The Mass Destruction Metal Fest to be held in Atlanta, Georgia on November 3rd and 4th announced a great lineup this year with Demoncy and Profanatica among the headliners. Also playing are Acheron, Macabre, Nocturnus AD, Deceased, and Brutality. The festival should be a great chance for headbangers in the southeastern United States to experience two of the best American black metal bands live.
A cult classic of death metal, Nocturnus’ The Key often elicits outwardly moderate yet intense praise from connoisseurs of the genre. Reading online reviews and commentaries on the album one realizes that these praises are based on a three points. The first is the prominent use of keyboards throughout the album, then there is the ubiquitous, ripping guitar solos and last, its supposed resemblance to Morbid Angel, which is mainly based on the fact that Mike Browning took charge of the vocals on Nocturnus but also on the so-called thrash/speed-death amalgam this style is supposed to be. Let’s shoot each of these down one at a time.
The much-mentioned “pioneering” death metal with keyboards is an example of how too much of the metal critique is bent on praising novelty. Not only is the use of keyboards in the album amateur but it is often gimmicky, half of the time being out of place, the other half being completely extra and unnecessary — not strongly integrated into the music except in a very few places (“Neolithic” has a gesture in the solo section that shows promise). There are very good reasons why you do not hear keyboards often in death metal, and it goes beyond the fact that most death metal musicians are not learned enough to integrate them and would rather just make “pummeling and brutal riffs”. Style has to accommodate instrument choice. As it stands, The Key only crams keyboards wherever it can, but it is little more than a gimmick. Overall, a metalhead should look up to In the Nightside Eclipse for a better example of keyboards in underground metal.
On to the much lauded guitar solos in this album. What can I say? Besides being mindlessly infantile and trivial in their transparent scale runs, the solos throughout this album are, like the keyboard sections, often out of place and come off as being only superimposed on top of the rest of the music rather than composed within it. On their own and apart from the discussion on whether they fit into the music or not, it is not the messiness of the solos but their complete lack of character that would give one a good reason to ditch them and never think about them again.
Regarding Nocturnus sounding like a “Morbid Angel on steroids” or “an improved version of Morbid Angel”, we can say it comes from extremely superficial comparisons and a complete lack of discernment concerning composition quality. While Nocturnus perfectly exemplifies the brand of speed metal that wants to be death metal but is not quite there yet, early Morbid Angel was known as “death-thrash” only as a result of the audience’s ignorance. In this respect and given that The Key was released in 1990, when death metal had already solidified as a genre, we can say Nocturnus’ music is retrograde gimmick. The distinction between the death metal of Morbid Angel and the harsh, late-speed metal of Nocturnus lies in the phrase construction of the first that becomes the central development of the music, while the latter produces riffs to carry the voice that end in hooks. Death metal is progressive-symphonic phrasal music, speed metal is still heavy metal of a pop nature. Rather than compare them to Morbid Angel it would be more fitting to compare them to that other famous retrograde and gimmicky act called Death.
All in all, The Key still captures the imagination despite its amateur character and its great faults. I believe the reason for this is that in spite of its immature musical notions, its concept is very clear and this comes through in a very strong manner, outshining the blunders it houses. For the sake of metal, its future and the education of the audience, it is important to give albums like this their correct place. This is enjoyable and fun in much the same way that Sharknado is. You know it is silly, you know its appeal comes from its exaggerations and awkwardness, but a focused awkwardness with a clear idea in mind.
Masturbate on the throne of god
Crucifixion of a thousand saints
Stakes are mounted with the heads of angels
Nocturnal spells are casted,
Heaven begins to bleed
Early death metal barely made it out of the shadow of speed metal before. We call it speed metal, not thrash, because it was a direct extension of NWOBHM using some punk technique, not an outright punk hybrid like thrash. Speed metal represents one of the most varied sub-genres in metal, running the gamut from percussive (Exodus) through traditional (Metallica) and all the way to adventurous stuff like Voivod, Anacrusis, Coroner and Sacrifice. It is in that latter category that The Science of Horror begins.
