In some ways (perhaps in many), it may seem equal parts obvious and absurd, over-reaching and lazy to describe a band whose name contains the words “nuclear” and “death” as “apocalyptic,” and it’s at least horribly unoriginal since I am far from the first to do so, but nevertheless, the shoe fits, so we shall wear it… Apocalyptic this crust is; apocalyptic it sounds; and so “apocalyptic crust” it shall be.
This latest volley in Southern Lord’s seemingly never-ending barrage of filthy punk is four-fifths Danish and one-fifth Irish, the band itself from Copenhagen, a part of the scene around the Ungdomshuset anarchist house. This, their Southern Lord debut, is a compilation of tracks from two vinyl EPs with four new songs to round out the proceedings. Given its cobbled-together nature, Chaos Reigns holds up well as a cohesive whole, but then again, this is crust punk, so there’s little variation, though there is enough to help separate Nuclear Death Terror above much of the herd. The production thins a hair as the album progresses, but not to a detriment – overall, even with a slightly less hefty crunch, Nuclear Death Terror circa five years ago was equally as apocalyptic as that of today.
This particular crust is thick and punishing, sporting marked death and grindcore influences in the dueling death-ish vocal growls and monolithic guitar tones. Like good crusties, the guys and girl in Nuclear Death Terror are still riding the d-beat to great results, but those results are heavier, uglier than many. Take early Bolt Thrower, Discharge, Amebix, some Swedish death metal and His Hero Is Gone, blend them up, give them a dozen (more) songs about the end of the world – this is literally apocalyptic, after all – and there you have Chaos Reigns… And as you can certainly imagine, all of that adds up to a good thing.
Opening with those four new tracks, Chaos Reigns is sequenced in reverse chronology, following with the three tunes from 2009’s Total Annihilation EP and ending with 2007’s Ceaseless Desolation. As mentioned, there’s very little stylistic deviation – each of these tunes is some variation of fast- to mid-paced, never flat-out grinding and never particularly doomy (barring moments like the slowed-down intro to “Abyss”), with that stout-as-hell guitar tone and thick low-end providing a massive wall of filthy sound beneath the two-vocal attack. Bursts of lead-guitar bubble forth at times, but mostly, this is based on the rhythm guitars and the bass, on the riffs and the rumble. NDT’s strongest point is this: Nestled in the enveloping heaviness of that sound are great anarcho-punk tunes, with actual hooks and catchy riffs. Witness the thrashing “Blood, fire, chaos, death” refrain in “Collapse,” or the “Cold dead earth” chant in “Abyss.” (You will note that both of those tunes are also literally apocalyptic.) The album closes with a cover of Celtic Frost’s “Morbid Tales,” done reverentially and well, but it should be a testament to Nuclear Death Terror’s death-crust apocalypse that the classic is actually a bit outclassed in this context. It feels tacked on, not so much overshadowed (it is an all-time great, after all) as simply unnecessary in the wake of all that comes before. In its placement as the closing track of Ceaseless Desolation, it was likely more of a treat, but here, it almost feels like a bonus track, just a closing cover, nothing particularly special.
Southern Lord has spent the last year or so flooding the market with crust, but as long as they keep coming up with records as good and as distinct as Chaos Reigns, Damned, Paranoia, and the From Ashes Rise 7”, there will be room for all. Another filthy feather in the label’s crusty hat, Chaos Reigns is apocalyptic in all the right ways, absolutely worthy for any and all interested in the heavier side of d-beat and crust.
And not to shoot Southern Lord in the foot, but in the interest of spreading the word on a band that deserves your time and comes bearing gifts, a large portion of the Nuclear Death Terror discography (including the original version of Ceaseless Desolation and their 2006 eponymous full-length) is available for free download on their website… Check ‘em out; get your head crushed; pick up Chaos Reigns to complete the apocalypse…