I suppose the single positive thing about being a dirty polecat and dragging my feet in regards to getting this review out in a timely manner is that it’s given me an opportunity to cull some early feedback before putting pen to paper. And really, I think I’ve seen and heard the gamut of like, love and hate extensively hollered across our land concerning Nucleus. My conclusion is this: those of you who dislike what you hear on this album should probably be shipped off to an island and starved viciously before being napalmed and tilled into the Earth. Probably.
Of course I’m kidding. We can still be friends despite a difference in heavy metal opinion; I’m no Joey DeMaio. But I do find it amazing how polarizing a release such as this can be. I suppose I can understand the intolerance if you consider yourself more of a “modern” metallist with a focus purely on progression. If that’s the case, Nucleus is likely to sound like yet another clunker your uncle might crank in the garage while stealing puffs off a stowed Marlboro outside the range of the misses and brood. But honestly, this album, and Dawnbringer in general, isn’t intended to cast a terribly wide net. This is music best suited for those latter-day devotees who still merrily trot out the Ostrogoth‘s, Griffin‘s and Sortilége‘s of the past — all of which lend Dawnbringer a piece of their heritage.
Barring complaints from casual passers-by squawking “old-guy metal, old-guy metal,” Nucleus actually shows quite a bit of variance beneath the deceptively elementary initial layer. One can indeed hear bits and pieces from a wide variety of the imprints that head-honcho Chris Black has his hands in. The vintage charge is obviously intensified from time spent drumming for modern traditionalists Pharaoh, who also lend guitarist Matt Johnsen’s lead-work to multiple break-outs on Nucleus. But outside this NWOBHM-inspired realm, we also hear straight-up ballsy hard rock via Black’s Superchrist outfit painting a few of the edges, along with a fondness for outright aggression (3:40 into “The Devil”) or even jangling with a bit of modern Nachtmystium flare, like the onset of “Like an Earthquake”.
The biggest gripe I’ve heard in regards to this record deals with Black’s rather casual approach to his vocalizing. Whereas previous Dawnbringer releases have featured a gruffer growl (sorry, Metal-Archives, this is not death metal), the vocal avenue on Nucleus is completely clean and admittedly rather secondary compared to the true star of show: the galloping flow of the songwriting matched up with the melodic guitar accompaniment of Scott Hoffman and the shimmery leads from Johnsen and original Dawnbringer member, Bill Palko. “So Much for Sleep”, “You Know Me” and the brilliant “The Devil” all flow into one another directly from the gate and balance the record’s taste for melodic dual-axe attack with pinches of hostility, whereas “Swing Hard”, “Cataract” and the epic “Like an Earthquake” fold in moody acoustic splashes that pleasingly darken the overall atmosphere. And despite some claims of the record being stronger at its front end, the infectious “Old Wizard” casts quite the satisfyingly gloomy spell as it plods along doomily before the album closes out on a woozy note with the wobbly-kneed “Pendulum”.
This record stands as yet another killing blow from a label that’s delivered the best crop of new releases I’ve heard in 2010. Hail Profound Lore, hail Dawnbringer and hail to those who join me in cranking this record to head-splitting levels. If you dig unadulterated heavy metal with an emphasis on melodic leads that clearly pays homage to years past without sounding like some bullshit knock-off, Nucleus is definitely ready to deliver.