Review: Nucleus – Entity
Seal the cryo-pods and grab the plasma rifle, something nasty just got on board the ship.
The worlds beyond our atmosphere, alien travelers, bizarre deep space phenomena, eldritch horrors from beyond the stars, even post-apocalyptic wastelands – death metal is often associated with visceral pulpy slasher horror and hyper-intense satanic panic as well as a good deal of cryptic occultism but as long as there has been the genre of horror in literature and film, an element of science fiction was present. It has been present in death metal as well though frequently in the shadow of more fantastical forms of lyricism, whether in the genre’s inhuman artistry and its dehumanizing lyricism with bands as varied as Nocturnus, Atheist, Demilich, Septic Flesh, Pestilence, Gorguts, Dragon (Poland), and Crystal Age. It would be a mistake to say that science fiction ever needed a comeback in this genre but in recent years the genre’s love of increasingly cryptic themes and bizarre unearthly experimentation have opened the door for it to take a far more prominent role. With bands like Zealotry, Chthe’ilist, Execration, and Blood Incantation gaining great popularity and influence it’s a good time to go beyond the known and unknown in the genre, something that Nucleus has had a solid track record with. Debuting in 2015 with Sentient, Chicago’s deep space predators made a name for themselves with their mixture of bullheaded rhythmic muscle and disjointed early Finnish styled leads (no, it doesn’t sound like Demilich and neither does every other band with this style of playing) combined with a foreboding take on the mysteries of deep space. While it leaned more to boneheaded classic death metal convention, a split EP later and finally a debut have meant this once larval creature has now mutated and matured into one of the best expressions of death metal that might dwell in the “old school” domain of festering cadavers and ancient spirits but sounds far more like an intruder there from outside the known confines of Earth.
Nucleus’ sound is interesting in that while it has many ideas that we’d see as “proggy” or “technical”, the end result is far from the four previously mentioned bands beyond some general aesthetic commonalities. A number of semi melodic or outright atonal lead guitars take centre stage, taking fragmented and disjointed notes and stringing them into deformed patterns of higher register code-like signaling, but they exist alongside the death-knell ring of massive doomed chords and streams of hungrily burrowing tremolo picking. It is definitely bizarre sounding but it expresses its off-kilter sound with a bluntness and impressive level of impact that ensues it never really feels floaty or distant. The guitar playing features a higher level of nuance with experiments in harmony that are almost hard to miss with just how viciously the sheer shock effect of it initially throttling you. While the lead playing is not something you’d expect of The Artisan Era, it demonstrates a great skill in knowing how to make lots of uncomfortably and very ambiguously toned patterns intended more for generating an aura of creeping unease than note-spewing flair. Drumming is appropriately muscular as well from its straightforward bulldozing attack broken up by choice fills to its satisfyingly crispy and resonantly dense production. The production slightly buries the bass but it can be heard shadowing and jutting out from the guitars like some parasitic lifeform rupturing out of flesh. On a purely aesthetic level, they’ve successfully captured an ideal middle ground of braininess and bestial intent. They’re able to be extremely intense but they don’t need to rely on excessive showmanship or pure aggression, preferring the overwhelming sense of layered dread that emerges from their very specific style.
What makes it even better is that its impressive forcefulness and alienating stylistic choice is guided by some damn good songwriting. As stated earlier while the band is not anything I’d call fourth dimension experimental hyper-musicality, it is still refreshingly put together on as much a compositional level as it is one of technique. Nucleus’ greatest strength is knowing how to use the strange parts of their sound to tie together seemingly disparate ideas, gradually wrapping a song through multiple iterations of brain-bending and almost psychedelic un-melodies spaced out by the skull-shattering hammerblow of impressive bottom end riffing. While the songs are fairly straightforward in a narrative pattern of how riffs are placed one after the other, it’s the specifics of how they morph and change over careful tempo changes and increasingly surreal guitar work that makes it stronger than it appears on paper. A song can start with some fairly impressive twin guitar extra-terrestrial signal exchange harmonies but by halfway through end up more like light years separated Lovecraftian deities attempting to communicate with one another. Don’t be fooled into thinking the straightforward parts are *only* spacing out the consciousness deforming ones; they’re just as important in how they add a sense of vicious desperation and threat, underscoring their warp-space disorientation with a relentless immediacy. If the former is the prospect and knowledge of say, reality-altering spatial anomalies or star-devouring extrasolar predators, the latter is the visceral effect of being annihilated into atoms by them. There are moments when the album does slow down but never once does that sense of horrifying realization and paranoid fear of the things that lurk beyond the night sky leave.
After a solid debut and two highly promising EP’s, Nucleus have fully realized their sound and created an album that not only captures the esoteric terror of much of the classic Finnish death metal sound but also forged their own distinct path. One comprised of innumerable festering carcasses through whatever extradimensional portal into whatever strange realm all these weird ideas came from. In a way you could say this is a “wonky” or “avant-garde” sounding death metal album for people not typically into that kind of thing but that’s only a very, very general approximation of what this Chicago four piece have accomplished on this long awaited follow-up album. It genuinely captures not just the sense of perverse curiosity and chilling discovery that permeates much of classic science fiction but also the gutwrenching intensity and sense of human frailty before strange forces we are powerless against. If you like early 90’s death metal not just when it was rotten and savage but also just out of this world and bewildering, Entity is so far 2019’s go to album.