We rarely get lyric sheets with promos. Usually, this doesn’t matter much, as metal lyrics are rarely pinnacles of literary prowess. There’s only so many ways to say that humanity sucks or to discuss the finer points of fighting dragons with flaming swords. As a result, it’s often easy to miss the fact that an album has a concept unless you read it on the promo sheet. Not so with Anthrocene, who went several miles beyond a lyric sheet; with their debut Nucleation they included an entire comic, the speech bubbles and narration forming the lyrics of the hour-long album, revolving around an apocalyptic story of a misanthropic lumberjack turned into a planet-immolating creature by an agent of chaos from beyond the void. You know, Sunday paper stuff. No shortage of ambition for these Seattle residents, but can they live up to it with the music?
The most immediate point of comparison for Anthrocene is Avenged Sevenfold, employing a similar mixture of American power metal and metalcore. A7X is ever a divisive band, but their most recent album The Stage pulled me over the threshold, so for me, this was not an unwelcome reference. Most immediately noticeable are the vocals, which are shared among all band members and cover an insane range of styles. From power-prog cleans to core roars and from nasal screams to lilting harmonies, everything passes through the gallery, all with a heavy theatrical flair. Generally this works in their favor; the story is epic and absurd enough to permit itself such dramatic sweeps. Some of the nasal screams tread into the shrill, however, and those are some of the less pleasant moments on the album. The guitars mostly switch between sweeping solos and chuggy riffs, the drums largely workmanlike but serviceable.
Anthrocene works best when they focus on tight, catchy melodies, and thankfully there’s a number of those dotted across Nucleation. The chorus for opener “Spirit of the Maelstrom” sticks in your craw for hours, the same for the short but sweet “Witness the Sublime.” Late highlight “Surveyor of the Surface” constructs a tight, drum-boosted triplet riff that takes a cue from Amon Amarth’s “Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags” with more bounce, and it gets your head banging easily. The flipside of the coin is that tracks without such addictive hooks tend towards the forgettable. This affects a few earlier tracks such as “Acceptance of Decay” but the last third is especially vulnerable to this and despite the decent degree of variation and character in the tracks, too many seem to pass in one ear and out the other.
With the story such an important part of the album, it makes me wonder whether the concept was created first or the music. When the hooks are falling short, it feels like the music is meant merely as a vehicle for the story. If the concept was a bust, this would have been fatal, but at least in that respect Nucleation is an entertaining ride. It’s weird and violent and misanthropic and combines all that with a big wink and tongue firmly planted in the cheek. So while conceptually the band plays to their strengths, this isn’t always evident in the music. This is reflected in the production as well. Whereas the master is alright, the mix is often uneven, and sometimes a strong underlying riff is buried by the cavalcade of vocals, drums and bass. While this is not consistently problematic across the album, it happens just often enough to be noticeable. It increases the sensation that the band hasn’t quite figured themselves out yet, which is understandable for a debut, but it doesn’t improve the unity of the album.
Anthrocene have a cool concept in Nucleation. The lyric comic is the most efficient way to convey the story they want to tell, and the execution on that side is excellent throughout. But despite some great melodic lines and a very diverse execution, the music doesn’t quite live up to the ambitious storytelling, with a few tracks not memorable enough to warrant an hour of music. This is a band with lofty ideas in search of their own strengths, with the musical skills to bring them to fruition. The songwriting just isn’t consistent enough yet to wholeheartedly recommend Nucleation, though one spin with the comic book on hand is a fairly unique experience you will definitely not regret. At the risk of spoiling, the story does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. Hopefully Nucleation II: Nucleationer will see more development for the band and more focus on what they do best: killer melodies that you can’t stop humming.