Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Nuclear Death's biography seen through the biased eyes of Mithrandir
To pass off Nuclear Death as just another Death Metal band from the past would be a great injustice. To say Nuclear Death was untalented and incomprehensible noise would be naïve. And to claim there has ever been a more twisted and disturbing band on the planet than Nuclear Death is just plain preposterous! For Nuclear Death represents to Cold Dark Matter in the universe that none can see, yet we know is there, for there would be no balance in the cosmos without it’s mysterious and unseen presence. The Music of Nuclear Death is like the merging of the irrational fears of a small child and the complete sobering fears of seasoned adult who’s experienced many of the true horrors that life has granted us. The lyrics of Nuclear Death go beyond good and evil, for they portray the universe in all its unbiased glory. Oh how I long for hope and salvation!… yet when I listen to Nuclear Death and read their lyrics, it drags me down to the lowest common denominator of humanity and leaves me completely devoid of any hope…only to leave me wallowing in feelings of pure filth and despondency.
Nuclear Death started as a Death/Thrash/Crossover band in Phoenix, Arizona on March 23, 1986. The original lineup was Lori Bravo (vocals, bass), Phil Hampson (guitar), and Joel Whitfield (drums.) During the 80s they released 5 demos of raw primal Thrash/Death Metal/Grindcore, influenced by the likes of Venom, Slayer, The Plasmatics, Death, Repulsion, Deceased, Discharge, Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, etc. They were very active in the Underground during the 80s, playing live in their local and surrounding areas, writing/recording music, distributing their demos, answering interviews, etc…until they were finally picked up by Mr Richard C for his burgeoning Underground record label Wild Rags Records. They were to become one of the more prominent bands on the label and of course continue to remain legends of the Underground Death Metal scene to this day. I should also mention that Phil Hampson was responsible for all the macabre, sordid artwork that would graced their album covers and would also be seen in most of their promo adverts in zines. This visual aesthetic created by Phil, fit perfectly with Nuclear Death’s foul, wretched hymns.
Their first album, “Bride of Insect” debuted in 1990. It featured 12 fantastic songs (mostly from their demos) of their unpolished brand of fierce noisy Death/Thrash/Grindcore that they’ve been bludgeoning forward with since the beginning. Obviously the album wasn’t for everyone and I believe those who preferred at that time noise and speed over cohesiveness, are the ones who truly loved this album the most. While Lori Bravo, being one of the very few female Death Metal singers at the time, might have turned the heads of some of the curious towards Nuclear Death for novelty‘s sake, it may not have been enough for the rank and file Death Metal fans to become as enamored with this band the way some of us true weirdos of the scene had. Too bad for them though, because they obvious didn’t understand Nuclear Death!
“Carrion for Worm” was their Second full-length, coming out a year later in 1991. For this album Steve Cowan came in to handle drum duties with the departure of Joel Whitfield. “Carrion for Worm” was a huge step forward (or backward) for the band proving that they were indeed a force to be reckoned with! But once again probably only the true debauchees with the right ear for this type of warped noise were able to sincerely appreciate what Nuclear Death was doing. With “Carrion” the band developed a heavier sound, with an increased volume of muddy noise. Often times, the bass/guitar/drums collided together into a mesh of warbling psychotropic wall of (un-)harmony. Lori’s vocals had gotten far more twisted and eccentric by this time with a range that went from monstrous growls to the screams of a dying insect! The structures were becoming more diverse with this album too. The songs still contained a liberal use of blasting but they also worked with different speeds and tempo shifts. We also saw songs like “Cathedral of Sleep” using trippy reverberating guitar effects circling around the left and right channels. A strong Psychedelic influence was introduced with “Carrion” which should be no surprise as I’m certain these cats experimented with plenty of hallucinogenic narcotics while listening to plenty of Psych/Prog music from the days of yore! One last thing to mention would be the big cheery on top with this album, which would be the guest vocal appearance of Mr Chris Reifert(Autopsy) on the final track of this masterpiece “Vampirism.”
