Firsts. Life’s full of ’em. Some are wonderful, such as the proverbial first kiss, or the first time you heard (or wrote about!) heavy metal. Some are horrible, such as the Drew Music-al first kiss, or the first time you heard Good Charlotte. A band’s first album can fall anywhere within this spectrum, and with their future depending on that first impression, the importance of debut albums cannot be overstated. This being said, let me prepare your future selves to remember the first time you ever heard Nostoc.
Billed as extreme prog, I had one immediate question regarding the Costa Ricans’s debut, Ævum: Does it djent? Thankfully, no. Well, once for about 10 seconds during “The Anamnesic Voyage,” but the fairest description of the album would be death-groove with progressive elements -a concoction that many will find addictive. Guitarists David Miranda and Freddy López (who also handles vocals) dole out solid death rhythms and chuggatry, summoning the spirits of Chimaira and Mastodon over the course of 7 tracks, carefully adding various ingredients to each song to give it its own life. A touch of Eastern melody in “Saturnian Mindscope,” a dash of Haken-worthy lounge prog added to “The Artisan,” sprinkles of groove all throughout, and voilà! The spice of life, yo. New flavors are introduced without being overdone, the end result often being a bit shy of amazing yet still quite tasty indeed. We might not be talking about the next Mastodon, here, but it’s likely we’ll be talking about Nostoc more down the road if they can keep this up.
Perhaps most impressive about Ævum is its overall flow. Despite the prog tag and song lengths that average over 7 minutes, Ævum never feels bogged down or shamelessly wankful. Groove and rhythm just keep rolling along as López yells, growls and roars, and nothing is ever beaten to death or allowed to stagnate. These guys knock on your door with one riff, kick it in and burn your house down with a slick groove, then provide soothing Weather Channel passages for you to ponder your predicament to, just before descending into slam territory and leaving you unsure as to what the hell could possibly be coming next – and it all works. By the end of it, I was all kinds of surprised to realize that my first dance with Nostoc had taken about an hour. I was having fun, and time flew.
Admittedly, working with everything on the spice rack can be risky. Pig vocals make their way into López’s Phil Anselmo-with-balls register from time to time, and the rap-esque introduction of “Delirium” coupled with the semi-frequent time signature changes throughout all of Ævum may raise an eyebrow or two. However, there is no such thing as a significantly weak moment on this album, any misstep is swiftly followed by a satisfyingly heavy moment. Proggish leads and tech-death drums keep everything feeling brutal and alive, and the Beyond Creation-esque bass work is even allowed to shine in the mix. Really, it’s pretty easy to forget that this is a self-released debut when considering how polished and proficient the band sounds.
As with most debuts, there is room to grow here. Solos are modest, the skills are there but hopefully to be expounded upon in coming albums. It would also be nice to hear Emanuel Calderon get more inventive on the skins for future works, as his playing is on point but pretty predictable. Given the obvious skill and creativity demonstrated by Ævum, touring and an album or two should hopefully see him where improve. Ultimately, his playing never detracts from the material, it would just be nice to hear him explore as boldly as his bandmates.
Only time can tell what the future holds for Nostoc. Label-less and new in a crowded metal sea, the odds are as against them as any band. There’s every chance that they could fade into obscurity, but my first impression tells me that these guys are different, I fully expect to look back on this one fondly from the other side of an excellent, accomplished discography. I’ll see y’all in the future, with a big ole can of Toljaso.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Self Release