Nuclearhammer- Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Thursday, December 18, 2014

Toronto’s Nuclearhammer has been around for almost a decade, but they have spent much of this time releasing demos and splits rather than full lengths. Their debut full length Obliteration Ritual came out back in 2009, and this year’s Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer makes it clear right from the beginning that the lengthy period of time between the two has been well utilized. While the core of the band’s sound is the familiar blasting black/death metal that bands like Blasphemy, Beherit and Archgoat pioneered years ago, there are a lot of subtle nuances that push Nuclearhammer beyond the mere worship stage that so many others in this genre are stuck in.

Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer is anchored by six lengthy arrangements, with shorter bursts of electronics/ambient and a few shorter numbers that take on a slight death/grind style. It’s an interesting approach that may prove to be an acquired taste to some, as the result is an unpredictable listen that flows from eerie ambiance and all-out violence without warning. I do think that there are a few too many of the filler tracks, particularly at the beginning of the album where there are two ambient moments with a 30 second assault in between. But as the material progresses there does prove to be a better flow between the shorter tracks and the longer moments, and it all comes together to create a vast and expansive sound that has a bit of an otherworldly/cosmic vibe to it. This is where Nuclearhammer really stands out from their peers, as they take that familiar repetitive blasting and dense walls of sound and layer expanding guitar leads over top of them. Opener “Multi-Dimensional Prism of Black Hatred” is a perfect example of this, as three quarters of the way in the sound opens up and completely sucks the listener into layers of sound that are equal parts spacey and terrifying. It leaves a strong impression, and the dirtier, organic production values add to the overall atmosphere.

The vocals are the most familiar element of the release, as they consist of raspier screams and some lower growls that are sure to remind listeners of a number of different bands in the black/death metal spectrum. But the difference here is that three of the four members of Nuclearhammer contribute vocals throughout the album, so if you really hone in on the performance it becomes noticeable that there is a lot more variation to the pitches than one might initially expect. With the sheer density of the instrumental work the vocals really have to up the intensity in order to not get lost in the wall of sound, but they’re able to just hover above the surface and draw the listener in with as much aggression as possible. It’s clear that the band approached this recording with just the right balance between the vocals and instrumentals in mind, and that makes the moments where the screams reach their most violent level stand out even more.

It does feel like there may be just a bit too many of the ambient/electronic sections, particularly when they are placed before and after a shorter burst of death/grind (and the inclusion of these elements may also prove to be an acquired taste for some). But it’s a relatively small flaw in the scheme of things, because Nuclearhammer’s sophomore effort has pushed beyond the traditional boundaries of this style and taken on a more vast and expansive sound that has a bit of an otherworldly presence. The longer pieces are able to use the familiar repetitive blasting and slowly expanding guitar leads to put the listener into a trancecelike state, and it’s a significant step forward for this group that comes highly recommended.

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