This demo re-issue will be — for now — limited to 100 copies pressed to vinyl that incorporate two demos, The Science of Horror (1988) and Nocturnus (1987). These show both a band looking for a balance between the early death/speed hybrids and its future as a technical death metal band, and the personal vision that Mike Browning has been refining since this time through the present day with his current band, After Death. This vision unites the progressive with morbid rock and extremity, aiming for a theatrical presentation as much as musical obscurity, and never afraid — unlike too many prog bands — to use a primitive riff where it is effective. Like many progressive-inspired bands, there is a high degree of internal variation in these demos, Nocturnus and After Death, used like an ancient storyteller might use an extensive vocabulary. The theatrical nature of this approach means that the songs on these demos, which are mostly duplicative, take an atmospheric approach to a genre in transition that was otherwise more inclined toward all-ahead aggression. But like Anacrusis, Voivod and Coroner, Nocturnus adapted its songs to use both death metal technique and speed metal but creating a sense of rhythm of its own that emphasized frequent transitions and complex patterns without drifting into other known genres.
Several of the song segments used here show similarity to what appeared on Morbid Angel’s early work, notably its 1986 Abominations of Desolation, and feature the same flexible rhythm that nonetheless approximates the chorus rhythm without doing so in trope, leaving plenty of space for instruments to work independently. Like speed metal, much of this material aims for discrete chords in repetitive patterns, but especially on the second demo, use of tremolo to create smooth transitions gives this material a new aura of mystery and suspension of belief. As a document of early death metal, The Science of Horror both emphasizes the creative possibilities of metal at the time and reminds us how weirdness was once more front and center and how it did the genre well. On another level, this music provides pleasurable listening at the nexus not only of two genres but also several compositional styles, and the change from the first to later demo shows the incorporation of keys in the way that would later define Nocturnus and be expanded to become a fundamental part of the technique as a way of creating spacious, atmospheric death metal. With any luck, this pressing of the demos will see CD release later this year, as despite being the same tracks twice this recording serves well for casual listening as well as historical examination of death metal.
The Science of Horror Demo 2 (1988)
1. Before Christ – After Death
2. Standing in Blood
4. Undead Journey
Nocturnus Demo 1 (1987)
6. B.C. – A.D.
7. The Entity
8. Unholy Fury
Mike Browning: Drums, Vocals
Mike Davis: Guitars
Louis Panzer: Keyboards
Jeff Estes: Bass
Gino Marino: Guitars
Mike Browning: Drums, Vocals
Richard Bateman: Bass
Vincent Crowley: Guitars
Gino Marino: Guitars
Classic Florida progressive death metal band Nocturnus, famous for spidery riffs interlaced with outer space keyboards, dominated the metal world’s appetite for bizarre and uncompromising music back in the 1990s, but their music is now out of print.
Their label, Earache Records, wants to re-issue the Nocturnus classic Thresholds, but there’s a catch: the fans have to pay for it in advance. Unlike the usual underground pre-orders, where individual fans order the album and when there’s enough cash the label takes it to print, Earache is using a Kickstarter page to launch the funding request.
If demand is met, Thresholds will be pressed on 100 clear, 200 green, 300 purple and 400 black LPs with the recording taken from the original DAT master. For more information, visit the Nocturnus Thresholds re-issue Kickstarter page.
We previously posted an article about Mike Browning being disgruntled over some happenings with David Vincent and his wife. DeathMetal.org has offered to give Mr. Browning an outlet to shed some light on the happenings of the early days of Morbid Angel, as well as clear up any confusion that may be encircling the metal underground.
Not many people have such an extensive resume when it comes to being involved with innovative bands in Death Metal. Mike Browning helped mold Morbid Angel, then he helped to create Nocturnus. He has also played and recorded with Incubus, Acheron and After Death.
We are fortunate that Mr. Browning has given us his time to answer these questions.
Hi Mike. Thank you for your time. I have often thought of early Morbid Angel as Slayer on steroids. Why did you guys decide to take the music in such an extreme manner?
It was really what was just coming out of us naturally. Back then we weren’t trying to do or be anything other than an evil chaotic band that was real. We literally did Necronomicon rituals before we played invoking the Ancient Ones and then with that energy we would start playing. We even did it for rehearsals as well as live shows.
There have been confusing recounts of the Abominations of Desolation recording session. Was this Morbid Angel’s first official album? If so, why has the band referred to it as a demo?
