Nucleus produces a sadly disappointing debut

“Sentient” fails to meet key standards in death metal.

If Carcass’s “Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious” was more concerned with dystopian futures and sci-fi horror than malicious pathology, the result would more or less be “Sentient” by Chicago’s Nucleus. The way songs transition in and out of multiple tempos and sections harkens back to their British predecessors, as does how each individual musician gels together. Nucleus distinguishes itself by adding some modernized technicality, slower grooves and melodic sensibilities, but the band’s connection to the old school racket of Carcass cannot be denied. The success of their debut depends on how well they can balance the old with the new.

The guitar work is the real stand out on “Sentient,” from tone to execution. Every riff maintains soul while sporting complicated tendencies, and consistently propels the album forward. The variety of techniques used in each song makes every one of them unique in this department. Whether they use harrowing tremolo picking, groovy mosh parts or circle-pit starting thrash sections, Dave Muntean and Dan Ozcanli’s output is tightly executed and as creepy as it is energetic. Their tone is also quite impressive. The slower passages on this album make its clarity and vibrancy apparent, while “Insurgent” exemplifies how gritty it can be when coupled with the low-end rumble of Ryan Reynolds.

Muntean also provides some convincing growls on “Sentient.” His voice has an old school flavor to it that does not sound overtly derivative or uninspired. His affectations are genuinely menacing, but suffer from a lack of interesting phrasing. Although this could be seen as more of a stylistic preference, as the death metal old-guard were known for tonality instead of the rhythmic emphasis that would develop in subsequent waves of bands, it eventually causes the growls to become mundane over the course of 38 minutes. Tracks like “Cube” do sport some great moments for vocals, but more creative arrangements would have made them truly memorable.

In general, the mix on “Sentient” ends up flat and uninteresting. While the guitars and bass sound good in their own right, they sometimes take an overpowering roll that makes the other instruments sound weak in comparison. Guitar driven music is not uncommon in metal, but it only works if the drums and vocals have room to breathe.

Speaking of drums, they ruin this record. Pat O’Hara’s arrangements are certainly well-executed, but the end result tanks due to production issues and a general lack of adventurousness. To be frank, the drums sound horrible. The toms and high-hat are particularly cringeworthy, and the overall sound of the kit has little flash and no bash. Following the guitars at the expense of their character within the songs, O’Hara’s parts often turn out painfully awkward. They do little to beef up the would-be brutal sections. Hits that should punch through the mix are horribly dull and muted. This is less of a problem in groovier songs like “Starflyer,” in which the thick guitar tone fills the space left by the gaunt drums, but almost every attempt at Ken Owen-esque beats falls flat due to a lack of heftiness. In fact, “Sentient” would be more enjoyable if it stuck to the lumbering groove instead of embarrassingly frail blast beats.

In spite of its glaring problems, “Sentient” has plenty of memorable moments. The aforementioned slow sections work really well, and tracks like “Cantos” are enjoyable in spite of the album’s overarching problems. However, unless Nucleus improves their mix and production value, and expand their creativity past their guitars, they simply will not produce the brazen power necessary for survival in modern death metal.

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Nucleus produces a sadly disappointing debut