Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Retroview: Nocturnus "The Key"

I can't believe that in the 18 months or so that this blog has been up, we've never actually written about Nocturnus in depth! What a tragedy! "The Key" is a classic of sci-fi death metal, and was highly influential to me as a youngster who loved video games and shred guitar. In retrospect it is mostly only good for laughs, but as the album that brought us the Nocturnus time machine, we would be remiss if we didn't take the time to discuss each song.

1. Lake of Fire
I guess this song is about Hell? It's kind of a slow start to the album in my opinion. I mean, the thought of going to Hell is definitely scary, but it isn't really as interesting as droids, time machines, or Jawas like some of the other songs.


Encyclopedia Metallum doesn't say so, but I suspect the guy who played keyboards in Nocturnus went on to jam with Lil John

Musically, though, this is perhaps the definitive Nocturnus song! It highlights two of the elements that make Nocturnus who they are. First, you can tell that the drummer is also the singer because he
obviously cannot handle juggling multiple rhythms and says every word on a snare hit. Second, I don't expect lavish, baroque piano passages or whatever, but the keyboard playing is laughably simplistic. Like this song, it goes "Lake! Of! Fire! *weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee*" I seriously think he is just holding down two keys during the entire chorus. It makes Lil John seem like a keyboard virtuoso.

About 10 or 11 years ago, when I was at the height of my Nocturnus obsession, my friend Vince and I would sometimes just blurt out
"Lake! Of! Fire! *weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee*" and play air keyboards. I haven't seen that guy in ages but I'd like to know what happened to him, he was a cool guy. Last I heard he was making his living selling jeans on eBay or something??


This is the only Carcass song I like. The rest are boring, un-brutal dinosaur metal.

2. Standing in Blood
Aside from the main riff being stolen from "Criminally Insane," there isn't much about this song that's remarkable. I'm just going to skip it, because there are much better songs to spend time writing about.

Instead, I will tell a story about Carcass. Many years ago I was friends with this guy Don who was in a hardcore band called Spudmonsters that were apparently pretty popular in Europe. They toured with Carcass, and Don said "We were really scared, we didn't know what these guys were gonna be like! Then they come out, and they're a bunch of skinny vegans with dreadlocks and pink guitars!"

Along the same lines, I saw Obituary in 97 with Kiss It Goodbye and this post-hardcore band called Stillsuit. I was just standing around with my girlfriend at the time, and one of the dudes
(his name was Manny) came up to us out of the blue and said "Uh, hey, what's up? You guys are like the only people here not wearing black death metal shirts so I just thought I'd hang out with you if that's cool?" Turns out that he was an original member of DMS, which was pretty funny, but that he had also never heard Obituary before this tour. "We were stoked to hear them, because we figured they would be like really gnarly technical shit, but then when we heard them play for the first time we were like 'What the fuck, this sounds like 25 Ta Life!'"

3. Visions from Beyond the Grave
This is the first song where it starts to get interesting! Up until this point, the lyrics could really be from any run-of-the-mill death metal/thrash band. But once you start getting crystal balls in the mix, it starts to feel like Nocturnus!

Communicate with the dead, after life
communicate with the dead, after death
asking questions, through my crystal ball
now we'll see, what lies, from beyond

The dead will arise
when I invoke
them through
my crystal ball
If I had a crystal ball, the last thing I would be doing is talking to dead people. They would probably just complain, or ask me to say hi to people who are still alive that they miss. Like "Bro, will you say hi to Guy 'Hard On' Sikes for me?? I love that dude!" I would probably use my crystal ball to look at boobies somehow. Like I said the other day, I hope when I die, I come back as the mirror in a Forever 21 dressing room. Maybe Nocturnus could write a song about that?? They seem to be into stuff like reincarnation.

4. Neolithic
I'll be honest, I don't really get this song. It's about the ice age or something, and continents drifting apart and stuff. Not really sure how that fits into the whole time machine/Satan theme... maybe Mike Browning had just taken an Intro to Geology class at Dade County Community College and wanted to show off his newly acquired knowledge? Who knows.


You have to admit, this could be a lost Nocturnus track!

Musically, this song is actually pretty decent. It kind of reminds me of the soundtrack for Castlevania: Symphony of The Night, especially that one song "Dracula's Castle." Man, I need to play that game again. The DS and GBA games are great and all, but nothing beats SOTN.



