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Nocturnus: The key

26/10/09  ||  Habakuk

Smoothly the automatic door slides open as I release its control button, revealing a brightly lit, shiny corridor. No droids in sight. Still, I clench my carbon-interstratified fist tighter around the pulse gun and rush through the doorway. The combat suits shows vital functions in near-critical status as my steps echo through the long hallway with a crisp, metallic sound. Not much time left to reach the shuttle. As I approach the next door, a flashing light enters my peripheral vision only to quickly disappear again, leaving the smell of molten iron and a hole in the wall in front of me. I turn around hastily as my suit instantly acquires a class-II robot, almost naturally guiding my servo-guided arm into position for me to squeeze the trigger. A scout is sent to the ground by the pulsar emission. They’ve found me again. My heart rate monitor reading accelerates. I open the door and rush through it into another corridor, closing in on my waypoint. A mechanical voice from the compound’s security system stops me in my tracks as I notice a knee-high, hidden door at the far end of the room sliding upward: “Enter the droids!”

Who said death metal and science fiction don’t mix? I don’t know whether anyone ever said that, but Nocturnus obviously seemed to think differently. “The key” is their 1990 debut album and is one of the more interesting (read: “weirder”) Floridian Death Metal spin-offs. One reason for that is their lyrical approach that I tried to convey with my clumsy introductory attempt at sci-fi writing. Well, to be honest, the lyrics are in fact pretty bad, ranging from laughable “satanism” to full-on sci-fi, plus mixtures of it. Check this:

Now heaven is destroyed
By Satan
He will rule
The promised land

Wow, that’s pretty frightening. Let’s get some space fun going (different song):

Caught within my tractor beam
Bringing the craft to me
Disable the robot for my own use
to aid my escape

And now, combine (different song again):

Mastering the forces of teleportation
Gaining the secrets to travel through time
Approaching the vortex, Chronometer reading 0 B.C.

That’s correct, he’s gonna go back in time to fucken kill Jesus! Haw haw hawww!

It’s rather hilarious shit, but I kind of dig the complete nerdery on display. Now, if it would be those lyrics on their own without the music, the review would end here with 2 compassion points. However, as you might have already suspected, on this album the lyrics are in fact accompanied by – not exactly closely connected to (I don’t see why we get UFO sounds in a “satanist” song), but accompanied – by music.

And herein lies what makes Nocturnus’ special, in a way: they were one of the first death metal bands to incorporate keyboards into their otherwise Morbid Angel-meets-thrash sound as a major element. Now that’s weird. When my sensors usually pick up the word “keyboards”, the circuits in my positron brain reach critically high temperatures while the visionary field acquires a reddish color, especially when detected in an otherwise undiluted death metal environment. Nocturnus however make it work somehow, saving the guys at the repair bay a lot of trouble. It doesn’t catapult it into a universe of awesomeness, but Louis Panzer’s (talk about an incoherent name) keyboard playing doesn’t get in the way of a positive listening experience either, which is quite an achievement, as trusty Casio definitely enjoys a prominent position with all kinds of ambience effects, 80ies sci-fi sounds and so on.

It has some value in the fact that without it, Nocturnus would probably not be much more than just an albeit good and thrash-infused but still little brother to their more renowned Tampa comrades: They too have seemingly chaotic songwriting (at first glance, at least), plus competent shredding and a few really killer riffs to boot together with some Trey Azagthoth-like mini-solo bits. Plus, Mike Browning’s drumming reminds me a bit of Pete Sandoval, maybe a bit less precise, and his vocal tone resembles that of young David Vincent. The drummer/singer might actually sound familiar to those proficient in Morbid Angel history, having filled the same role in their early days. Well, and I can’t say anything about the bass, because it’s obviously been vaporized before the recording. As a matter of fact it might not even have been recorded by the guy that is credited for it, but one of the guitarists instead. But wait, when did that matter for an early nineties death metal album? Never, that’s when.

So, “The key” in all its oddity nevertheless reveals serious headbanging moments and is a great listen if you’re interested in Florida death metal done with a twist and are able to enjoy lyrics with some definite Camp value. Enter the fucken droids!


  • Information
  • Released: 1990
  • Label: Earache
  • Website: Nocturnus MySpace
  • Band
  • Mike Browning: vocals, drums
  • Mike Davis: guitars
  • Sean McNenney: guitars
  • Jeff Estes: bass
  • Louis Panzer: keyboards
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Lake of fire
  • 02. Standing in blood
  • 03. Visions from beyond the grave
  • 04. Neolithic
  • 05. Undead journey (CD bonus track)
  • 06. Before Christ/After death
  • 07. Andromeda strain
  • 08. Droid sector
  • 09. Destroying the manger
  • 10. Empire of the sands