Their next release would be the infamous “For Our Dead” EP. Both released on cassette and 7” vinyl. The vinyl was obviously the better choice as it came with a magnificent mini-poster depicting the three members of the band in various positions of roadside death. I remember this release being pushed hard by Wild Rags and sadly this would be the last ND piece to be released by the label. The music on “For Our Dead” takes an even slower turn for the better. Pretty much bordering on bottom heavy Doom/Death Metal. It was a tiny release, clocking in at approximately 9 minutes long. But it was a feast of an album, that was to be a hold over until their third full length.
“All Creatures Great and Eaten” was to be their Third full-length album for Wild Rags Records. Sadly due to ‘irreconcilable differences’ between the band and Richard C, they decided to part ways (sorry I don’t know the full extend of what happened.) Strangely this album was promoted for months in The Wild Rag Zine, but over the course of time word of this release began to fade. By the mid 90s not having heard anything new from Nuclear Death in a while, I think all us devotees pretty much assumed they broke up. Apparently “All Creatures…” was indeed recorded and self released on cassette but it would seem it was nowhere to be found through the usual outlets and only available through direct purchase with the band (or Lori) themselves. It wasn’t until the 2002 rerelease of the “For Our Dead/All Creatures” on Extremist Records did I finally get to hear the elusive “All Creatures” album. So my first impression upon finally hearing this album? Pure F’ing Genius! First I’ll say it’s only 20 minutes long, which technically makes it an EP or a Mini-album. Unsure if there were more songs in the works and it was supposed to be longer or what the deal was (I’m unsure on this part of the story of Nuclear Death.) But though it only be 20 minutes, what an astounding piece of work this turned out to be! Easily their most acid drenched psychedelic work they made. The over all recording is much more spacious sounding than their previous work. Yet till incredibly raw sounding, while the instruments are more crisp and distinct. Gives almost an “Abby Road” impression: a band recording in a small room with only a few well placed mics. The songs on the album are their most advanced pieces they recorded IMO. Take “A Dark Winter Psalm” for instance. The tune starts with an almost Sludgy riff soaked in swirling guitar echo. Lori’s vocals are at the very zenith of her capabilities. A lot more “voice” is used in addition to an assortment of wailing, moaning, screaming, croaking, speaking, whispering, growling, etc. She is just completely out of control on this recording! The song goes from a lethargic desert pace to well placed abrupt bursts of grinding speed. There’s something about this album that lives and breathes the images and climate of the Arizona desert. Its like taking peyote and going on a spiritual journey through the arid wastelands and coming across ‘All Creatures’ of different shapes and sizes who feed you information on your morbid destiny as well as the dark fate of the universe! The entire work of “All Creatures” carries on a similar path with absurd vocals, layers of trippy effects, fantastic Doomy riffage, and just an outrageously twisted atmosphere like none I’ve ever heard before.
Sometime after the recording of “All Creatures” Lori and Phil parted ways, which is a damned shame IMO (more about this in a moment.) Apparently Lori carried on the name of Nuclear Death to some degree till the end of the 90s. Employing the help of Steve Cowan, she made one album “Planet Chachexial” and another on her own “Harmony Drinks of Me.” To be honest I never heard the last one but I do own a copy of “Planet Chachexial.” It’s definitely not a Death Metal album, more like quick little experimental Noise/Rock/Metal pieces. There’s no lyrics but Lori uses her absurd vocals as a tool for screeches, chirps, screams and various other piercing noises. The whole thing might be similar to the earliest recordings from the Boredoms. It also kind of seems like it’s a culmination of all the bizarre and trippy aspects of “All Creatures” put into one album (but of course not as brilliant.) It’s really not bad and I rather like it, but this came out in 1999 and the magic that once made Nuclear Death a unique and cult entity in Underground of Death Metal just wasn’t there anymore.
