At a certain point in the mid-’80s, Venom-inspired thrash metal groups began pouring out of Germany—so many, in fact, that a geographically-sanctioned label, Teutonic Thrash, emerged to specifically discuss the frantic, unhinged aesthetic that bands like Sodom and Kreator brought to their burgeoning music scene. At the time, such a convention seemed weird and inconsistent with the rest of heavy metal’s naming lineage, but in 2016 we are retroactively dubbing musical movements based on their area of origin left, right and center (see Bay Area Thrash, Florida Death, and New Wave of British).
As far as the wider population is aware, Polish death metal doesn’t really have such a catchy moniker—no one has tried to push ‘Językpolskicore’ into the heavy lexicon just yet. But at this point, there needs to be something, as plenty such groups exist. And while they are all inevitably lumped under the ever-growing umbrella of ‘death,’ the crop of influential groups couldn’t be more diverse. The triumphant fanfare of Behemoth’s current work has almost nothing in common with the dizzying displays of their tech-head cousins in Decapitated; nor do Decapitated really sound anything like their fellow Poles in Vader, despite some overlapping artistic influences.
Genre buffs could easily pigeonhole neophyte band Nuclear Holocaust as pure grindcore. However, much like with their American brethren in Pig Destroyer and Discordance Axis, one will find a cocktail of proto-death metal, hardcore punk, thrash chugging and powerhouse blast beats in each song of the Polish quartet’s debut album, Overkill Commando. It is a record that owes everything from its cover art to the sound of the primitive, bestial death-grind contained therein to Napalm Death and Terrorizer, and Nuclear Holocaust purport no interest in hiding this fact. Seriously: they even feature a twenty-two-second-long song called “Cryptic Stench of Radioactive Foetuses.”
Though none of their cuts break the two-minute mark, Nuclear Holocaust’s songs sound like complete ideas rather than shorts bursts and half-baked excerpts—a criticism leveled against many of their death-grind kin. For example, “Abomination of Annihilation” focuses on discordant death metal riffing that is appropriately topped with bellowing, guttural vocals. “Only Cockroaches Will Survive,” on the other hand, has the bouncy, hardcore punk groove that Suicidal Tendencies spearheaded, along with the crossover group’s irreverent but grim sense of humor. It’s as if Nuclear Holocaust pick from a massive, pre-compiled list of seminal heavy groups that they admire and proceed to emulate that band for a few moments.
The songs of Overkill Commando very much blend together into the giant, dichromic pit of corrosive waste depicted on their album cover. Yet they are not quite the same. Though there are many traditionally brutal moments, like the unrelenting, sludge-coated blasting of “Power Hungry Paranoia,” Nuclear Holocaust have gone out of their way to distinguish themselves from their contemporaries. In “Religious Mutilation” singer Bloodseeker (yeesh) keeps his raw-throated shouts refreshingly sharp and clear, neglecting to go for sludgy gimmicks like the cookie monster or pig squeal vocal styles. “Vomiting Blood” switches to plodding, looming doom metal for a brief change of pace; it’s a shame this reprieve only lasts a paltry fifty-two seconds before catapulting listeners back into the disaster area.
This is not surprising. Nuclear Holocaust’s participation in the Infected by Old School compilation earlier this year clearly stated the band’s position on which era of metal is the best. What is still kind of unclear, though, is exactly how tongue-in-cheek their lyrics are supposed to be. With titles like “Frostbitten by the Radioactive Fullmoon,” “Gore Cult” and “Disciples of the Flesh” it sounds like the guys literally just jumbled up the song names of every record they’ve ever enjoyed into a death metal word salad—from which they also plucked Overkill Commando. And though it is pretty common subject matter in grindcore, it does feel a little close to home for a former Russian satellite territory to be this obsessed with nuclear disaster. There is “Nuclear Waste Repository,” “Atomic Suicide,” “Toxic Whore,” and the list goes on. So wait… are Nuclear trying to make some sort of smart-ass in-joke about clichéd heavy metal subject matter, like Municipal Waste has done? Do they just have no imagination, again, like Municipal Waste? Were there translation errors, like one might encounter in an obscure foreign film? Surely, “Deathbringer of Death” cannot be the title that the group had actually intended. For some reason, satire seems unlikely.
Either way, Overkill Commando is a tasty, bitesize snack of a grindcore album. The shit will whiz by your face in a shorter amount of time than it will take you to finish reading this long-winded review. The worst you can say about the record is that it’s a bit low on original ideas. But it is Nuclear Holocaust’s first studio album, after all, so a few homages to their heroes are perfectly acceptable. Hopefully, the band will be a little more adventurous by the time their sophomore effort rolls around, ready to put their own unique stamp on the genre.