Monday, September 5, 2011
Get into: Nuclear Death
Nuclear Death is a band generally referenced within a list of others- the sort of thing that pops up in the middle of a paragraph about forgotten pseudo-classics, presented without elaboration or a real appreciation of its significance. And let's face facts: it's understandable. As far as popularity goes even during their heyday, Nuclear Death wasn't much more than a third-stringer, and that's being generous, and the combination of their schizophrenic, disgusting, unhinged early work and their bizarre shift towards spacey, Pink Floydish rock music in the latter era definitely didn't get them many fans. I'll be quick to finish that off: I'm not going to be talking about any of the band's late music. It's totally irrelevant to anyone reading this blog of all things. But the early material? Oh, that's absolutely for you guys.
Nuclear Death are primarily remembered as an odd outlier in the early US death/grind scene- not that death/grind was really A Thing back then- with four releases spanning from 1990-1992, all released (apart from the last in that sequence) on the seminal (and rather infamous) Wild Rags Records. Let me tell you right now that Nuclear Death's basic cultural narrative in the metal scene is hopelessly myopic and narrowly focused. While Nuclear Death's music can be loosely referred to as death/grind (with, of course, a heap of ugly thrash as well,) it does not in any way convey exactly what makes the band's early work so remarkable and enduring. A major point is that, to me, there's just as much primitive, brackish noisecore in this music as there is death/grind. The very earliest and rawest work from Anal Cunt or The Meat Shits definitely come out in these nasty, unrefined songs, and Nuclear Death really doesn't make any effort at all to sound like, say, Morbid Angel or Deicide. In fact, Nuclear Death's music sounds more like they were locked in a room without music for about twenty years- while they might stumble across the basic death/grind form structurally, there's an inherent uniqueness to their music which makes them also feel like total outliers to the metal scene as a whole.
To describe the instrumental ability of these guys as "rough" would be an understatement. The performances on Nuclear Death's early albums reminds me greatly of those you often hear in the Colombian brutal death metal scene: incredibly fast, clearly talented when it comes to complexity, but so rhythmically scattershot it sounds like the members are all playing different songs much of the time. The drumming is the sort of deranged hyperspeed clatter you'd hear from a band like Righteous Pigs or Repulsion but with half the recording quality, and the "riffs" (if you can call them that) are played so quickly and so swathed in blurring, whirring distortion they're nearly indecipherable much of the time. Of course the chaos isn't really ameliorated by Lori Bravo's bulldozer bass presence or babbling, shrieking, snarling vocals, sounding like Don Doty missing a Y chromosome and tossed into solitary confinement for a decade. It is not overtly accessible music.
Nuclear Death's music is played so quickly it barely retains any coherency, with long sections of rickety, basically untimed blast beats exploding into fills or collapsing into doom-paced Autopsy-styled sections. While other death metal bands around the same time were all about musically presenting something dogmatic, evil, and all-powerful, Nuclear Death writes music about weakness, insanity, and deformity, preferring to sound less like Satan is invoking you and more like you just realized the voice you thought was Satan the whole time was actually undiagnosed schizophrenia. The atmosphere of this music is decrepit, disgusting, and hopeless- it sounds like the soundtrack to hideous, mentally ill homeless people raping dead animals in the streets. Which, conveniently enough, is what "Necrobestiality" is about.
And that brings me to the concluding point as to why old Nuclear Death is so brilliant: Lori Bravo's lyrics are essentially untouchable. In a style of music where simply being a woman requires one to walk a necessary aesthetic tightrope, Lori manages to bring an intense and obvious femininity to death metal's thematic pallet without sacrificing any of the genre's natural darkness or extremity. Much like the music itself, Nuclear Death's lyrics tend to focus on a feminine take on darkness: more occult, seductive, and neurotically insane, with tracks which deal with hideous parodies of childbirth, bizarre (and creepily authentic-sounding) obsessions over the link between violence and sexuality, and a dark, modernized sense of gothic/urban imagery. Lyrics in death metal are rarely something I pay attention to, but Nuclear Death makes me break out the booklet.