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.
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.
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.
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!'"
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 lifeIf 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.
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
my crystal ball
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.
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.
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 caredAnyway, 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.
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
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 todayNow 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?
brings forth a new technology
Killing through scientific means
destroy the world with technology
Now we'll see what is to be
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 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 approachingGod, 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.
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?"
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 teleportationLook, 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!"
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
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
armies of the Empire
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...