NUCLEUS “Sci Fi And Die” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

What mysteries lie beyond the meager world of five senses that we experience on this small rock called Earth? There have always been those who have imagined the possibilities…Wells, Asimov, Silverberg, Herbert and so many others. They think of what could be, not what is.

Music is also a form of endless possibilities. So it’s only natural that a band of the heaviest metal explores the heaviest concepts of mind, space and time. Such a band resides in Chicago and is called NUCLEUS. You may not have heard of these guys yet, but you will. They have taken music inspired by the likes of Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse and Bolt Thrower and instead of plumbing the usual lyrical subjects of war, demonology and human misery, they explore the great themes of science fiction. On their debut album “Sentient”, they draw inspiration from Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke and Dan Simmons. The result stimulates the mind as well as the neck muscles.

Nucleus mastermind Dave Muntean teleported in from an Oort cloud somewhere near Chicago to speak to me about the inspirations both musical and mental for his band…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Nucleus is going to be a new band for most of our readers. What’s your origin? Is this your first band or are you veterans of other acts?

DAVE MUNTEAN: This is actually my first band. I originally joined as just the vocalist in early 2012 and now I’m the only person from that time still in the band. Now I play guitar and do vocals and do most of the writing. Compared to the time when I started, there’s a pretty big change in sound. 

WC: That had to test your will to keep the band going.

DM: If anything, me taking over the writing actually helped keep things going. Some of the songs that are on the new album I started writing way back before I assumed my current position.  I did it almost as a side project but when I took over the writing chores, I just said, hey, this is gonna be in Nucleus now.

WC: Was it always a science fiction themed band or did that come later?

DM:  When I joined as vocalist, right away the only thing that made sense for me to write about was science fiction. A lot of bands write about horror, they’re big horror movie fans. I like horror but I’m not big enough into it to write about it. It would be disingenuous. Science fiction makes a lot more sense to me, I read a lot of it, I watch a lot of it. It’s the go-to subject for me. And it still has a horror angle. Space is terrifying and there might be bad things lurking out there.

WC:  There’s quite a crossover between them. Speaking for myself, I’m big into both genres and historical things as well.

DM: You have movies like “Alien”which are horror science fiction. There are a lot of science fiction stories that are horror stories as well.

WC: Who are some of the authors that inspired you? Who do you admire the most?

DM: On “Sentient” specifically, we have songs based on stuff by Frank Herbert, Dan Simmons, Peter Hamilton, Robert Heinlein. A few other ones. Really, I’d say Frank Herbert. “Dune” is one of my favorite stories ever, even though we didn’t do a song about it. We did do a song based on his book “The Dosadi Experiment”.

WC: I remember years and years ago seeing that book in the 70’s. It’s sad in a way because all of Frank Herbert’s work has become so “Dune”-centered that the other books he’s written have fallen by the wayside.

DM: A lot of people only seem to know the “Dune” stuff. A lot of authors from back then had a lot of material. A lot of the books started as serials in the old SF magazines like “Analog”. Asimov had his own magazine. There was also “Galaxy”. A lot of the books started off as those magazine serials. They had to pump out a lot of material all the time. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers ever. He had hundreds of books.

WC: And not all of them were sci fi, either. He wrote a lot of mysteries and non-fiction.

DM: Even Lovecraft, a lot of his writing started out in the old pulp mags. 

WC: A lot of Lovecraft’s stuff got labelled as horror but you could just as easily call it science fiction.

DM: We have one song on the new album which originally started as being about Godzilla but I incorporated some Lovecraftian ideas in it. That’s the song “Ancient”. There’s so many books I’ve read from Herbert, but the average person will only know “Dune”.

WC: I do remember “The Dosadi Experiment”and another book he wrote called “Whipping Star”. Now, to put you on the spot, what would you say is your favorite story? Is it “Dune”?

DM:  There was another interview where I told the guy, I don’t really want to say “Dune”, because that’s the answer people expect me to give but it really is. It is that good.  I really think “Dune” is the go-to for all sci fi.

WC: “Dune” comes to my mind for science fiction just like “Lord of the Rings” does for fantasy. You also mentioned Dan Simmons and I always thought that “Hyperion” and the immediate sequel to it were about as good as anything that I’ve read.

DM: Those are some of my favorite books of all time. The song “Cantos” is about “Hyperion”. I don’t know about later on in the series, but the first few “Dune” novels you compared to “Lord of the Rings”. I thought “Lord of the Rings” got long-winded. Tolkien was a good world-creator but maybe not the best storyteller because he got wrapped up in things.

WC: I’ve got all of Tolkien’s stuff and sometimes his story unfolds in a strange way, but as far as languages and history and races go, he was unequalled. His stuff and “Dune” and Michael Moorcock’s work were the big influences on me. Moving on now, your new album is called “Sentient”. How do you define that term? What makes something sentient?