6. Before Christ/After Death
Like many people, this was the song that originally got me into Nocturnus when I heard it on "Grindcrusher." In fact, if I'm not mistaken I think I saw them on the Grindcrusher tour with Napalm Death or something?? This would have been like 1990 so the details are extremely fuzzy.

Before Christ no one cared
evil was in everyone's heart
sins were committed every day of your life
there was no wrong from right

Then he came to change it all
he really thought he could do some good
the son of God sent to this Earth
but the Romans showed him what he was worth
Anyway, this song is apparently about how everything was cool and chill until Jesus came along and ruined everybody's fun. So they decided to kill him. They're all "Dude that guy Jesus is hella uptight, what's his fuckin problem? I just wanted to chillax with these false idols, do some gambling, and hang out with those money changers at the temple and he totally freaked out. Not cool!" So then they had to kill him to show him who was boss.

7. Andromeda Strain
This song is about chemical warfare. Sort of like the Slayer song "Chemical Warfare." It describes how Nocturnus used their powers to create a powerful biological weapon that they unleashed on humanity:
Modern warfare of today
brings forth a new technology

Killing through scientific means
destroy the world with technology
Now we'll see what is to be
inescapability

Cloud masses concentrate
osmosis fills the sky, sky

Scattered remains, bodies left to decay
on this disease stricken earth, plague of Andromeda Strain

Affected by the gas
reduce them to subhuman form

As I glimpse at, swelled up corpses
infested with, radiated insects
Now I don't mean to be a dick, but I have to say that the writing is remarkably poor in this song. For example, "Modern warfare of today." Isn't that a bit redundant? And "Osmosis fills the sky, sky": First of all, osmosis isn't a thing that would "fill the sky." Second, it's obvious that they repeated "sky" because they needed another syllable in the line, which is about the laziest solution possible. I think this song would have benefited from another round of editing. Perhaps Dade County Community College has some creative writing classes or something that could help?


This is kind of how I felt when I read the lyrics to "Droid Sector" for the first time

8. Droid Sector
Now this is where the album starts to get really good! In terms of lyrical content, this is probably my favorite song on the album (emphasis mine):
Cybernetic crafts approaching
through skies lit with fusion discharge
androids from the Gamma quadrant
moving at the speed of death

Now the human race is so vulnerable
invasion set for the attack
"Enter The Droids"

Command - Mission - Destroy - Planet -
Three - From - Their Sun

Caught within my tractor beam
bringing the craft to me
disable the robot for my own use
to aid in my escape

ENTER THE DROIDS

Fleets of ships are now arriving, overtaking
physical evasion is my only demise
left to me for my survival

Gaining data from their systems, overriding
to complete my invention, the time machine
only question is "Will it function?"
God, where do I even start?! Gamma quadrant? Tractor beam?? ENTER THE DROIDS?! Every line is more bonkers than the last. It's sort of like when you try to befriend the weirdo kid in school that eats his own boogers and sits in the back of the room by himself all the time. You're like, "Hey Mike Browning, what are you drawing?" and he's like "It's a droid from Gamma quadrant. It has dual tractor beams, fusion discharge cannons, and a time machine. He's on a recon mission, scouting this sector before the rest of the droids come and destroy your puny race." You really don't know what to say then, so you are just like "Oh... uh, that's cool. Well good luck with that!" and slowly back away. You know it's bad when it's so dorky and weird that it freaks out even socially awkward metal nerds like me.



Things Nocturnus would destroy if they had access to a time machine: baby Jesus

9. Destroying the Manger
In case you aren't familiar with it, this song is the origin of the "Nocturnus time machine" meme.
It is about using a time machine to travel back to 0 BC and killing Jesus in the cradle:
Mastering the forces of teleportation
gaining the secrets to travel through time
approaching the vortex, chronometer reading 0 B.C.

