Trends. Often scoffed at, particularly in the circles of extreme music—which, some might argue, are vehemently against this to begin with—trends have a way of naturally occurring. There’s no escaping them, particularly in a time when CD-quality albums are easily and almost instantaneously accessible to anyone with a halfway decent internet connection. Even in the early days of death metal, trends had a tendency to develop, though they were more rooted in their respective regional scenes or studios. In the early 1990s, the Morrisound production comes to mind when highlighting trends in US death metal, or perhaps Sunlight Studios over in Stockholm capturing the now-classic Swedish HM-2 sound. In a more modern context, 2008 saw the rise of the so-called “cavernous” death metal style when Dead Congregation sent Graves Of The Archangels out into the world. Mind you, this wasn’t a completely original style – the band merely found new inspiration from the budding days of the New York metal scene in the vein of Immolation and especially Incantation. Nevertheless, this jump-started a trend that is still feeling reverberations (pun, as always, intended) in 2019.
Oxford defines a trend as, “A general direction in which something is developing or changing.” There’s no negative connotation about it. It’s a fairly neutral term, at least in its original intent. It is merely highlighting a noticeable evolution across the board. The negative effects of this are fairly obvious: stagnation, over-saturation, staleness. However, even amongst the most oversaturated of death metal scenes, gems tend to arise. We’re still getting excellent old-school death metal releases to this day despite the market being over-saturated to the point of comicality.
Melding the angular, deep, rhythmic riffs of Demilich with a peppering of latter-day Gorguts and cramming it all into a hyper-dimensional spacecraft destined for the howling echoes of the cosmos works for Nucleus. They aren’t a worship act – their influences collide like atoms forming the molecules that craft their sound. “Arrival” sets the tone with an ominous, otherworldly bass line dotting across shimmering ambiance before the gravitational weight of the guitars pulls the mass into macrocosm, driven by the steady pace of the drums. Suddenly, the ship is pulled into a gravity well as frantic, atonal leads deflect across the unstoppable hull of the musical craft as the rhythm section maintains steady course, piloting the craft through the turmoil until full control is found in the groove that follows. The sections here, as throughout the record, have no trouble moving from one passage to the next, gliding frictionlessly from one to the next as the song unfolds.
Eschewing predictability, Nucleus are quick to drop a divebomb not far into the following track, “Entity,” further solidifying their willingness to work outside of typical song structure. The pinch harmonics seem to fire off at one another from opposing sides of the soundscape, pinging off the craft as it hurtles wildly throughout fields of stardust. The bass work across Entity is paramount – be it setting the tone at the album’s start or kicking off the second half with one of the most interesting tracks on the album, “Approach.” The keys really have a chance to shine here, adding plenty of layers to the overall sound, and the piano section before the guitar solos that shred the outer hull of the ship to pieces packs in an additional overlay of suspense.
The B-side is Nucleus at their hottest, kicking up Entity a notch with even skronkier riffs (“Outpost”), slower doom passages (“Dominion”), and solos that feel like they are flying way too close to the epicenter of the solar system (“Approach” and “Timechasm”). The drumming holds everything together by a thread as the band pulls at opposing directions as though jerked and pulled in a cosmic game of tug-o-war between sinister alien forces, the choices in rhythm and fills all serve the riffs and changes in the song, never missing a beat and always battering the emphasis in at just the right moments.
As good as Entity is, something about it lacks memorability. There are plenty of standout moments, like the simultaneously dueling of the guitars on “Mobilization” or the piano softly hammering away in the middle section of “Approach,” but the album doesn’t quite beg to be revisited. The length sits just about right at around forty minutes – Nucleus aren’t overstaying their welcome, nor does it feel like they are packing too much into too little as the pacing is comfortable enough to fully flesh their ideas out. They start out strong and never lose momentum, but there’s a lack of truly standout sections in the songwriting that leaves it wanting. This being said, it’s still a masterful display of technical death metal and manages to shine amongst the wave of Demilich-inspired bands that continue to demand attention, and rightfully so. Make no mistake, Entity is a welcome addition to the ranks of its peers, however it falls just shy of reaching true greatness.