The coming together of Lori Bravo and Phil Hampson is an event that happens only once in a life time to impact the vast musical landscape. And although the impact of Nuclear Death will forever remain miniscule and perhaps in a century’s time they will completely fade from existence…never to be remembered by one solitary soul. But that doesn’t mean that their art was any less powerful on the select individuals who adored this band during the late 80s/early 90s…and (those old and new fans alike) who continue to adore this band long after they’ve been gone. There’s a song by the punk band the Minutemen called “History Lesson Part Ii.” There’s a lyric in there that goes something like this:
this is bob dylan to me
my story could be his songs
i’m his soldiers child
Now ‘my story’ couldn’t necessarily ‘be’ Nuclear Death’s songs - if that were the case I’d probably be locked up or left for dead out in the mesa, haha! But their songs hold so much meaning for me personally yet its hard to explain something like this to the non-believer. There’s more too ND’s music than just sloppy little ditties about children who play with dead things, or weird fantasies about a worm who tries to molest your little sister. To me these songs are true pieces of stark reality mixed with perverse fantasy which in turn once again reflects the harsh indifference of the universe. It‘s stuff like this that I have the hardest time accepting and yet I fear it the most! More so than any irrational fear of the dark or of spiders, ND‘s music represents the cold dead fear of pure reality! Nuclear Death is band that has been with me through the majority of my life now, and has gotten me through - both equally - good and bad times. Each generation has those certain bands that help define an era and a certain lifestyle. The classic bands of the 60s are most notorious for that. But as time went on and new genres (and counter cultures within) formed and mutated, those artists in generations past that “everyone” loved, like the Beatles, The Doors, Pink Floyd, etc became fewer in number. It is my belief based on experience that a band like Nuclear Death has no less of an impact on me (and maybe a few other weirdos) than the mega-bands of the past had on previous generations. Though the number of Nuclear Death acolytes is infinitely fewer than say The Beatles…that doesn’t necessarily mean that their importance in the lives of us few, is any less than the importance that The Beatles had on our folks or grand folks. I firmly believe that the writing duo of Lori Bravo and Phil Hampson is just as brilliant as Lennon and McCartney ….okay maybe that might be a bold statement there, but all I can say is live in my shoes and experience the ND as I have and perhaps you will become as enlightened as I someday!
It’s a shame the Nuclear Death had to come to an end, and that Lori and Phil parted ways. I would love to have heard what disturbing art they might have come up with after “All Creatures.” But alas a band as unhinged as Nuclear Death, it was bound to all fall apart sooner or later. Lori continues on with her project Lori Bravo’s Raped now, and Phil (last I recall) is in a band called Eroticide. Neither of these bands are nearly half as interesting as Nuclear Death. That doesn’t matter though, cause Nuclear Death during their short time on earth left us with about 100 minutes of substantial artistic genius that I will personally worship regularly till the end of my days!
* 1986 - Wake Me When I'm Dead
* 1987 - Welcome to the Minds of the Morbid
* 1988 - A Simphony of Agony (Reh Tape)
* 1988 - Vultures Feeding
* 1988 - Caveat cassette tape
* 1990 - Bride of Insect LP (Wild Rags)
* 1991 - Carrion for Worm LP (Wild Rags)
* 1992 - For Our Dead EP/cassette tape (Wild Rags)
* 1992 - All Creatures Great and Eaten cassette tape
* 1996 - The Planet Cachexial CD (Cat's Meow Records)
* 2000 - Harmony Drinks of Me CD (Cat's Meow Records)
* 2000 - Bride of Insect / Carrion for Worm CD (Extremist Records)
* 2002 - For Our Dead / All Creatures Great and Eaten CD (Extremist Records)
* ???? - Unalive in Texas VHS
* ???? - The Profligacy Video VHS
various archived pics:
Archived from the lastfm group page: http://www.last.fm/group/Nuclear+Death