DM: Really, we were thinking strictly in terms of science fiction. Technically, the word “sapient” is what you call an alien species that thinks like a human. In science fiction, the two terms are pretty much interchangeable. I think “sentient” sounds a little bit cooler than “sapient”. All our song titles are one word so we wanted one word to sum up intelligent life out there.

WC: I was wondering if it could possibly be connected to artificial intelligence because there’s a lot of talk that computers may soon become so advanced that they will become sentient.

DM: That word can be applied to a lot of situations, that’s why it worked so well. It could be applied to the intelligence of humans, the intelligence of aliens and the intelligence of machines. That’s why we chose it.

WC: Do you think machines becoming sentient is a good thing or a menace?

DM:  The fear is that it could be a menace. Until it actually happens, you never really know. Every movie that portrays it is something like “Terminator”. It can be a scary thing but by the time we reach that point, I’ll probably be old or dead anyway. 

WC: There’s a good recent film about this issue called “Ex Machina”…

DM: I’ve been meaning to watch that for a while now. I’ve kept seeing mention of it, I’ve just never had the time to sit down and check it out.

WC: The ending of it is very open to interpretation. I recommend it. Does it seem to you that the time we’re living in now is a dystopia? Back in the 70’s, a lot of people would have been horrified by what’s going on now. 

DM I think we’re in the part of the story that old movies and TV’s showed as dystopia. All the “big brother” kind of stuff where privacy is destroyed. You never thought it would happen and now they’re actually spying on you. Some people were putting stickers over the webcams on their laptops and people were laughing at them and making fun of them. Then it came out that the NSA could actually look through the webcam. That’s an actual thing they did.

WC: I saw a news story tonight telling people to change all their passwords every month. Who’s gonna remember that many passwords? Do you see any hope for the future yourself? Do you have hope for mankind?

DM: Who knows, really? Bad stuff has happened all throughout history. It’s not necessarily true that now is worse. Now the problem may be that you can’t get away from things as much because of technology, because everything is connected. It’s hard to tell what will really happen. I think the big thing now is you know what everyone’s doing, whereas before you could be ignorant that everyone’s an idiot.  I don’t think it’s any worse, but now people go online and post about how they threw a sack of kittens in the river. Before, you never would have known about it. Now, these idiots can hook up and share opinions with each other, so you hear them louder.

WC: You play a kind of death metal that’s technical, but not too technical. It’s not the real mind-warping stuff. Is that a conscious decision on your part? What are some of your musical influences?

DM: The supertechnical stuff, I just don’t listen to. I probably couldn’t play it even if I wanted to. I guess we’re technical maybe in the early 90’s sense, but nowadays I don’t even really know if that would be considered technical. Influences are Atheist, who are one of my favorite bands ever…Demilich from Finland…a lot of Finnish bands. I’d like to think there’ a decent amount of Demigod influence. Lubricant had a demo and 1 EP…Timeghoul, which we did a cover of on one of our EP’s. Also, I’m a big fan of  slower, chunkier, basic stuff like Cianide, Coffins, stuff like that. So even though we do have that technical side, we slow down and have some chunkier, basic riffs woven into it.

WC: I did hear a lot of Atheist in it and also mid-period Death. One thing I’m curious about is how did you manage to get Dan Seagrave to do the cover art?

DM: He was at Maryland Deathfest last year, he had a booth with Decibel magazine and I wound up handing him a copy of our “Gemini” EP. I asked, what are the chances of you doing some album artwork for us and he said, just email me.  I ended up emailing him months after the line because I thought there was no chance he’d do anything for us because he’s so busy. I remember reading somewhere that he spends a lot of time doing his own work. He does a lot of  commissioned artwork, which he posts on his Facebook. I emailed him, he emailed me right back saying he remembered me. We just started talking about ideas. For the most part, I let him do what he wanted. I don’t like to tell artists what to do, like “you must put this in this corner”. I gave him the album title, I told him we were a science fiction oriented band and I told him maybe what a couple of the songs were about, but other than that, it was all in his court. He sent me a couple of sketches and I made a couple of minor comments. Other than that, it was all him, all his ideas. If I nitpicked him, it wouldn’t be as good. He’s the artist, not me, and he’s got plenty of cool ideas himself. 

WC: He’s a legend in that line of work, too. Any idea of what he’s trying to illustrate on that cover? It looks like he’s trying to show some strange interdimensional beings.

DM: He explained it to me and even posted a little synopsis on his website. Let me see if I can pull that up…here’s the artist’s description of the painting: “It encapsulates the concept of life and death on the cosmic level. Otherworldly elemental beings give birth to twin packaged sarcophagi, each carrying a deceased couple to their astronomical destiny, automatically driven into particles of the unknown.” So they are basically taking the deceased couples in sarcophagi and sending them off to their final resting place in the galaxy.