What was the past will soon be changed
my first priority to destroy the manger
crushing the myth of paradox
Look, I understand that music is entertainment and escapism, but this is just embarrassing. In the same way as you shake your head with embarrassment whenever some idiot in a band talks about his dumb "concept album" or whatever, this makes you wonder what it was like when Mike Browning brought this song to practice: "Hey guys, I have a new song, it's about building a time machine, going back to 0 BC, and killing baby Jesus!" I'm picturing an uncomfortable silence punctuated by an awkward cough, then one of the guys who is the nice one that hates conflict is like "Uh, sounds awesome... wanna show us the first riff?" and looks at everyone else, giving them that look like "Come on, be cool!"

Mike Browning is driving this

10. Empire of the Sands
I love this one too!! My favorite part is the sounds of whips at the beginning before the song actually starts. I think it is about how after they kill Jesus, Nocturnus builds a fortress on some desert planet where they rule over their massive empire after summoning ancient gods with their Commodore 64:
computer summons ancient evil
forces beyond recognition
evoking Gods of Sumerian origin
deeply buried in the sands

Obeying the matrix
the tyrant commands
submissive controller
armies of the Empire
For whatever reason, this song makes me think of the Jawas' Sandcrawler from The Empire Strikes Back. It also makes me remember the precise moment I realized I was a huge dork. I had been listening to this song (on my cassette Walkman, of course), then went to hang out with my friend Nick Ganig from Cleveland. We went to the arcade, and on the way there we listened to the Redbook audio tracks from a burned copy of the Japanese version of Ridge Racer in his car. I think we played Die Hard Arcade and Powerstone, then went to his parents' house and played Dreamcast? That was fun, I miss that guy!


Nocturnus meets Queen?!

Closing thoughts
Well, I think that's about everything that could possibly be said about this album, and then some! If you haven't listened to it, you really should, if only to get a glimpse into the warped, childlike mind of Mike Browning. It really is unique, and is perhaps the only album in the genre of "time machine metal"? Although the Oxiplegatz record kind of reminds me of it...

42 comments:

  1. Back in the day, I purchased all Earache titles...some good, some so so.
    "The key" isn't at the same level of early Entombed, Carcass, M.A., N.D....I like Mike's vocals, and a few songs ("Lake of fire", "Undead journey"...and especially a couple from side two).
    Listen closely to the beginning of "Lake of fire"...it's a complete "Raining blood" rip off.

    "This is the only Carcass song I like. The rest are boring, un-brutal dinosaur metal."

    "Symphonies of sickness" is one of the greatest death/grind albums of ALL TIME. Do yourself a favour, take Nocturnus time machine, back in your bedroom and give it a few more spins: it'll grow on you!
    I'll come with you, and re-listen to that pretentious death fusion mess entitled "Focus", instead...

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  2. Indeed there are better things to do with a crystal ball. In fact there are better things than a crystal ball, like the Ring of Gyges. Just listening and watching gets boring, eventually.

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  3. wow. that's totally true. man fuck crystal balls.

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  4. I'm not done reading the whole post, but I had to mention something really quickly.

    The Sarge and I met because of Nocturnus. This was back in 1995-96 or so. I'm not kidding. We were both paired up to work the door at some punk fest thing. I think we had mutual friends, and they must have told him something about me. he sat down next to me and said something like "they told me that you like metal. do you like nocturnus by any chance?" i was floored. in that environment, back then...for someone to mention nocturnus was very very weird. he was using nocturnus as a "gambit"...and it worked. one of the very things we talked about right away, were the keyboards in Lake Of Fire (weeeeeeee weeeee). We went from strangers to pals within seconds. Thank you Mike Browning!

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  5. I can't wait for the first Droidslam album! The band could call themselves Nocturnment.

    Reppin' the Droidriffment!

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  6. Like Frank, I bought "The Key" because I knew it was Deathmetal and because it was on Earache, but I think I never listened to it more than once or twice in my life. Somehow the whole Nocturnus thing didn´t feel right for me...I thought the logo was kinda gay, the guys in the band looked like idiots, and the cover has to be one of the lowest points in Dan Seagrave´s career. It looks like he didn´t have enough time to do a decent one. However, over the years I have come to love the lyrics, this crude mix of satanism and sci-fi is highly entertaining.

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  7. Nocturnus/Napalm Death/Godflesh toured around 1990, I think. Maybe it was different in different parts of the country, but that was the line-up I saw. The keyboardist was the most entertaining thing on stage. Total dork.

