Strange things are afoot in the death metal underground, my friends. Well below the surface where brutality and gore reign supreme, perhaps just to the left of Eil’udom where the Typhlodians keep Chthe’ilist locked away, there’s a lab marked “Top Secret” where the likes of Demilich, Adramelech, Timeghoul and perhaps even Suffocation have been mutating their sounds and combining them with the best science fiction on tap. The door has been opened and the beast has been unleashed. Its name is Nucleus and it wants to throw you into a black hole.
In case you couldn’t gather it from that introduction, Nucleus play an off-kilter brand of death metal that lives within the works of science fiction greats like Frank Herbert and Dan Simmons among others. Theirs is a mix of old school death metal, modern death metal, and technicality that brings to mind visions of a highly advanced futuristic world that is clearly built on the design and ideals of past societies. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a really good combo?
Their debut full length, Sentient, is a great mix of mind-warping time signatures, twisting riffs and some more traditional death metal chugs and growls. After a brief build up you’re jettisoned immediately into the chaos of “Dosadi,” based on Frank Herbert’s The Dosadi Experiment. Riffs bend and seemingly melt to give way to other, more angular riffs. The drums pound in an almost tribal manner while all other instruments dance around them. The next song, “Cantos,” offers a brief glimpse of OSDM at the start before devolving into what I can only describe as a robotic freak out. This back and forth between continues throughout the album and really is its lifeblood.
One of my personal favorites on the album is the track “Cube.” It not only offers some of the most headbangable sections of the album and an absolutely demented sounding solo, but its subject matter happens to be one of my favorite scifi films, Cube (If you’ve never seen it go watch it ASAP). The way to a metal blog nerd’s heart is truly through riffs and movie references.
The last trio of songs may be the strongest on the album. “Ancient” offers a much more straightforward approach that reminds me of Suffocation’s stompier songs, and the Frank Mullen vibe from the vocals certainly don’t hurt. “Extirpate” offers the catchiest chorus on the album, but don’t let that fool you. It isn’t a sing-along or a sudden shift towards melodicism. This is catchy in the way Ozzy era Sabbath is catchy, where you have a supremely rad riff that the vocals mimic, only the vocals are guttural and the riff is pure Demilich. “Starflyer” is far and away the longest song on the album, but it flies by in a heartbeat all while incorporating every element they’ve shown on the album thus far.
Sentient is an inventive and gripping death metal album, and at an incredibly brief 37 minutes it will leave you longing. As we arrive at the quarter pole of this year, Nucleus have claimed a spot alongside Chthe’ilist as not only being one of the best up and coming death metal acts, but as having one of the strongest death metal releases of the year. The future is brighter than the double suns of Tattooine for this Chicago quartet. I can only hope that their sophomore album offers a song as absurd as Cube 2: Hypercube or one as confusing as Primer.