Review Summary: The cult classic band rides again.
The ‘djent stick’ was a hilariously sad distillation of what the djent fad became: an exaggeration of a tool in a Swedish band’s arsenal that was simplified and stripped down until it approached parody and no one knew who was in or out of the joke. The truth is that few, if any artists learned the right lessons from the success of Meshuggah and focused instead on their ability to generate delicious heaviness, which was their immediate hook on the surface. It was basic enough to 0-0-0, but to replicate the group’s true asset—the odd time signatures and the ingenuity of Tomas Haake’s drumming that lurked underneath the low-end abuse—required a meticulous approach to songwriting. Though hailed as a cult classic band in hindsight, Nostromo never earned their deserved credit for paying attention in class; Ecce Lux
was old-school metalcore’s merger with Meshuggah’s hidden intricacies, leading to a fearsome beast that delivered grind escapades and addicting grooves in equal measure. Coming off the heels of a surprise 2019 revival EP, the Swiss underground maestros are up their old tricks on their fourth record—their first in nearly two decades. Thoroughly steeped in classic hardcore roots and the storied history of metalcore’s gritty output of the 90s era, Bucephale
is an intimidating customer that supplies punishing, bass-boosted headbangers that possess surprising depth in their compositions.
Despite being out of the game for a prolonged period of time, the Swiss collective sound as energetic as their olden days, and their career revival is a natural fit to their prior efforts. Ecce Lux
concocted a style that began to lean in multiple different genres—the militant precision and cold instrumental tones adopted an industrial tinge, and the gang’s metalcore outbursts delved further into the hectic realm of grind—and, all told, Bucephale
is an amplification of those influences. The appropriately volatile “IED (Intermittent Explosive Disorder)” sprints out at a blistering pace with the drums and guitars merging into a frantic, albeit precise assault until all collapses into a menacing, blackened breakdown. Each chord sounds razor-sharp as it slices through the mix, punctuating the syncopated chugging that intervenes or the spastic grind riffs that race around the tune. In the latter half of the record comes the similarly vicious “Decimatio,” where the guitars maintain a laser-focused assault amidst a flurry of percussion, generating a machine gun-like sound whose pulsing beat is wildly addictive. If anything, these aforementioned cuts have the band sounding more
violent than usual, with their unrelenting heaviness matching that of modern acts like Yashira. It’s certainly an accomplishment to be dormant for decades and match the contemporary scene in a single stroke.
Nostromo’s brand of metalcore relies less on melodic elements and mathcore technicality, instead supplanting them with rhythmic complexity. There’s a hypnotic quality to the percussion arrangements, what with their almost ritualistic pounding echoing amongst discordant guitars. Once placed in the context of a production that concocts a hellish, suffocating aura through the sufficiently heavy and reverb-soaked guitars, each song becomes delightfully addictive, with the clever songwriting tactics of the collective working amazingly within the recognizable djent-core framework. The proceedings of “In Praise of Betrayal” are beautifully hefty, and Nostromo perform an admirable juggling act between punishing grooves—the midway portion in particular is liable to put one in a trance with its throbbing bass line and rhythmic chugs—and titanic, devastating riffs that replicate the success of Zao’s mountainous soundscapes. Threatening breakdowns await those that survive the onslaught, and their arrival is beckoned forth by distorted, visceral vocals that scratch against the speakers. If a melodic touch is required, the Swiss gents can seamlessly integrate it, such as the central riff of “Realm of Mist,” which pairs of excellently with its mid-tempo, groove-laden assault. Regardless of approach, Nostromo is capable of crafting something memorable in every song, given each of the ten tracks included here a distinct character.
To be unique, or to at least be discernable enough from peers, is a valuable bonus for any given LP. Aggression in of itself isn’t enough to cut it in metalcore now that the genre has developed and transformed so thoroughly over its evolution. In a year where the musical category has attacked listeners from all angles—post-metalcore, mathcore, nu-metal-core, name it and a band has released a noteworthy album in it—it’s refreshing to still hear the old-school sound endure and be provided a suitably modern renovation. There’s an impressive level of compositional cunning in how Nostromo weave djent sensibilities into their work that few, if any, have matched in the scene, leading to an intriguing sonic identity that can be plucked out of a crowd easily. Their ability to throw down makes them easily accessible to fans of any era, but the rewards upon return listening sessions are what make Nostromo a welcome addition to the fray, featuring layers and slick transitions that demonstrate the group’s commendable attention to detail. The return of the Swiss crew is a powerful reaffirmation of their remarkable songwriting talent, and it’s worthy of acclaim amongst the best the year has to offer.