Are you really good at guitar? But like, really good. Odds are that if you answered “yes” to that question you either are a liar who should probably find the nearest moldy WhatchamacallitTM bar and eat it wrapper and all, or you haven’t heard really good guitarists before. If you haven’t already died from ingesting the poison candy, then there is a way to remedy your failure in life and to hear really, really good guitar playing. You can listen to Cytotoxin. Sweeps, bleeps, and creeps festoon their two-pronged attack across their latest LP, Nuklearth (which is not a candy bar).
On April 26, 1986 the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant (commonly known as The Chernobyl Power Plant) was running a simple test on Reactor No. 4. The RBMK-type nuclear reactor was enacting a test concerning power outages and water circulation to cool the core. Mostly due to human error, the test was delayed until third shift, when the technicians trained to handle it were off duty. The staff was, as to be expected given the hour, the youngest, least trained, and least experienced. Then the generator’s power suddenly plummeted, leaving the core in an unstable condition. In a brief series of historic oopsies, water vapor was released into a super-heated chamber causing a steam explosion, followed by a reactor core fire that went down in history as the worst known nuclear disaster. (We should note that Fukushima Daiichi was similarly horrible, and that reactor has been left open to spray radiation into the atmosphere.)
What followed was a series of superhuman feats by the people of Pripyat, the USSR, and Ukrainian SSR, and some epic buffoonery by their leadership. What no one expected was that one day a brutal death metal band with a technical lean would form their entire identity around this crisis. And not only would they identify with this horrific, deadly event, but they would also deliver brilliant, post-armageddon style death metal born of the abject terror unleashed upon so many people. But with album titles such as Plutonium Heaven, Radiophobia, and Gammageddon, there seems to be little doubt of their foundations and intentions.
Musically, you don’t need to look any further than the monster of a track “Dominus.” Despite the dark nature of their subject matter, the overlay of melodic, bright guitar tones adds a crystalline sheen to the affair. As the track opens, the guitars are picked cleanly enough to sound like 1980s computers beeping out data compiled from Lord of the Rings. At the heart of the track is an ever-slowing, halting riff that is chunked out as clean as an ancient whale bone found in the fields of Belarus.
Similarly “Quarantine Fortress” (a term most people can roundly sympathize with right now) reveals just how talented, restrained, and utterly, dumbfoundingly great these Germans are. Opening with a series of sweeps that would make Steve Vai climax, the piccolo snare rings true as Cytotoxin prepares to absolutely pummel you with double bass. The heaviest song on the album, “Quarantine Fortress” presents a clinic in double bass rolls, guitar harmonies, and technical proficiency. Yet for all its ferocity, there is restraint in the composition allowing the track to breathe, decompose, and rebuild itself for renewed attacks led by screaming guitars laden with chorus, reverb, and mind-blowing picking.
Cytotoxin is one of the more underrated bands not only in the brutal/technical market, but in the death metal market generally. Nuklearth (despite its horrible name) brings everything to the table that any death metal fan should ever want: Heaping spoonfuls of riffs; and mounds of rhythms that bounce your head, snap your neck, and slam your bare feet into the ground hard enough to shatter a heel. The vocals are unobtrusive, perfectly tuned to balance the bright guitar tones and absolutely brutal in their delivery. The drumming is flat-out brilliant. Like a metronome, the double bass / [multiple] snare combo smacks out the ever-changing polyrhythms. Just listen to the dueling solos in “Drown in Havoc,” and then tell me that you aren’t somewhat reborn inside the fires of metal.
Despite the subject matter, Nuklearth has one thing going for it: FUN. In these troubling times of quarantine, death, uncertainty, and utter embarrassment (for us Americans), it’s comforting to have an album absolutely tear you apart from the inside in a technical, brutal, and ultimately melodic way. Cytotoxin is far more than a brutal death metal band, and they are far more than a technical death metal band. There are elements of metalcore, melodic death metal, and ultimately heavy metal laced throughout resulting in an album of epic slamitudeness. Do not miss out on this album. Do. Not.
“The ones who survive today will die in agony tomorrow.”