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THE KEY

Nocturnus

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal


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Nocturnus The Key album cover
4.08 | 38 ratings | 4 reviews | 29% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1990

Songs / Tracks Listing


1. Lake of Fire (5:04)
2. Standing in Blood (4:20)
3. Visions from Beyond the Grave (4:09)
4. Neolithic (4:51)
5. Before Christ/After Death (4:57)
6. Andromeda Strain (3:42)
7. Droid Sector (4:21)
8. Destroying the Manger (6:09)
9. Empire of the Sands (6:27)

Total Time 44:00

CD bonus track:
5. Undead Journey (4:16)

Line-up / Musicians


- Mike Browning / vocals, drums
- Mike Davis / guitar/bass
- Sean McNenney / guitar
- Jeff Estes / bass
- Louis Panzer / keyboards

Guest musician:
- Kam Lee / backing vocals

Releases information

Released through Earache Records in August 1990
Also released on splatter vinyl, limited to 2000 copies. Remastered and
reissued by Earache Records in 2000.

Thanks to UMUR for the addition
and to UMUR for the last updates
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The KeyThe Key
Earache 2008
$12.99
The Key (Vinyl)The Key (Vinyl)
Earache Records
$21.99
Key by Nocturnus (1991-07-01)Key by Nocturnus (1991-07-01)
$49.99 (used)

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NOCTURNUS The Key ratings distribution


4.08
(38 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(29%)
29%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(34%)
34%
Good, but non-essential (21%)
21%
Collectors/fans only (11%)
11%
Poor. Only for completionists (5%)
5%

NOCTURNUS The Key reviews


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "The Key" is the debut full-length studio album US, Florida based death metal act Nocturnus. The album was released through Earache Records in August 1990. The only change in the lineup since the "The Science of Horror (1988)" demo tape is that guitarist Gino Marino has been replaced by Sean McNenney. The original vinyl release features 9 tracks while the CD version of the album features "Undead Journey" as a bonus track (it was not unusual in the late 80s/early 90s to include bonus tracks on CD versions of albums, to try and make people buy CDs instead of vinyl). While the addition of keyboards/synths on the "The Science of Horror (1988)" demo provided Nocturnus with a unique sound on the Florida death metal scene, it was with "The Key" that the band really put themselves on the map.

All four tracks from the "The Science of Horror (1988)" demo are featured on "The Key" in re-arranged versions but all four demo tracks are all quite excellent material and itīs not audible which tracks are older demo tracks and which are more recently composed. The lyrics are a mix of occult and sci-fi themes. The album is actually a concept album with a pretty bizarre story. Itīs about a cyborg which travels back in time to the year 0 BC and this brings upon the destruction of christianity and the creation of a modern empire.

The music on the album is semi-progressive death metal rooted in old school US death metal similar in style to an act like Morbid Angel. Nocturnus are s bit different from the rest of the late 80s/early 90s US death metal scene though as they have a keyboard player in the lineup. Keyboards donīt automatically mean that youīre a progressive artist but Nocturnus have quite a few other interesting qualities that make them progressive to my ears (their next release "Thresholds (1992)" is more progressive than "The Key" though). Nocturnus experiment with song structures and tempo and time signature changes too and those features combined with the keyboards result in "The Key" being at least a semi-progressive death metal album. Personally I consider "The Key" one of the most groundbreaking proto-progressive death metal albums and bands like Pestilence, Sadist, and Theory in Practice owe a lot to Nocturnus.

The vocals featured on the album are raspy growls and in addition to that there are no shortage of crushingly heavy riffs, fast tremolo picking, and screaming shredding guitar solos in addition to the spacy and eerie keyboard sounds featured on the album. Tracks like "Lake of Fire", "Standing in Blood", and the closing track and perhaps most progressive track on the album "Empire of the Sands", are excellent examples of why "The Key" is such a great album. Donīt expect tech death metal on the virtuosic level of Atheist or Cynic though, this is much more old school but still very innovative and well-played.

There are few weak elements on the album, but if I have to mention a weak link it would be drummer/lead vocalist Mike Browning. His vocal style isnīt the most powerful one Iīve heard and his staccato delivery is a bit one-dimensional. His drumming isnīt the most creative either but despite my issues with his skills he gets the job done without distracting too much. The album was recorded at the now legendary Morrisound Studio at Temple Terrace, Florida, with producer Tom Morris and although later death metal productions from that studio are more well sounding and brutal, this one has a certain raw charm to it, which makes it a great listen to. The beautiful cover artwork by Dan Seagrave is another great feature of the album, which further enhances the dark occult sci-fi atmosphere of the album.

"The Key" is one of the most important early 90s death metal albums in my book. The inclusion of keyboards and the way they are used on the album were groundbreaking at that point in time, and paired with the occult sci-fi themed lyrics and cover artwork, this is a pretty unique release, which was greatly influential on subsequent technical/progressive death metal artist (some of them are mentioned above). "The Key" fully deserves a 4 star (80%) rating.

