I'm surprised Belgians Emptiness have not caught on by this point, because surely they offer one of the more unique experiences in European death metal, and stand as one of the finer examples of the medium from their home turf. I might be hard pressed to call their approach 'experimental', but there is a particular progression at play throughout their works which is refreshing and difficult to peg on any specific influences. The band's 2004 debut Guilty to Exist is not the better of their albums, but it establishes the band's uncanny taste in mixing grooves, flowing melodic chords, industrial/ambient segues, and guttural poetry into a distinct portrait of depressive aggression which parallels their tasteful eye in cover packaging.
The band has shared members with a number of other Belgian bands, in particular the black metal veterans Enthroned and death unknowns Hybrid Viscery, but Emptiness is by far the most enthralling of their creations, and the 17 tracks and 44 minutes of Guilty to Exist are at the least a rounded introduction. Few of the compositions here are substantial beyond a mere 2-3 minutes, with the exception of the finale "The Loss and Blind Perceptions", but strangely they need little time to envelop the listener in a cerebral, subterranean state of bewitchment channeling everything from Morbid Angel, Vader and Napalm Death to the morbid, abstract striations of a Demilich or Alchemist, bleak bottom feeding of a Disembowlment, and even the primal melodic/industrial leanings of a Fear Factory.
"Tyrants Forever" serves as hors d'ouvres to the remainder of the record: a slight, grating intro descends into hammering grooves and then a splash of pensive, melodic guitars that reverberate across a landscape of punishment. There are no truly compelling riffs within its borders, but it sets up a style that the band will keep coming back to through "Subhuman Submission", "Age of Nothing" and "Xenomorph". These are not among the album's better selections, yet functional as a backbone to more wide ranging pieces like the septic, blackish metal that drives "None Existence", the immensely atmospheric "Tenebrium Prophecies", or the desperate fury of "By the Loss of Our Dogma". Coupled with some interesting industrial intros/interludes like "Into the 11th Blackshell" or the pair of tracks titled simply "Interludium", you are cast to and fro upon a sea of negative psychic turbulence that resonates in atmosphere (if not notation) well past the records playtime.
However, the best single piece on Guilty to Exist is the beautiful, harrowing industrial/ambient finale "The Loss and Blind Perceptions", which swelters through a carefully measured filtration of rambling yet sparse percussive beats and synthesized melody. Here, the artist's vision is so well realized that you wonder why they didn't just scrap the metal pieces and write us a dozen such excursions. I personally loved this, and would love more, but I can ultimately understand its place in the band's broader cosmos of thought. Emptiness will immediately capture the attention due to their unique style, but in the end, the sum of their debut is far more palatable than many of its individual parts, which do not promote careful composition in the guitars so much that they forge many brief links in an unforgiving whole. The band will destroy this effort with the following Oblivion in 2007, but its still one of the more intriguing Belgian death records I've come across.
Verdict: Win [7/10]