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  8. That was the Grindcrusher tour I think, it's when they got all that footage for the Hard N' Heavy video.

    Nocturnus had great mullets.

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  9. Now that I've read this whole thing...I'm exhausted, but I also have to say a few things.

    First, I forgot about the damn crystal ball! I say we start mentioning the crystal ball as much as the time machine. This technology would allow us to travel to the past but also look into the future!!! Also, Mike has real trouble with being redundant. My favorite is:

    Communicate with the dead, after life
    communicate with the dead, after death

    Well, yes...they're dead so its after they were alive...and thus after their death. I mean...come on Mike.

    Last thing, I tried to go to Dade Community College...which by the way is the largest higher education entity in the world I think, when you combine all its campuses. It was like one big high school, and my friends went there. I was young, couldn't figure out how to get student loans, got scared and decided not to go. SouthWest Miami...Kendall represent! Whoot whooot!

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  10. ok...but if nocturnus was going to a community college, it would be with all the other heshers at hillsborough community college in tampa.

    maybe browning should have taken the computer classes with tardy, since he's an IT guy and could have helped browning with some of the tech issues for nocturnus and the time machine. somehow i'm picturing the great space coaster metal style with browning and a bunch of other tampa metaleros.

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  11. "Symphonies of sickness" is one of the greatest death/grind albums of ALL TIME. Do yourself a favour, take Nocturnus time machine, back in your bedroom and give it a few more spins: it'll grow on you!

    when it comes to grind i am more of a last days of humanity, hemdale, gut kind of guy- needs to be a little more brutal and death metally for me to get into it, ya know?

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  12. My brother was more into Nocturnus than I was but I do remember it coming out and we were all going 'Keyboards? Death Metal? What the fuck is going on, are there no rules anymore!!'

    True story: I also saw them play in the basement of the Queen's Hall in Bradford, supported, I think by a very young Scorn. Mick had just left Napalm Death. One of Nocturnus was standing at the Merch stall, I went over shook his hand and said 'Are you Mike Browning?' He said 'No, he's out back.' They all looked the same to me...

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  13. I was at a concert one night, and saw this longhair in egyptian clothes, with drumsticks in the pants, drinking a beer.
    I went up to him and said "Hey, can I get a picture?"
    Quickly, and without much thought he responded in a floridian accent: "No mate, I'm not Browning from Nocturnus."

    ...

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  14. I encountered the The Key lp in a recordshop in Canterbury while being on a school trip there. However, as I was in doubt about my metal identity at the time, I bought a Juliana Hatfield record.

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  15. Great post about a great album, Sarge.

    PS - Off the subject, some dude on some message board called Illogical Contraption a "poor man's Metal Inquisition" today. I was greatly honored.

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  16. A guy I know was Juliana Hatfield's guitar tech on tour.

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  17. What about James Hetfield, Crane Whitfield, and Holden Caulfield?

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  18. WTF die hard trilogy? I just put that fucking game on my psp last night. Thanks for reminding me about taht castlevania game ill be putting that on my psp as well.

    Ah this album. I finally got it about a week ago and the level of geekish self indulgence is quite high on this one, though reading a few interviews with trey still elads me to believe that hes a bigger geek than this guy? What the hell is trey azagthoth doing blogging about making a extreme concert with music from morbid angel and Japanese music? WTF????

    "My purpose with this blog is that I have a desire to create some live performance concerts sometime in the future that include a set of MORBID ANGEL along with sets of the most extreme representitives of industrial, hardcore, terrorcore, jungle drum and bass etc DJs and groups. EXTREME MUSIC FOR EXTREME PEOPLE!!!! Right???

    what the helll is this man talkign about???

    anywho, great post, I'll be firing up the nocturnus machine today and playing some parasite eve on my psp.

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  19. Remember guys. Mike Browning will have to file an antitrust suit in order for us to use the crystal ball meme since dio ahs a monopoly on them. and on rainbows.

