Album debut: Nux Vomica – S/T

One of my favorite songs is “Arsonist’s Prayer,” the last song ever recorded by the North Carolina hardcore band Catharsis. Catharsis’s hardcore leaned towards the crusty and metallic, though it was ambitious in ways that most such music is not. Their lyrical themes were pretty standard-issue for ’90s punk: disgust with modernity and longing for something better. But Catharsis delivered these ideas with a cinematic flair; their songs routinely grew past the 5-minute mark, and vocalist Brian D dressed his dissatisfaction in colorful metaphor. Lots of hardcore bands — too many, really — tackle this material from the street level. Catharsis were special because they offered a bird’s-eye view of the collapse.

Like all great bands, Catharsis were fundamentally inimitable. I rarely come across bands that use the same combination of tactics or that give me the same rush. Nux Vomica come close, though. These Portland transplants fittingly formed in 2002, the year that Catharsis broke up; they released two LPs and a pile of short-format releases before this one, though they’ve escaped my notice until now.

All this Catharsis talk stems from the fact that Nux Vomica also play long-form, metal-influenced political hardcore. You can hear shades of various fellow Relapse bands in their sound, too. (One can scarcely imagine a group of ideological punkers deciding to sign a contract with an openly commercial institution like Relapse, but tough times make for strange bedfellows.) The clanging melodic crescendos remind me of the defunct post-metal troupe Buried Inside; the beefed-up tones and metallic chops recall Japan’s Muga, who appeared on the Japanese Assault comp. (Remember those?) The occasional harmonized melodeath riffs harken to another iconic political hardcore band: Tragedy. It’s a potent mix.

Nux Vomica’s three songs average about fifteen minutes in length. That’s a lot of compositional space for any band to fill. At times, the vast expanses of sound overwhelm the band, and you can hear them feeling their way to the next part along a restrained bridge. But for the most part, Nux Vomica manage the epic scope of their songs masterfully. Each consists of a sequence of hard-hitting metallic hardcore segments, strung together with lean, largely instrumental connective tissue — the muscle is real, but the vibe is dreamlike. I’ve written on occasion about how I don’t hold heavy music in much regard as a goal-oriented political tool, and I still don’t. But like most good political bands, it doesn’t really matter whether you endorse the specifics of Nux Vomica’s ideology, or even whether you endorse any of it. When monster closing number “Choked at the Roots” first crescendos into a blastbeat at about the 6-minute mark, specifics go out the window. All you see is the widescreen apocalypse.

Nux Vomica comes out on April 1st. Preorder it here and stream it below.

— Doug Moore