In an era of extreme politics and institutional cynicism, the rejection of traditional sources of authority is inherently humanist. To combat this, conservative commentators brand dissent as nihilist, a word tossed around rather sloppily these days. It is an effective rhetorical trick because it colours those who question the powers that be as amoral and vaguely foreboding. But it is trick, and a reductive application of the term.
It is true that moral nihilists argue morality is an artificial construct. But nihilism is a more complex philosophy with a rich history. Metaphysical nihilists believe in the possibility of abstract objects. Epistemological nihilism takes a skeptical view of knowledge. Existential nihilists argue that life has no real meaning or value.
Political nihilism – which we hear so much about these days – questions societal assumptions about institutions like government, the law and family. Like the others, this is a philosophy dedicated to challenging unproven assumptions. It is an inherently humanist, in many cases productive view of the world.
The Basque Country’s Aitor Etxebarria has produced a spell-binding tribute to all of this. Nihilism Part 1 follows his well-received soundtrack to the documentary Markak. That film told the story of the 1937 aerial bombing of Guernica, a Basque town targeted by Francisco Franco (and carried out by the Nazi German Luftwaffe and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria) during the Spanish Civil War. Prior to that project Etxebarria recorded under the name El_Txef_A.
The new album has a kind of rough beauty that you will appreciate increasingly with each listen. There is nothing particularly easy about any of these nine tracks. But they’re presented with real delicateness and sincerity.
Long-time collaborator Hannot Mintegia delivers a series of spacious, resounding guitar performances that add both tension and relief. Vocalist Elena Setién, who appears on “Little Too Soon,” contributes to one of the album’s most endearing highlights.
If it was Etxebarria’s intention to encourage listeners to question the world we live in, he has certainly built a musical space that has that potential. Nihilism Part 1 is inspiring. And like the philosophy it references, it questions received truths while at the same time presenting a hopeful vision of our capacity to make things better.