Metal is made up of certain characteristics, just like life itself. A bird is not just a flying dinosaur—it is a specific kind of animal defined by a LOT of characteristics. Same with a snake or a turtle. Or a human. But on all these animals we find general traits that tie them to their class. Birds have wings, feathers, complex skulls with deletions, beaks…you get the idea.
Punk’s angry little brother Hardcore was driven by power-chords, and so, therefore, was thrash. Industrial metal—especially KMFDM, NIN and very often Ministry (though Ministry tended to be more riff based)—drew a lot of excitement from power chords in strategic places. Classic hard rock is defined by power chords. And 70’s and NWOBHM, though often far more interested in the riffs, always drove points home with a good gonk. Nu metal was often power-chord happy (and, confession time, I initially loved Nu metal: Static X, Sevendust, Roots by Sepultura). Hell, even Rap and Hip Hop injected some brutishness by sampling AC/DC and Led Zep guitar chunks.
And of course Doom and its cousins Stoner and Sludge are very power chord-driven forms of metal. A good metal power-chord is probably the most primal aspect of this class, and a band like NIXA takes the power-chord very seriously, and very successfully, creating doom that never bogs down by trying to force virtuosity into the relentless pounding darkness.
If you are familiar with NIXA, you already know that the Crowbar flows strongly in their veins, and in a good way—both in the sludgy pacing and the earnest vocals. What NIXA gives us here is a shit-ton of ganged chorals mixed in with the spot-on vocals of Valentin Mellstrom, poured on the electricity-washed fuzz of guitarist Raul Valentine and bassist David Miller. Miller and Mike Rodriguez keep the rhythm section just slightly on the doom side of the the equation, opting for compositional focus over individual shenanigans.
The overall feel for the listener is a very compelling, melodic take on stoner and doom, with the vocals giving the whole enterprise not just an epic feel, but adding the exact right amount of humanity to the whole record.
Nothing illustrates this better than the opening strains of “Ambrosia,” where the ganged harmonies of the vocals and the emphatic locomotion of the music blend to create a bridge between gripping melodic and blasting, power-chord drenched metal, all without resorting to either over-emotive vibrato warbling or far-too common graveyard gravel from the voices.
In fact, the almost High On Fire nature of “Destroyer” is saved from mere doppleganging by the sturdy, relatable vocal style Mellstrom delivers. These are cool songs, but NIXA is that rarest of modern metal bands whose vocalist literally lifts the songs to another level without resorting to cliches. The voice is what it is, and it is just right for this band.
The production is basalt heavy, especially on my Seinheiser buds, where the noise cancelling drives the whole of the cathedral ambiance directly into my cochlea. I first heard “House of Serpents” on a noisy train ride, and it completely removed me from my surroundings, with the geological rhythm, trance inducing music and and almost Perry Farrell but still metal as fuck vocal melody.
No matter how specialized metal compositions become, the basic morphology continues to include the violence of the power chord, and honestly there has never been a point in my life where a good slab of guitar was not just what I needed. Add the vocals, rhythm section and production and Opus Tierra is a vast, crushing delight for anyone who loves those slabs.