Review Summary: A being of gluttonous envy constructs a device with one wicked idea in mind: to seal his position as the world’s ruler by traveling back in time to assassinate Jesus Christ. What follows is a frantic, fast paced trek into death metal.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
-From “Destroying the Manger”
Sounding like something out of a Satanic James Cameron nightmare, Nocturnus’s concept album, “The Key”, turned many heads in the metal community with its use of keyboards, as well as the blend of science fiction themes with standard anti-Christianity/Religion. Though today, the use of keyboards in death metal isn’t anything new, in 1990, it was unheard of, and the band gained some attention as a result. Twenty years later, I discovered this album and gave it a listen.
Despite the brooding, atmospheric presence of the keyboards, the guitars are the highlight of this album. The riffs, for the most part, are fast and punishing, but can also be light and melodic at some points. The solos are blistering and frantic, and no song is limited to just one solo. The first song, “Lake of Fire”, for example, has more than three. Guitarist Mike Davis adds several shredding guitar licks: solo-like interludes often lasting less than ten seconds, and these only add to the frantic, fast paced sound of the album. While extremely technical, the sheer number of guitar licks and solos can be overwhelming, but they are rarely boring.
Drummer Mike Browning, formerly of Morbid Angel, also handles the vocals on this album, and he handles both tasks well enough. The vocals are somewhat raspy, yet dark and brooding, though I suspect they would be more powerful if the album’s production had been better. Also suffering somewhat from the relatively low production are the drums. Though thrashy, as well as punishing, the drums seemed somewhat muffled, and it can be difficult to make out some of the double bass patterns. Despite these shortcomings, the drums still do an excellent job maintaining the albums frantic rhythm.
The keyboards, the instrument that drew attention towards this band have an interesting role throughout the album. During the first half of the album, the keyboards’ purpose is to create a dark, brooding, evil atmosphere; fitting for the album’s lyrical content. Whether they are used as an opener (such as on ‘Lake of Fire’, ‘Undead Journey’, and “BC/AD”) or as acting as rhythm to the guitars, the keyboards help to keep the sinister atmosphere present among the shredding solos and punishing drums. Throughout the second half of the album, the keyboards shift to a more technological, sci-fi sound (such as on the songs “Andromeda Strain”, “Droid Sector”, and “Destroying the Manger”). Whatever their role on a song may be, the keyboards assist in the telling of this dark story, doing what the guitars and drums cannot do: change the atmosphere to reflect each song’s sound.
Much like the keyboards, the lyrics seem to split the album in half. “Lake of Fire” has the standard death metal lyrics describing demonic entities torturing souls in the depths of hell: normal run of the mill occultism. The first four songs speak of standard Anti-Religion, showing Mike Browning’s occult influence. While we get a hint of what’s to come in “Before Christ/ After Death”, it’s not until “Droid Sector” that we discover the narrator’s plot to assassinate Jesus Christ. “Andromeda Strain” leads the listener away from the occultist lyrics and more toward the sci-fi theme, culminating in the narrator’s ultimate goal in “Destroy the Manger”, and his subsequent rule in “Empire of the Sands.” The lyrics, coupled with the ambient keyboards and the frantic guitar work help to tell the story.
Probably the only ‘bad’ aspect of this album is the bass: it isn’t there. During the recording of this album, bassist Jeff Estes developed a drinking problem, and wasn’t able to track the bass. Mike Davis ‘recorded’ some of the bass on this album, but I can’t find it. I can only imagine how much the album would have benefited from an actual bass line, one a listener can make out among the guitars and keyboards.
While I can’t say this is a classic, it’s definitely a strong release by a band that would be overshadowed by Morbid Angel. The band does a good job blending guitars with keyboards, and keeping the atmosphere extremely dark, yet adding enough guitar wankery to keep the listener interested in the music, as well as the story behind it. The album cover is pretty sweet, too. Give this a listen if you’re a fan of death metal, or metal in general.
-Lake of Fire
-Destroy the Manger