Photo Credit: Jonathan Weiner
No one quite seems to know how to classify the music of Joseph Edward Mulherin – who performs under the moniker of Nothing, Nowhere. Every label from “indie rock” to “emo” to “pop-punk” to “hardcore” has been used to describe the 30-year-old’s music. Such speaks to the increasingly futile nature of genre labels, yes, but more importantly, to Mulherin’s diverse range of influences – and his latest full-length VOID ETERNAL shows yet another new influence – nu-metal.
Mulherin’s breakthrough sophomore LP Reaper made the genre-bender a cult sensation and, to a few major outlets, a critical darling (The New York Times Jon Caramanica named the LP ‘best album of 2017’). Quickly assembled follow-up Ruiner delivered greater commercial success but left many wanting more – which perhaps explains why it didn’t make Mulherin a star in the way that felt possible in Reaper’s aftermath. 2021’s Trauma Factory, felt like a reset, and also Mulherin’s most straightforwardly enjoyable release yet – combining trademark vulnerability with poppier arrangements and ear-worm melodies.
If Trauma Factory, with hits like “Fake Friend,” felt like it had the potential to take Mulherin’s career to new heights, VOID ETERNAL almost goes out of its way to alienate anyone who isn’t a hardcore fan (and maybe even some of them too). It’s loud, boisterous, messy, confounding, and devoid of subtlety. A lot of what you need to know about this album is evident in its song titles – reliably melodramatic (“ANX13TY,” “CYAN1DE,” “THIRST4VIOLENCE”), shouted at you in all caps, and trying way too hard to be edgy and cool (see the above titles with their numbers-replacing-letters).
There’s a lot going on in a song like “TRAG3DY” – imagery of knives and sirens and apathy, guttural cries courtesy of Will Ramos, and vocal affectations from Mulherin himself. What there isn’t at any point, is a compelling riff or melody. Like so many songs here, “TRAG3DY” is a wall of harsh noise and half-baked lyrical motifs desperately searching for greater meaning. VOID ETERNAL is both confounding and predictable. The sonic choices are reliably baffling – poor mixing ruins what would otherwise be a decent pop-punk song with “F0RTUNE_TELLER,” “THIRST4VIOLENCE” is interrupted by a frankly awful, baby-voiced, rap feature from Freddie Dredd, and “PSYCHO_PSYCHIATRY” finds Mulherin altering his usual rap flow to sound like a bad Eminem tribute act.
The lyrical themes that run through VOID ETERNAL, however, are predictable – as Mulherin alludes to, but never meaningfully explores, an array of current societal crises. Among them, are drug addiction, suicidal tendencies, apathy, anxiety, corporatism, and violence. Again it’s there in the titles (“CYAN1DE,” SUICIDE_PACT,” “ANX13TY”). But the straight-edged musicians’ tales of confronting such demons never get far beyond the lyrical territory of ‘these things exist and they’re bad’. At their worst, the songs feel like trauma porn desperately hoping to go viral at the hands of a generation adrift.
Perhaps, the only decent song here is “CYAN1DE,” despite the continued forced melodrama (“I’LL BE YOUR CYANIDE”). It has the closest thing this album has to a compelling melody and featured artist Pete Wentz largely saves the day. But it’s hardly good news for Mulherin, with the song only further exposing the gap between himself (at least, himself on this album) and alt-rock’s most compelling stars. Going forward, he could afford to take a page out of Wentz’ book – or even from earlier chapters of his own.