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  20. i really liked Parasite Eve, in spite of its many obvious flaws. wish they would bring back some of those franchises from 99-2000 like PE, vagrant story, brave fencer musashi, etc.

    anyway, if you were really hardcore, you would be playing the Saturn version of Die Hard Arcade :P

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  21. Wow, Cthulhupal, I had the same nostalgic craving to go ahead and treat myself to an eboot of Symphony of The Night upon reading this post. While we're on the subject of gaming in general, has anyone here heard of Little Big Star? It's a game/app for pc. The gameplay is pretty similar to Guitar Hero. The only exception is that you use real instruments instead of a feeble plastic imitation. You can also use your own music. It's still in beta though, but its pretty stable nonetheless. I just figured some of the avid frequenters of this blog may get a kick out of playing some cynic and whatnot on a real instrument. If you haven't already learned to do so. Little Big Star

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  22. and who still talks about drum n bass in the 2k9?!

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  23. ok, this has nothing to do with nocturnus, but i know you guys will see this because nocturnus is such a huge topic of discussion on this blog, so here goes....

    please do a post on possibly the WORST metal band of all time.

    are you ready for this?

    MUCKY PUP.

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  24. dude they are bad but there are so so many worse. for example, mordred or the great kat.

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  25. Ah, Earache's glory days. Nowadays death metallers seem preoccupied with the latest douchecore teenage shredsquads pimping the nu-br00tal. When the fuck did I get so old?

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  26. I had a question about a lyric in "Empire of the Sand." What exactly is a 'submissive controller'? Why would one who controls submit?

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  27. Sargent D, shit man I've searched endlessly for that fucking game. they had die hard trilogy at the mall when I was a kid and used to pump quarters into that damn thing nonstop. fucking up sumo wrestlers in the bathroom with the antitank rifle, and running down the hallway randomly kicking people, spray can with lighter, ah it was great. hope to track it down someday.

    I just bought a psp used and had some filipino guy mod it for 20 bucks and I did the PSOne game stuff on it myself. good times man.

    speaking of, there is a long list of horrible music made especially for video games. There's plenty of bad metal caught up in it and someone should write a blog on the worst of the worst.

    If you'll excuse me im off to tracking down ehrgeiz and i haven't heard of powerstone, but i found the game so ill be checking that out as well.

    P.S. I just realized the game company Psygnosis logo is pretty damn metal for being an Owl

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  28. i always thought the band looked really gay on the innersleeve pic. i have this LP and liked it when it came out; but the guitarhero (not the game) pics with hairspray are very gay (even then)

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  29. oh yeah do a follow up on 'Thresholds' which i like better

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  30. Cthulhupal, I believe Sergeant D was referring to a completely different game. But,if your in need of a Die Hard Trilogy fix then here you are.
    Die Hard Trilogy

    This is the Psx version just convert the iso into an eboot file using a POPStation GUI and you should be good to go.
    Although the second game won't be as fun without a light gun. But if that becomes a real nuisance you can buy a usb light gun use the version ported to Saturn and any Pc Saturn Emulator to scratch that itch.

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  31. @maggy 666

    I just named the wrong game on that post. I was talking about Die Hard Arcade, but I accidentally put the die hard trilogy name.

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  32. yeah die hard trilogy suxxxxx!

    i don't play many actual PSP games on mine, but it's a great little machine for emulation (mostly SNES, genesis and PS1). highly recommended purchase!

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  33. i think Mucky Pup is responsible for starting wiggerslam.

    proto-wiggerslam

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  34. i had a friend whose band got on Century Media in the mid-90s. their first tour ever, was in europe with Mucky Pup. He was SERIOUSLY EXCITED about it. oh my lord. for a guy who grew up in the woods of the the midwest to go to europe seemed unthinkable...so he was happy about that, but the fact that mucky pup was their tour partner made him ecstatic.

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  35. Lucho! Sarge!

    give us a mucky pup post!

    let me guess....you dont take requests.

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  36. no, we can do it! to be honest i didn't even like them back in the day, but i did like dog eat dog and i think they shared members??? i'll do it next week!

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  37. "I hope when I die, I come back as the mirror in a Forever 21 dressing room."

    If this was the promise of a religion, I'd sign up. I don't care about the daily beatings, its worth it.

    Also, please make fun of Trey Azagtoth please. It is too easy. Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MImaK0MDac

    Wow, that was something!

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  38. Man, that guy doesn't look comfortable at all presenting like that. Almost makes me feel kinda sorry for him. Almost.

    I mean, look at that jiggly arm and twithing leg as soon as he starts talking.

    "Woweee!" indeed...

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