WC: That’s pretty deep!

DM: Part of what I regret is not having him do the art a lot earlier so we could base one of our songs around that concept. By the time we got the art, all the songs were done.

WC:  It’s good to see a cover like that. At one time, he did a lot of them

DM: He still does a fair amount of them. If you look at his Facebook, he updates with new material quite often. He does one at least every couple of months. I’m still shocked at what he came up with for us and I’ve been looking at it for over half a year now.

WC: Do you guys play live much?

DM: Yeah. We don’t want to play too much in Chicago, we’re trying to spread it out more and more because it gets to a point where you’re hurting yourself by playing too much. I think when you’re new and no one knows you, you’re not getting anyone to come, you’re trying to build your base. But at a certain point, people will see you’re playing and go, oh, they’re playing again, I’ll just see them next month.

WC: I saw you guys up at Spring Bash in Milwaukee. What did you think of that performance?

DM: It was good! With the lineup we’ve got now, we’re pretty solid no matter what the gig is. Our worst possible show is still usually pretty good compared to years ago when we were still new. Even our worst shows are still decent. 

WC: How do you see the music of Nucleus evolving? Do you have any clue yet?

DM: I don’t have goals to make it anything completely new. I’m kind of playing what I want to play. The only thing is the way I put songs together might get cleaner. I’d like to improve the way I layer different melodies over each other but overall, it’s not like I want to make some drastic change. I don’t want to sound like some completely different band. I’m a big fan of old school death metal stuff and that’s what I want to sound like. I don’t see any big changes.

WC: Could you see yourself adding synth or keyboards? Just to add atmosphere?

DM: I thought about that at one time, but unless we change our sound, I don’t think it makes sense. At least, adding it in any significant way like Nocturnus did. Maybe if we added them as an effect on one song or two. But as far as adding another member to the band on stage, that doesn’t make sense either. I’m used to four people being in the band and I don’t particularly want to use just a backing track. I would want a real person doing it when we play live.

WC: What was the last release you got just because you wanted to hear it?

DM:  The last one I got was a band I heard about at Spring Bash. It was a band called Scanner and it was their “Hypertrace” album from 1988.I literally just got it in the mail today. I was listening to tracks from it like crazy after Spring Bash. I found out they repressed it this year. It looks like they lost their singer after their first album. I tried to listening to later stuff after “Hypertrace” but I couldn’t get it into it as much. I just went out and bought “Hypertrace”. It’s really great! As far as new bands that I’m fans of, there’s a new band called Zealotry that put out their new album at the end of April. It has some of the same influences as us but they don’t sound like us at all.  They have a lot going on, but it’s very well written. An amazing album.

WC: What’s the last band you saw live just because you wanted to check them out?

DM: We had our CD release show and we got a band on our label Unspeakable Axe to play with us. They are from Memphis, TN and are called Shards of Humanity. I was really looking forward to seeing them live. I’m glad we were able book them, they were awesome death metal and definitely worth looking into.

WC: In the history of Nucleus, has there ever been a Spinal Tap moment that you could share with us?

DM: I think of the show when the bassist can’t get out of the pod. (laughs) I swear we are the kings of having technical issues on stage. We played in Indiana and the sound guy, I don’t know what the hell he was doing. My guitarist does back up vocals and he didn’t have a microphone in his stand. He was saying, hey, man, I need a microphone. He was yelling at the sound guy, who finally looked up and said, oh, there’s the problem…you don’t have a microphone! (chuckles). So he’s looking for cables. The cable’s too short, it can’t reach the power jack. He leans into me and says, sorry, man, I’m on acid! (laughs) That kind of tells you how the sound was during that show. I mean, it was a great show regardless. But this guy would disappear from the sound table for lengths of time. Sometimes it looked like he was just messing with knobs. He’d bring the vocals down to nothing or just turn stuff off and then turn it back on. We never knew what was going on. He ended up walking around the venue and poking people and telling them Hey! You’re my spirit animal! And he told that to about 10 different people. He tried hugging one guy in another band who didn’t appreciate being touched and shoved him across the room!

WC: He probably doesn’t have a promising career in the sound business.

DM: Yeah, he went up to my guitarist Danno and said hey! Can I come on tour with you guys? (laughs) That was quite a night!

WC: Any last words or messages for the fans?

DM: If you haven’t listened to “Sentient”, check it out, it’s on Unspeakable Axe Records. There is going to be a vinyl version coming out. Me Saco on Ojo in the UK is going to be printing it. We’re going to try and branch out and play outside of Chicago more. We’re not going to get into details but we have some touring planned in the near future. So check us out! Sci Fi or die!