Abominations of Desolation was the first Morbid Angel album recorded. We signed to David Vincent’s label Goreque Records and we went to North Carolina to record and David even hired the legendary Bill Metoyer to engineer the record. So even though it was not released until later, it really is the first Morbid Angel record and not a demo.
I don’t know why the band says it’s only a demo. You would have to ask them that. They also claim that Sterling Scarborough played bass on the recording, which is not true either. It was John Ortega.
After Abominations of Desolation was recorded you returned to Florida and Trey stayed with David Vincent in North Carolina. Why did he stay there?
Yes the rest of the band went back to Tampa after we recorded while Trey stayed alone with David to do the mixing. It was told to us that it would be cheaper to just keep Trey there for the mixing, but when Trey came back he acted like a completely different person. He said we had to fire John Ortega and that David had found a new bass player for us which was Sterling Scarborough.
What was the actual reason for your departure from Morbid Angel? I heard that there was a physical fight with you and Trey.
Yes that is what happened. I stopped by his house one afternoon on my lunch hour from work and saw my girlfriends car there so I kicked the door in and found them on the couch kissing and I beat up Trey pretty bad. We were all pretty young back then so that is how I handled it by kicking his ass, but by doing that it caused the band to split up and that is when Richard and Trey moved to North Carolina and started playing with David, Wayne Hartsell and Sterling. I got Gino Marino and reformed Sterling’s old band Incubus.
Morbid Angel appear to be twirling into Skrillex influences more than Death Metal. Their last album Illud Divinum Insanus has been mocked by fans from all over the world. Why do you think they recorded such a weird album?
Well from what I heard that most of the music was written by Trey and he let David do all the lyrics. I’m not really sure if that is the truth, but it came from a pretty reliable source.
David Vincent has signed on to be in a film about pornstar Vaness Del Rio. What are your thoughts on this?
I don’t even want to have any thoughts about it!!! Seriously though I think it will only damage his reputation with Morbid Angel, but hey I am sure all he cares about is that he will make money and maybe turn it into a new career for himself.
Gen Vincent (David Vincent’s wife) has gotten you banned from the nightclub ‘The Castle’ in Ybor City. Why has she gone to such measures?
It’s because I made fun of David and their last album, but of course I didn’t start it all. There were so many people already making fun of it before it even came out that when I finally heard some of it I started making fun of it too. But I guess since I live in the same town and actually just a few blocks away from his house and that I was actually in the band that it was me that started all the jokes about him and the last album. So I guess Gen thought she would try to get back at me by having me banned from the local Gothic club because Gen is very personal friends with the owner of the club. I rarely go there anymore. Just once or twice a year when they have the bigger yearly events there, so it’s no big deal being banned. It was more about the point of it.
Thank you for clearing up some of the confusion that has been encircling the metal community. What are your plans for the near future?
Just staying busy doing both After Death and some live Nocturnus shows. There has been so much interest in people wanting to see the old Nocturnus stuff live that my band After Death has learned the whole The Key album and we are doing these shows and playing the entire album straight through. Then we’re throwing in some old Morbid Angel songs from Abominations of Desolation versions for the encores.
I also want to say THANKS to everyone who has supported all the music I have done over all these years and hopefully I will be able to continue the chaos for many more!
Thresholds, the second offering from Mike Browning’s (ex-Morbid Angel) sci-fi death metal tour de force, is an uneven, messy, fusion-inspired, lurid and occult death metal album. The best bits on here such as the sparkling, baroque, Mozart-ian lead guitars on “Aquatica” and the super-addictive chug and rhythmic chant on “Climate Controller” will stick to mind but at times the observation leaps through that Browning & co. are nowhere near the composers that for example Azagthoth & Brunelle were. The polyphony of the looming synthesizers is mostly awkward atmosphere building instead of solid thematics incorporated with the guitars. Browning does have an uncanny primitivistic yet accurate touch with the drums, one he obviously is going for, even naming a track “Tribal Vodoun”. All in all, it was probably a disappointment for many who bought it back in the day simply because Trey Azagthoth was always wearing a Nocturnus shirt in promo pictures. Nowadays as a rare and seldom heard item it has both nostalgic cult value and alongside the equally fusionistic, strange but compulsive “Spheres” by Pestilence shows imaginative directions where death metal could have followed if it hadn’t been abandoned to the blind flocks with their “brutal chugging” and “melodic wanking” trends.