Review by Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Acquiring a record deal with Earache thanks to their association with Morbid Angel, Nocturnus took death metal in a new direction with the addition of Louis Panzer on keyboards, proving to a sceptical extreme metal audience that keyboards could be as dark, sinister, and aggressive as any guitar riff. The narrative of the album might be kind of silly and juvenile (a Terminator-esque cyborg goes back in time - his target: Baby Jesus!), but it neatly demonstrated how death metal could tell stories and, indeed, tackle the concept album format just as well as any other rock music genre, and whilst the technicality of the album isn't on the level of contemporaries like Atheist and Cynic, it's still an entertaining slice of ugly Florida death metal which makes a perfect gateway drug to more esoteric technical death efforts.
Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars While forever destined to go down in metal history as the ugly stepchild of Morbid Angel, one of the Tampa scene's most enduring legacies and possible greatest product of the thriving Florida death metal scene, NOCTURNUS was a very strange extreme metal band that despite being lumped into the technical death metal crowds, really existed in its own little world. The band was started by ex-Morbid Angel drummer (1983-86) and vocalist Mike Browning in 1987 after the breakup of his short-lived band Incubus (no, not that one!) however guitarist Gino Marino tagged along for a short while and after many lineup changes the band found stability with the team of Browning (vocals, drums), Mike Davis (guitar, bass), Sean McNenney (guitar), Jeff Estes (bass) and Louis Panzer (keyboards). The band cut a couple demos and then set out to create one of the most unique extreme albums of the entire era.

In the nascent years when death metal was just taking its first steps with the likes of Death, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Atheist and Autopsy introducing the world to a ramped up unforgiving style of relentless heavy metal run amok, NOCTURNUS were looking way ahead to the next level. The band stood out like a sore thumb with one of the earliest uses of an atmospheric keyboard player in the midst of a brutal guitar, bass and drum orotundity that was all the stranger for developing highly sophisticated sci-fi concepts about an evil overlord from the future sending a cyborg back in time to assassinate Jesus Christ so that the tenets of Christianity would never be allowed to take root and thus allowing the seeds of evil to gain the upper hand on a much earlier timeline. Sounds like someone was watching the Terminator movie just a wee bit much, huh?

For all its seemingly cheesified subject matter, the band's debut album THE KEY released in 1990 is a stunning powerhouse of highly developed technical extreme metal that was not only looking ahead by incorporating new aspects of metal yet to be accepted by a wider audience but was also mining the past, thus THE KEY not only fits in that awkward moment when the difference between the thrash and death metal sub-genera was a bit fuzzy but also displayed moments of neoclassical power metal as well as highly complex elements from progressive rock that were only recently finding their way into the metal paradigm. The results of this unusual for the time amalgamation of sounds is that NOCTURNUS created an unrivaled style that has scarcely been replicated even several decades after this album's initial release. Likewise the occult themes and atmospheric accoutrements portended the evolution of the black metal scene that would find its heyday in the 90s and beyond.

While the keyboard sounds which are used for intros and subdued atmospheric grounding rods of sort get the most attention as this was unprecedented at the time, the true strength of THE KEY is the dual technical guitar attacks of Davis and McNenney who combined a hefty Morbid Angel styled barrage of riffing coupled with thrash metal techniques introduced by both Metallica and Megadeth. Add to that the exquisite virtuosity of the many different sections of neoclassical soloing and it doesn't take long to realize that the guitar aspects of the album are by far the dominant features. With a very few exceptions such as the clean guitar arpeggiated intro of "BC-AD," the album provides a ferocious stampede of pummeling percussive drive and high octane guitar orotundity all glazed over by the lush ethereal keyboards that more often than not fade into the background but at key moments provide the main rhythmic stomp as the soloing frenzies are let off the leash. The only instrument that seems to be buried for the most part is the bass but there are moments when it finds their own voice and emerge from the deafening din.

NOCTURNUS' debut album may not be one that sinks into your skin instantly. It certainly didn't for me. This album took quite a few spins before its magic really grabbed me and pulled me into its idiosyncratic sci-fi imbued extreme metal soundscape and really smacked me in the face. While superficially existing in the early 90s timeline with the heavy extreme guitar riffage and Marty Friedman-esque guitar solo workouts, the intricate constructs of the progressively infused compositions takes THE KEY to an entirely new level of sophistication. This was a case where the band was a little bit ahead of its time and although NOCTURNUS released a sophomore album titled "Thresholds" in 1992 and an eponymously titled EP the following year, the band would call it quits in 93 but would reform for a third album several years later. THE KEY dishes out everything i love about old school death metal but with progressive and atmospheric twists that use the sci-fi narrative as their guide. The album is exquisitely performed and there are literally no weak tracks on this magnum opus. A slow burner for sure but one that has been gaining more steam over the ensuing decades.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Although few people own this album, it's influence on the scene cannot be underestimated. This is the first ever brutal metal album which incorporated keyboards in the sound. It was an eyeopener of an album. It started a new scene. In fact, I would be so frisky to say that this album is per ... (read more)

Report this review (#291188) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Tuesday, July 20, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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