NUX VOMICA - Nux Vomica
Usually I associate Portland, Oregon with indie pop, organic farmers, hippies and associated art collectives, but let me assure you that there is nothing pretentious going on with this quintet, originally from Baltimore, Maryland in the East and only later relocated to the West Coast. When I first googled their band name, I came upon a homeopathic quack medicine, but in the case of the fierce sludge / doom / death / black metal that we are faced with on this album, I rather think that the band has taken its name from the highly poisonous strychnine tree whose Latin denomination is strychnos nux-vomica.
These guys have been around for more than ten years already, and have released already two longplayers and a couple of EPs and splits on smaller labels. Their self-titled third album has now come out on the bigger independent label Relapse, and I have to admit that I was sceptical at first. Hybrid death doom sludge songs, two of which are 10+ minutes long, and one even making it to nearly twenty minutes... Isn’t that a prerogative of progressive rock bands?
Now, after having listened to the record for at least half a dozen times, I have shed the last of my doubts. Nux Vomica may use well known ingredients like death, doom, sludge and black metal, dose it with a healthy attitude of crust, punk and hardcore, and add a measure of post rock just to have it all. In the hands of lesser artists, this might soon turn out to be indecipherable hodgepodge, but not in this case. The CD starts with the twelve and a half minute long Sanity Is For The Passive, and despite its majestic length, the band doesn’t hesitate to get to the point. The beginning of the song is fierce and brutal, with barked vocals that add even more anguish. The melodic guitar harmonies definitely make for melodic death metal and maybe even black metal, somewhere between early Darkest Hour and Dissection. Halfway into the song, it all turns to lava, showing off the band’s sludge doom side that reminds of the more crawling parts of the first Type O Negative album, minus the industrial parts. The following Reeling only makes it to twelve minutes and is thus the record’s shortest song. It is also mellower and more melodic, with post rock or maybe post metal parts making it probably more accessible to the masses. While this song may not be as extreme as the opener, it feels more homogenous and is another winner.
But nothing has prepared us for the final monster track Choked At The Roots, with twenty minutes unusually long for the extreme metal movement. This epic track has it all, from a brooding first movement to its lashing punk finale. Apart from the band’s ability to use so many different musical styles within the context of a single composition, there is also the uncanny way how everything seems to flow seamless onwards. It’s a song you wish would never end. It is pure genius, nothing less, possibly even more.
Extreme metal music can be a double-edged sword. While it allows musicians to always reinvent themselves, too many fall into the trappings of just copying safely what has been done before. Fortunately, Nux Vomica belong to the former category. Apart from sounding highly original, they also have a good hand for fabulous songwriting, coming up with such beautiful music you wouldn’t have expected from such a bunch of grimy guys. If you only buy one extreme metal album this year, let it be the self-titled third record by Nux Vomica!