ALBUM REVIEW: Nocturnus AD - Unicursal

ALBUM REVIEW: Nocturnus AD - Unicursal

Progressive death metal acts Nocturnus AD have been delivering a unique, sci-fi variation of death metal for many years. With the band's last album Paradox, the band continued their legacy from the works of Nocturnus, continuing the evolution of the band's sound and influence. Now, five years later, the band is returning from the stars with their brand new album Unicursal. After a five year hiatus, has Nocturnus AD returned to deliver another progressive death metal classic?

The album opens with a Slayer-style riff on the "Intro" track. With cascading choirs and dueling guitars, amidst the sci-fi effects. Setting a tone to an epic album ahead. On the lead off track "The Ascension Throne of Osiris", pummeling double bass and blast beats into Mike Browning's unique vocals start the track. We have Demian Heftel & Belial Koblak accenting the punching drums of Browning with the guitars. The riff picks up faster in duel harmonies as the vocal layering and ambience behind it fill the space of the mix and add dynamics to the track. Keyboardist Josh Holdren begins to become more prominent with string accents as it heads into the guitar solo of the track. Classic old school death metal in it's style and guitar tone, before returning to pummeling drums by Browning and Holdren's strings behind him. A very complex, progressive opening track that is a strong opener. Setting the level of scale and grandeur the album is taking the listener on.

On "CephaloGod", the ominous and eerie low build, among unholy guttural growls,  creates a dark and otherworldly feel in its opening. The opening riff is such an earworm catchy hook, into classic, almost power metal sounding keys. On the verses section, its almost a hybrid of crossover thrash with the symphonic power metal piano. Then, the speed intensifies with blasting double bass and blast beats from Browning. I can hear bassist Daniel Tucker's playing on the track, adding the groove and depth in the guitar sections. Especially, underlying the guitar solos. With the song blazing by in its speed and intensity, it is a heavy and punishing track. My favorite track off the album. "Mesolithic" opens with tribal-esque percussion. Filling the space of the production with so much reverb on the drums, building atmosphere to something ominous in its tension and build. After almost two minutes of tribal build, the song kicks off with wailing guitar solos by Heftel & Koblak. Browning's vocals have the snarl to it, but also adopts a more spoken word, loud storytelling voice, before the riff comes back heavier and chuggier. Holdren's strings in the background are there, and become prominent amidst the double bass of Browning. Heftel & Koblak return to battling guitar solos, sounding similar to Hanneman and King of Slayer. Holdren gets a keyboard solo after the halfway mark, that is so intricate and complex in its pattern, it adds such a unique take to the track and it works so well. I love how the guitars bounce off the keyboards section near the close of the track.

Drummer/Vocalist Mike Browning

"Organism 46B" has classic sci-fi computer noises and building effects. Channeling the feeling of something out of classic Star Trek in its effects and rising and fading bass. Pounding double bass and aggressive guitar solos start the track off, into EVEN FASTER blast beats by Browning. His vocals have moments of vocal distortion and effects behind it, adding more to the storytelling of the lyrics. The strings section, accompanying the main guitar riff, just adds that little touch of accenting to the song. Browning is a machine on the kit for this track. Hopping all over the kit from pounding double bass to relentless blast beats, all while doing vocals, which is not easy to do. Then, near the closing of the track, it turns into a straight thrash metal track, with building strings behind it as the song almost double times, before slowing down to deliver the chorus near the close. For "Mission Malkuth", we open with chimes and eerie ambience returning in the opening. Which I can hear where bands like Blood Incantation got the inspiration from for their sound.  After the explosion, the strings and chuggy riff comes in. Creating a dark, symphonic death metal sound, which I love in the opening. Browning again pummels his kit to submission on the verses, while Heftel & Koblak add impressively fast tremolo guitar throughout. At the halfway mark, the tempo changes a bit with a more mid-tempo riff with double bass and very atmospheric ambience beneath it. Reminding me of Cynic in its sound. Browning's vocals have the effects on them again on the track, adding more dimension to the lyrical journey of the band's mythos. While also adding uniqueness to the band's sound, especially going into the keyboard solo near the three quarters mark.

On "Yesod, The Darkside of The Moon", after another futuristic opening, comes a heavy and chugging opening riff. Heftel & Koblak continue their dueling heavy attack on guitar. Then Browning begins to show his stuff throughout the musical break, before the song's pacing picks back up. The riff is a hybrid of classic Slayer mixed with old school death metal in its tone, and I LOVE it so much. It has moments of slow headbang along with the riff, while also adding double bass, pit-starting guitar sections. The pit will go insane during the closing three quarters mark guitar solos and almost d-beat style drumming. "Hod, The Stellar Light" features the chimes elements in the intro section with warping effects behind it from Holdren. Into a percussion heavy drum fill by Browning, before the rest of the band joins in. The opening evil laugh is a great touch as it segues into the verses section. Browning's playing is all over the kit throughout the vocal performance and the riff delivery. With Heftel & Koblak delivering a heavy and fast-paced riff, while Tucker & Browning are a strong rhythm section. Holdren Holdren even stops the track with a short interlude of ambience, before the song comes bursting through the wall back to its speed and ferocity. A pummeling and diverse track in its arrangement. "Netzach, The Fire of Victory" goes for the gusto again with the driving double bass into blast beats, along with the wailing and dueling guitar solos. With ear-piercing strings, the song picks up the pacing and driving force of the band with the matching guitars and drums just going full progressive metal in its pacing and playing. Relentless and unique track. The album's closer "Outro" features a combination of ambience, harsh winds and chimes as keyboards begin to rise from the depths of the mix in full force. Bouncing from side to side in each speaker, as booming percussion comes roaring in. On top of spooky and ominous wailing & humming-like vocals. Double bass from Browning comes in, adding more bass and power to the already driving percussion in the song. The song mutates to an epic grand close of Browning's pounding drums and Holdren's keyboards, wrapping up the album in an intergalactic heavy bow.

With Unicursal, Nocturnus AD tell a deeply complex story lyrically amongst the blasting drums, fast-paced guitars and well-placed synths. The band delivers a cohesive and progressive death metal beast of a record that is out of this world. Browning's goal for the project to push what death metal can do with its sound is truly showcased on this record. Adding ambient interludes in the song's intros really do give a feeling of storytelling and pacing. Giving time for the listener to recover from the progressive and heavy elements the band delivers on the record. This is a heavy record and a sign Nocturnus AD is a band that is here to stay and has one hell of a story to tell.

SCORE: 9 / 10

1) Intro

2) The Ascension Throne of Osiris

3) CephaloGod

4) Mesolithic

5) Organism 46B

6) Mission Malkuth

7) Yesod, The Darkside of The Moon

8) Hod, The Stellar Light

9) Netzach, The Fire of Victory

10) Outro

FFO: Blood Incantation, Disaffected, Cynic

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