving through numerous motifs that justify the lengths of many of these songs. Shifts in mood walk beside this parade of ideas without ever throwing something that doesn't fit in with the rest of the album. Cameron's skill on guitar is matched, maybe even surpassed, by his control and inventiveness behind the kit. In a black metal subgenre where drums seem to mostly switch from blast beats to playing softly along with the atmosphere, it's refreshing to hear someone who's not content with being relegated to the position of a background rhythm-keeper. '47 Years Stripped Away' offers this album's first trace of truly commendable drumming, which starts off as accompaniment for a slow ambient section but gradually builds into the centerpiece of the song's middle stretch, providing an engaging percussive pattern without detracting from the atmosphere. A further example of Cameron's drumming skills is the fill leading up to the impressive death metal-leaning section in 'Please Respond', which is completed with growlier vocals and some expertly-placed pinch harmonics. Speaking of the vocals, Cam's blackened and deathened approaches are good but provide nothing spectacular. This album's real strength is in the previously praised instrumental delivery.

From the opening, with its memorable upbeat motif, to the end of the closing epic, which recycles this earlier idea, bringing the album around full circle in a thematic sense, Take Care is epic in scope, single-minded in its determination, and amazingly effective in crafting its mood. The writing is varied, yet always focused, and performances are tight and emotionally resonant. With the band proving to be just as good with vocals as it was without them, Nullingroots looks to have a fertile future, at least in terms of artistic quality, ahead of it, no matter where Cameron wants to go from here.