Nullingroots isn’t a black metal band or a shoegaze band.
However, listeners of the Phoenix trio might notice distorted, dazed out guitars reminiscent of early shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine that fade into intense, convulsive breakdowns associated with metal bands like Slayer. Violent vocals crash into obscured, ethereal effects-laden layers of sound. Mellow, melodic instrumentals are shrouded by lyrics about death and depression.
This unlikely sonic cocktail is referred to as “blackgaze,” Much like other hybrid genres such as trip hop, trillwave and pop punk, blackgaze is a subgenre that seamlessly marries two seemingly disparate music styles to create a completely new one. It blends black metal (marked by a shrieking and growling vocal style, explosive guitar and percussion and rapid tempo) and shoegaze (which combines understated, drifting vocals and droning, “wall of sound” instrumentals). Guitar effects such as reverb and tremolo are particularly prevalent in shoegaze, creating a sweeping, dream-like soundscape. The term “shoegaze” was coined in the 1980s to describe the static stage presence of its artists. Musicians would stand still, often gazing down at their shoes or their effects pedals.
“The blackgaze sound comes from taking shoegaze’s ambience and combining it with more intense sounds from metal, such as having blast beat drums and screaming vocals,” explains Cameron Boesch, Nullingroots’ guitarist and vocalist.
Boesch sites bands like Alcest and Lantlos, which formed in the early 2000s, as pioneers of the genre. Both bands are the brainchild of French musician Neige, who wrote the preamble to what blackgaze is today.
San Francisco band Deafheaven further pushed the popularity and prominence of the genre with their seminal album Sunbather, which was released in 2013.
Boesch notes bands like Woods of Desolation and An Autumn For Crippled Children as key influences on Nullingroots’ sound and lyrics. Some blackgaze bands may have heavier shoegaze influences than metal or vice versa, fading in and out of ambient and aggressive.
“I would say that the closest genre we belong to is blackgaze, but we don’t even fit into that 100 percent in my opinion,” says Boesch. “I know that like, every band says this, but we try to experiment a little with our sound and what we bring to the table. For instance, a common theme people mention in reviews of ours, is that we have some death metal parts in our songs. A lot of people don’t like that, and that’s okay. I think we would rather be a little different than have a cookie-cutter type sound that fits perfectly within the confines of one genre.”
Not unlike the thematic terrain Boesch traverses in his songs, the band’s name is dark and morbid.
“Nullingroots means to commit suicide, to nullify one’s identity, their roots as a person,” says Boesch. “It’s a macabre name, I think especially macabre within blackgaze, as the themes oftentimes revolve around beauty and serenity within the genre.”
Nullingroots started in 2014 as Boesch’s solo project. Guitarist Alex Haddad and drummer Deacon Batchelor completed the lineup in 2016. Their third album, Take Care, was released later that year, and propelled the band to start performing at local venues. They opened for Alcest at Club Red in February and will perform at Yucca Tap Room with other blackgaze bands on April 23.
The band put out their latest single, “Voices,” last September. It is also their first release as a full lineup. According to Boesch, they will be releasing a brand new full-length this year.
Catch Nullingroots w/ Ghost Bath, Astronoid and Black Habit at Yucca Tap Room, 29 W Southern Ave, Tempe, Sunday, April 23, 8 p.m., $12.