Originally released on the Level Plane label in 2001, Racebannon's debut album is a straightforward studio approximation of their extreme early sound. A pair of singers (Chris Williams left after this album, being neither as energetic nor as instantly memorable as the hectoring Mike Anderson) chant and scream independently of each other on top of layers of no wave-style guitar skronk, Captain Beefheart-like mutated blues rhythms, a big pinch of good old-fashioned hardcore noise, and presumably Japanese-inspired touches like the creepily near-inaudible processed vocals that precede the eventual explosion on "Yr Test Scores Speak for Themselves." Unlike many similar bands, however, there's no randomness to Racebannon's style, no sense that the group is out merely to annoy or befuddle listeners. The songs are built on heavy guitar and bass riffs, and drummer Brad Williams actually comes up with some genuine grooves in lieu of the usual pseudo-free jazz splatter, as in the brilliant but far too short "Maybe I'm Just Camera Shy." First There Was the Emptiness still isn't for the weak of spirit, but it's that rarity, a noisy/artsy post-hardcore experiment that also works as a rock & roll album. The reissue includes three bonus tracks.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason