Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gukurahundi - An Apparition In Nocturnal Splendor (EP) (2013)

Put yourself into this scenario: form a band, write and record and EP, and release it, all in the period of months. Some will think this is an easy task. Those who have been through the process know that it is, in fact, an undertaking that requires a great deal of dedication, not to mention a reservoir of talent and creativity to fish from. When Lawrence Nielsen and Pete Colucci came together under the banner of Gukurahundi in late 2012, it wouldn't take long for things to take hold, and music to come to the masses. Released in April 2013, their debut EP saw the two bring black and death metal together. It isn't a new style, or even a new take on an old formula. But their insistent grooves and unrestrained energy makes for a lethal combination, one that can be felt in all five of the tracks provided here. With guitars as far as the ear can hear, a voice that will frighten children and the elderly, and a a drum beat that could open the Earth, "An Apparition In Nocturnal Splendor" is the first in what will hopefully be many albums to come.

If subtlety is your endgame, it'd be quite evident that you have stumbled into the wrong part of the neighborhood. The title track is a euphoric blitz, a grinding attack that refuses to be dismissed or pushed aside. Most notably, the combination of speed and precision in the verse and chorus sections is a beacon for those who appreciate the more dire arts. But buried beneath the machine gun drums and high speed riffing is something a bit more substantial. Rarely do you find a groove in blackened death, and there is a driving one here, tucked snugly into the bridge. Perhaps the most interesting battle going on is the one between the music and the mix; an ongoing tug of war between a flat mix and a vibrant output. Even "Dethroned" isn't immune, though the effects are isolated to the opening moments. If anything, it gains steam as the track goes on, showing signs of much needed versatility in both vocal and instrumental. Vocalist Pete Colucci wanders from the high tuned screeches, adopting a deep growl that may loosen a few bowels along the way. It reveals depth, and, in turn, opens doors.

But much like the opening shots, "The Anarchist" removes all traces of restraint, opting for an in-your-face- combination of wild riffing and grating vocal lines. Guitarist Lawrence Nielsen, responsible for all of the string work on the record, is his own best friend and worst enemy. His leads are crisp and clean, driving the track forward at breakneck speeds. But his rhythm work doesn't always elevate it the way it could. The outro here is a good one, single riff and ambient waves. A step away from the edge, the band backs up on "Sombre Dreams To Gaze Upon," a short interlude that removes the raw element from the mix, and injects and bluesy emotional investment, captured through Nielsen's solid guitar work. It seems simple, but it is a far more rich minute and a half than one listen would indicate. But after all, it is exactly that; it's the breath before surfacing, or the breath before drowning. The flow of the album is no surprise, really, but the jump from soothing to savagery is still a shock to the system. If the previous track is a light stroking of the hair, "The Carcass Of Christ" is the immediate chop to the throat. Drummer Cameron Zuccarelli isn't in the business of clap beats or click tracks; his hands at the sticks furthers the stomping groove and thrash that blossoms in full on the finale.

One listen to the album, and you would be hard pressed to see through the top layer of distortion and reverb to the depth below. But when dealing with Gukurahundi, you can't be deterred so easily. At first listen, this is a text book blackened death album, screams aplenty and blast beat heavy. And yes, it is all those things. But it is also more. There are hidden grooves scattered throughout the disc, just below that top layer, that help it to stay afloat throughout the course of five tracks. It isn't a perfect combination, though, as the tracks do, at times, sound one dimensional and limited in their reach. But there is room to improve and room to grow, something that will undoubtedly happen over time and with more experience under their belts together. In fact, with new material being written and demoed, it might not take long for this three piece to realize their full potential. Regardless of where they go from here, this is a strong debut in a subgenre that isn't easy to break into. Going forward, "An Apparition In Nocturnal Splendor" will be a measuring stick for future efforts.


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