Nuclear Winter isn’t a band, but the work of just one man. Even with the usage of programmed drums throughout his 2020 release ‘StormScapes’, Zimbabwean metal musician Gary Stautmeister creates as much intensity as a full compliment of musicians. He’s also been smart enough to program those drums in such a way that they never grate, or worse, make his recordings sound cheap. By using them in a way that creates a genuine mechanical tension, it gives this EP the kind of edge you’d find from an extreme industrial band, or perhaps a technical death metal act that are over keen on the use of bass drum triggers.

The opening track ‘Hearts of Stone’ tells you everything you need to know about Nuclear Winter’s core sound. From the moment an opening salvo of howling notes drops into downtuned riffs with a djent edge, the extreme heaviness has a great appeal. The way those riffs collide with the drum machines suggests a welcome mix of metal and industrial before twisting again to introduce elements of intense goth and melodic death. A guttural vocal might not appeal to everyone, but in this case, it’s perfect for the Decapitated-meets-early-Fear Factory backdrop. As if knowing this might not sustain a whole number, Gary switches the mood on the chorus to give a greater focus to a blanket of keys and a clean-ish gothic voice. When bringing these two contrasts together, the second half of the track is superb. Even with the scratchy black metal infused voice, the jagged rhythms and intensive riffs present themselves with such an appealing confidence, it’s easy enough to enjoy the music on its own merits. The EP’s stand out track, ‘The Wide Water’ shows off some great heaviness via a deep and jagged riff, but doesn’t sound anything like an easy re-hash of the previous tune. A greater focus is placed upon the keyboards, thus adding a brilliant darkwave edge to some intensive thrash and groove metal elements. The way this is used in conjunction with a heavily treated vocal is quite haunting, but at the same time it suggests that Gary has a melodic ear, despite most of his more obvious melodies being buried under a wall of speed driven guitars. The combination of melodic death metal and cold gothic moods that eventually take over results in a fine piece of extreme metal. Between the layers of sound and all round intensity, it’s surprisingly satisfying for a one-man DIY recording. Likewise, ‘The Northern Winds’ delights in an intensive, pneumatic style but takes a much heavier turn when injecting even more of a death metal influence. It’s a lot more interesting than your average death metal fare, though, since a variety of vocals lend a progressive feel – ranging from deep growls, a Devin Townsend-ish grandiosity and even a sampled female cry. All the while, a deep djent infleunce can be heard on the heavier guitar parts lurking beneath a relentless rhythm. In terms of extreme metal, this is so rich and deserves to be heard by anyone who isn’t afraid of melodic death or industrial styles.

Joining the three original compositions is a heavy cover of the well known ‘New York, New York’. It isn’t known whether Gary is familiar with Devin Townsend’s cover of the track (pretty much the only saving grace on a generally terrible Sinatra tribute album), but his vocal takes on a similarly overblown quality, as if he’s willing to wring the arrangement for all the silliness it’s worth. When he croons, he finds a perfect metal-edged style that’s relatively close to Dev’s, but also peppers that with occasional black metal screeches and guttural roars. Riff wise, the dirty and heavy djent style works well throughout and although keyboard horns are never the best plan, the way Gary bothers to drop a solitary parp into one of the musical gaps suggests that he knows this is ridiculous.

In terms of home recordings, this is great. It’s up there with the best works of The Howling Void and the absolutely superb djent act Returning We Hear The Larks. The trio of original pieces have a broad scope of sounds even if they don’t ever aim to be far reaching, at least commercially speaking, and the cover tune is…fun. In short, ‘StormScapes’ may be intense, but within that intensity, there will be something that’ll appeal to most extreme metal fans.

June 2020