“What should I label this under?” I asked Nomad’s publicist, a gregarious workaholic named Jon Asher, while listening to the opener Burning Alive. “Is this tech thrash? Tech groove?”
“It’s progressive death metal,” he told me.
He was not exactly right and I was not exactly wrong. The truth about British Columbia’s Nomad lies somewhere in between or everywhere all at once. They’re an eclectic band. I guess that progressive death metal is an adequate umbrella term that mostly explains how the band sounds, but what they do on their debut album The Mountain goes beyond the confines of a single, precise metal subgenre. I was reminded of many different bands ranging from Devildriver to Death on certain songs, but I’ve never heard a band pull all these influences together like Nomad does on this record.
The opener Burning Alive is anything, but progressive. It is structured around two catchy-ass riffs leaning somewhere nebulous between thrash and alternative metal. It’s a very straight, simple song that would be at home on the soundtrack of a hyperviolent movie from 1998. I’ve read in the promotional material that it’s the first song the band put together and I have no problem believing that.
The promise of progressive death metal starts crawling in on the follow-up song Haunted: a heavier, more in-your-face song with a greater range of growls and a guitar tone reminiscent of old school American death metal icons like Obituary and Death. The song also has a nice, bass bridge that appears out of nowhere to layer the song melodically. That type of unexpected detail scattered throughout The Mountain makes the experience more engaging for active listeners. Also, shout out to whichever of the three vocalists did the gurgled outro. It was great.
Not only the third song Revolution is indeed all out progressive death metal, but it’s kind of a straight up prog song with melodic riffs and half-chanted verses for about the first two minutes. Then it stops altogether and transforms out of nowhere into a Pantera song with chunky, groovy riffs giving a nice countertone to the harsh, high pitched vocals. There’s a killer arena rock guitar solo two thirds in that channels Jimmy Page on his best day. When I said Nomad was eclectic, I was not kidding.
This song is one of the most multidimensional and uncompromising on The Mountain.
I don’t even know where to begin with Relentless. There’s so many things going on in this song. Badass throwback nineties metal riffs, mid-tempo bridges that break it into different segments, a passionate vocal performance, a range of drumming that made me question how many drummers were present in the studio. A melodic bridge two-thirds in and more of that sweet, sweet bass at the forefront. It’s great, but it’s so energetically stretching in every direction that I always need a moment after listening to it. It’s some workout for the brain.
The Attila Csihar fan in me appreciated the throat singing intro of A Lonely Wanderer and how it was used to set up a catchy, fiery and obsessive riff. There’s three vocalists credited in the promo material for The Mountain: Guitarists Jeff Mabb and Matt Johnstone, as well as drummer Bretton Melanson and I believe they sing the chorus together on this song? I’ve never really heard that before. Not sure how I feel about it, but it fits the energetic oddball vibe of this album.
Blood Moon is one of the purest progressive death metal songs on the record. It’s also the longest, clocking in at almost 10 minutes long. Telling the story of a man turning into werewolf, the obsessive riffs and fierce vocal performance carry you through its labyrinth of different sections that echo the confusion and transformation of its protagonist. Nomad never lose sight of their catchier side though and crafted a killer chorus that features howling to keep the song accessible and relatable to any metalhead who would listen. Like any great prog song, it builds up to grandiose, cinematic moments that can be felt better than they can be explained.
It’s one of the songs on the record that makes a great use of different guitar tones in order to maximize its emotional range. Chris Donaldson’s production mastery can be felt through such tiny, but crucial details.
Rise in the Fall is a straight death metal song in the most old school, conventional sense of the term. It feels in its right place following the monolithic Blood Moon, cleansing the palate with a straightforward aggression and killer riffs that border on thrash at times. The dueling chuggy and clean riffs halfway through were an absolute delight for a headbanger like me and a, well, progressive touch to a song that otherwise isn’t progressive at all. Rise in the Fall is a fun song. It gets your blood pumping after the head trip that preceded.
The power chord heavy Processor was another case of there’s-no-many-things-happening-I-don’t-really-know-what-to-pay-attention-to-anymore. It’s a busy, overwhelming song that builds up to peaks of intensity through a ferocious drumming performance by Bretton Melanson. He is stealing the spotlight here in this swirling maelstrom of a song that swarms your eardrums every chance it gets.
Once again, it’s a song that drains me mentally whenever I listen to it. If you’re into prog death or tech death, give this a listen though.
Choke is nine minutes long, with one of these lengthy intro that features spoken word. I love that shit. It kicks into gear about 90 seconds in. This song is an infernal storm of different riffs and ideas that collide into an ungodly creation that tests the limit of your understanding. The sheer energy and ferocity put into this song is discombobulating. I’ve never done math on crank, but I’m sure it somehow feels like listening to Choke and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Not everybody can mount such an assault on the senses.
The Mountain is a smorgasbord of ideas delivered with unrelenting energy and creativity. It’s not the kind of metal that questions the very foundation of the genre like a Zeal & Ardor would, but it’s really questioning the notion of how many influences a band can integrate into its core identity. This record challenged me and tested my boundaries as a metal fan. This was not exactly my comfort zone as I’m usually more of an atmospheric guy at heart, but it’s not meant to make you feel comfortable.
The Mountain is meant to explore the gaps between the past and the present, the harsh and the melodic and the catchy and the complex. New ideas are never easy and they should never be.