Dawnbringer – Nucleus
Metal. The essence of metal seems to reside somewhere deep down under our regular mental state. It comes from darkness. It comes from the unconscious mythological forms that flow underneath the rivers of the waking mind. It’s why metal brings a fanaticism and lifelong reverence in a way almost nothing else does for those who find themselves drawn to it. It exists outside the established realm of order, yet is strongly ordered in and of itself. It is one of the most diverse musical forms to exist yet every metal fan knows in an instinctive fashion when the music slips outside of “metal.” When you do hear something that is thoroughly, and completely, “true” metal, it’s like coming home. Not home in the structural, building sense, but home in the spiritual sense. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. Nucleus takes all that is metal, above and underground, and fashions something both forward thinking yet strictly controlled, completely new and undoubtedly ancient. Most importantly, the album is utterly fantastic.
The genius behind this masterpiece is Chris Black. If you don’t who he is it’s time you start ordering some albums. He’s been responsible for some of the best metal albums of the last decade. Not only is he the mastermind behind Dawnbringer, but also the absolutely righteous Superchrist, and High Spirits. In addition he plays drums for power metallers Pharaoh has helped behind the scenes to push Nachtmystium from a second tier black metal act into the innovators they are today. Oh yeah, he wrote for Metal Maniacs as well as runs the Planet Metal label and Distro. The guy is apparently pretty busy.
I first came into contact with his work with the last Dawnbringer album In Sickness and in Dreams. It was a potent mix of old school metal influence mixed with early 90’s death and black metal. The album was heavy and catchy, yet at the same time obtuse and esoterically introspective. This is in contrast to Superchrist, which is a very exoteric, I’ll get shitfaced, punch you and your mom, generally offensive, dirty metal band. High Spirits runs with a more of an early 80’sNew Wave of British Heavy Metal sound. What makes Nucleus so great is that it combines the fractured musical pieces of Black’s psyche and brings them all into one powerful vision.
Upon the first opening notes of So Much for Sleep you notice the death and black metal influences have been dialed back on this one. You also notice the big step up in production value from his previous work with the now popular Sanford Parker turning the knobs. Rather than the growls of the last album, Black lets his regular raw, yet clear vocals deliver his always intriguing, personal lyrics. When I say personal it doesn’t mean it’s anything like the New Wave of American Whining Metal that’s infected newer bands like a mental cancer either. What you also notice is the thick infusion of melody.
Third track The Devil takes the entirety of Black’s previous works, and stretches it out farther than ever. This song has to be the best thing he’ ever written. After a short intro riff, this thing barrels along like an out of control train. The downhill momentum is is palpable. You literally feel your blood pressure rise. It runs the gamut from Maiden melodicism, to throbbing, blast beating, black metal hypnotism, to a brilliantly fitting bluesy solo that crawls up from the crossroads.
The other absolute highlight is Old Wizard. The previous track All I See ends much like the last album did, with a guitar solo suddenly dropping completely away. Rather than leaving you in stunned silenced with a maddening case of musical blue balls though, here we go straight into a slow, gritty, impassioned dirge you will to play over and over.
Final track Pendulum starts with a melody of clanging out of tune strings. They weave in and out of the song, until they comes in tune and the songwriting in focus. It’s another example of Black’s ability to stretch and expand the fundamental form of metal, yet never break it or water it down by bringing in any foreign elements that clash. He adeptly plays with his chosen musical medium, knowing where he wants to go with it, but not limiting his options on which route he’s going to take to get there.
In all his previous work Black has been strictly underground, rarely touring, doing many interviews, or getting much if any marketing push. You had to be one of the cool kids to know what was going on. This album seems to be getting more of a push from new label Profound Lore records, and word of mouth is spreading like wildfire this time around. It’s simply too good to stay quiet. I’ve played this album about 15 times now and it’s still revealing new nuances, new angles, and I have a feeling this is one of those records that I’ll still be jamming regularly ten years from now. There exists that elusive element most great records have, which is timelessness. It does it by stretching to the depths of metals roots but also looking forward from its highest branches. It’s nearly perfect. Hopefully we won’t have to wait four years for another one.
4 & 3/4 out of 5 I.B.U’s