When faced with Depressive Suicidal Black Metal (DSBM), one effective system is to rate it on a sliding scale between the avant-garde approach perfected by Lifelover and the visceral expression of Shining. Spain’s Empty, on their fifth full-length release, Vacio (literally, “Empty”), fall directly between these two poles, balancing desolation and aggression beautifully on an album that is at once a pleasure and a torture to listen to.
I’ll deal with the latter aspect first: DSBM is never easy to listen to, considering the melancholic themes it deals with, and Vacio is no exception, confronting listeners with deep intellectual musings,  as well as gritty, unpleasant realism as it holds a mirror up to the banality of contemporary society. “We all taste the same for the worms” typifies this uncomfortable honesty in its grim memento mori of the inevitability of death and the futility of human existence.
“The Yellow Rain” burns, but we can’t get enough of it.
What makes Vacio fairly special – and thus, a pleasure – among DSBM releases is its occasional ferocity, both in the music and the vocal delivery: screamed, rasping vocals are a staple in this sub-genre, but the introduction of some serious growls (“The night remains for who is”) brings a low-end menace that is lacking in many other artists' output. Factor in some tasteful flamenco guitar passages (“Filandom under the sign of misfortune” illustrates the album’s the best instance of this technique) and you’ve got a surprising and unique take on the standard DSBM theme.
Other DSBM tropes, such as cavernous delay effects (“The pilgim of desolation”, “We all taste the same for worms”), spoken passages, lengthy tremolo-picked melody lines and open, ringing single notes make themselves known, but there’s always a force in opposition: this could be a sudden merciless assault of guitars, but it’s also often more subtle in its execution. For example, on “Empty” (cue Inception moment, as Empty perform “Empty” on an album whose name translates as ‘empty’) there’s a delightful passage of simplistic melody, repeated hypnotically, but broken by sudden trills and falls of crystal-clear lead work.
Empty - Vacio. The feeling is here... and so Empty...
The official press release warns that Vacio is an “overwhelming and desolating mixture of emotions and sensations”, which is perfectly accurate, but this statement fails to capture the intelligence with which the album is crafted: musically, this is one of the best DSBM releases I’ve listened to in ages, and viewed in terms of its profound and painful lyrical content, Vacio is also one of the most affecting. Empty is easily as good a band as any of the better-known examples of the genre, from Psychonaut 4 to Nocturnal Depression to Xasthur, and Vacio is undoubtedly their finest album yet.
Vacio Track Listing:
01. The Yellow Rain
03. The Rope at the Mill
04. We all taste the same for the worms
05. The night remains for who is
06. The pilgrim of desolation
07. Filandom under the sign of misfortune
Run Time: 47:01 Release Date: September 28, 2018 Record Label: Osmose Productions
1. Inspiration is drawn from Julio Llamazares’ book, La Lluvia Amarilla (‘The Yellow Rain’), which deals with the parallel deterioration of a small Pyrenees village and that of the protagonist’s mental state.