Album Review: Nuclear Tomb – Terror Labyrinthian

Album Review: Nuclear Tomb - Terror Labyrinthian
Reviewed by Sam Jones

Nuclear Tomb have been making the rounds across social media lately, so when I saw Terror Labyrinthian announced and saw it was generating attention I thought I’d best check it out for myself. Formed in 2011 from Maryland, United States, Nuclear Tomb are a textbook example of taking your time. The band released their first Single in 2015 which wasn’t followed up until 2018’s Admission Of Guilt Demo, eventually succeeded by two EPs, released respectively in 2019 and 2022. But now, finally signing on to Everlasting Spew Records, Nuclear Tomb prepare to release their aforementioned debut full length album unto the masses for an April 19th window. After a short snippet I knew I had to check this out; I’d heard Nuclear Tomb offered something more unusual which that little tease certainly confirmed. But let’s behold the full record and see what kind of demented beast Nuclear Tomb have fashioned themselves into.

Experiencing this album, as a first time listener of Nuclear Tomb, is pretty jarring, since the band aren’t going for the conventional thrash/death metal attack to see you pinned to the wall; rather, Nuclear Tomb opt for a more cerebral, Voivod-inspired sound where their guitar tone makes it abundantly apparent this is not your typical old school sounding thrash attempt. While the band do play fast, they don’t seem to get so completely carried away in their tempo that they forget they’re here to engage and entertain you, and seeing how Nuclear Tomb write some pretty weird riffs, it’s good to see they’ve got their eyes focused on the important things. The guitar work always feels like it’s forever scraping the very edge of sanity and, at any moment, the band could break out into riff-induced insanity which they seem to be perfectly adept at portraying herein. Their soundscape doesn’t feel boisterous as much as it does piercing; Nuclear Tomb immediately pull you in by the sheer malignancy their sound induces and, out of brazen curiosity, you can’t help but be lulled further into their record.

I also picked up early on the striking lack of anything else going on in the album’s background that isn’t otherwise created by the band themselves. By this I refer to how the album’s walls don’t appear coated in anything to absorb the songwriting or riffs; there’s very little to help bounce the band’s sound to and fro, so when a riff or drum strike is made it makes for a coarse, scarring impact where every feasible comfort often found in thrash/death metal has been stripped away. That’s not to say Terror Labyrinthian is a bare-sounding album, far from it. Nuclear Tomb’s songwriting is laden and overflowing with juicy guitar work, vocals and basslines to fill out all the space needed to give their sound credence and attention. You can identify there’s plenty of room left over for you to work with though; it’s as if you can walk round and above the record as it plays, like it’s been placed atop a plinth and you can only behold its oddities as a willing participant. Other than their own input and songwriting, there’s absolutely nothing else happening which is why think I think this will be a strange record for people to encounter. With no other elements inserted amidst their own performances, Nuclear Tomb effectively silence everything else so their weird selves can be heard without difficulty. It’s a bold decision, one that sees the band place immense faith and confidence on their performance herein.

Album Review: Nuclear Tomb – Terror Labyrinthian

Another aspect about this record is how unapologetic it feels. At no instance do Nuclear Tomb seemingly slow themselves and try and justify or explain the reasoning behind their songwriting, or why they’ve chosen this idea or gone with this approach to extreme metal etc. It assails and drowns you in the tidal wave of immensity its sound conjures up, and before you know what’s happened truly the record is already preparing to move on to the next piece to keep the adrenaline flowing. It’s a short album, just a little over thirty minutes long, and that might be a blessing. Considering how the record isn’t looking to gain sympathy amongst those seeking something conventional, keeping their album nice and quick, as well as their tracks too, works in their favour since they’re purposefully not overrunning their time spent. Maintaining brief bursts of this odd songwriting ensures audiences receive plenty to enjoy without having to worry over bearing this unusual aesthetic throughout longer tracks. It’s weird and despairing, but it doesn’t intend on berating you.

I think half the reason this record sounds so unhinged, is due to the bass. There are quite a few occasions where the bass guitar will suddenly burst through the chaos of the songwriting to effectively shout: “I am here! And you will pay attention because I have something you can’t ignore!” Additionally, the band’s bass, much like the rest of their instrumentation, comes across as if all potential limiters were removed from the record and therefore the band could play and let their sound fully loose. When you think of most thrash/death metal soundscapes, it’s often neatly arranged and so shaped that an audience can easily approach and understand its voluminous dimensions; Nuclear Tomb are the equivalent of this living ball of static where nothing has clearly defined corners or sides and everything, like boundless kinetic energy, can lead us to everywhere because the band deliberately let the power fly loose and without restraint. There’s no leash latched on to Terror Labyrinthian and, like letting a dog chase every ball or butterfly or bicycle it sees, so too do Nuclear Tomb let their sound run wild.

In conclusion, Terror Labyrinthian is one bizarre album. I think this is going to turn some heads, and just as many are going to really shake their heads at it. Nuclear Tomb really subvert many of the tropes and expectations you have towards thrash/death metal here, because this hasn’t been produced and put together to create a comfortable listening experience. If ever there was a challenging thrash experience, this was it. I think some people will outright turn it off. I think many more will go through it the first time and not know what on earth to make of it. But just as many as those will return to this record for repeated listens, and it’s through those return experiences that this album will unveil its fruits. This is a record that’s not designed for one run through alone, but multiple listens top to bottom. It’s progressive without being typically progressive; it possesses clear, coherent thrash structuring but then it throws up these wacky time signatures and atmospheres that feel like we’ve crashed through to the other side of the mirror. It’s a honestly fresh sound and it takes guts to write something this blatantly unusual. An ultimately freaky album, and I’m so glad it exists.

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