NOCTURNUS — Thresholds (review)

NOCTURNUS — Thresholds album cover Album · 1992 · Technical Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
The Tampa, FL based NOCTURNUS made its mark on the extreme metal scene all the way back in the 80s after former Morbid Angel drummer / vocalist Mike Browning created a new variety of technical death metal that included a keyboardist as well as exhibiting heavily fortified sci-fi themes with overarching concepts. After a couple of demos hitting the market, NOCTURNUS cranked out one of the most unique metal albums of the 90s with its lauded debut “The Key” which adopted a Terminator movie theme of a cyborg sent back in time to kill Jesus Christ as well as fusing the Morbid Angel styled death metal riff attacks with wickedly wild neoclassical solo tradeoffs which made NOCTURNUS one of the most technical infused death metal bands of the early 90s long before Necrophagist.

While Browning served as both drummer and vocalist on “The Key,” for the band’s second album THRESHOLDS which came out two years later, Dan Izzo joined the team as lead vocalist and Browning focused exclusively on drums and percussion. While the debut had a complete album concept, THRESHOLDS on the other hand tackled a wide range of topics that included climate change on “Climate Controller,” indigenous issues on “Tribal Vodoun,” underwater species on “Aquatica,” the Metal Gear video game series on “Subterranean Infiltrator” and extraterrestrial life on “Gridzone.” Musically the band expanded its sound into an even more progressive nature with more complex time signatures, more experimental compositions and even more exquisite displays of virtuosic technicalities without sacrificing the melodic hooks and thrash laden sensibilities of “The Key.”

While the band stuck out from the death metal pack early on with the inclusion of the keyboard, on THRESHOLDS, the music is more varied and bolder in its displays of the usual suspects of tremolo picked riffs and pounding rhythmic drive. The keyboard contributions also continued the role of atmospheric generator taking the doom laden darkness to even more mysteriously gloomy heights but also found moments as lead instrument with equally frenetic roles that would make Keith Emerson take notice as the keyboards take on even more ambitious roles in constructing a wider range than “The Key.” One of the most dynamic use of the keys is on the superb “Aquatica” which delivers underwater sounds as well as the proper extensions of ambience. Tracks like “Subterranean Infiltrator” on the other hand are all about the guitars and showcases one of the most dynamic twin guitar attacks with clever trade-offs in both the riffing as well as mind numbing soloing.

In many ways, THRESHOLDS sounds a lot different than “The Key” even though much of the stylistic approach is in tact. This album in contrast is slightly less aggressive and delves into more diverse styles of expression with quieter sections and takes license to find more experimental instrumental interplay and progressive off-kilter time signature delivers. While the production has been cited as horrendous by many, my 2013 remastered version sounds pretty good actually although the vocals sound further back in the mix than on “The Key” and although Browning’s decision to add a new vocalist so that he could focus exclusively on the drums, it seems there are many segments of the album where the drums are significantly less dynamic with many moments where he is simply keeping a rather unexciting beat much like a garage band which raises the question of what may have been the true cause of his exodus from the band after this album. Was he really injured and just unable to play with the same ferocity?

This was pretty much the last true album of the original NOCTURNUS lineup. The story goes that the band members secured the trademark to the band name and kicked the founder, Browning out like an old pair of shoes. Rumor has it that it was all about which direction the band wanted to take. Browning wanted to include more occult lyrics whereas the rest of the band wanted to keep it in the sci-fi universe but like all messy relationships that take place behind closed doors, this will probably remain a secret until someone spills the beans about the actually events that unfolded. As far as occult lyrics go, it’s particularly interesting how the opening “Climate Controller” refers to Kakodammu which is the word of Addu, the forty-seventh name of Marduk, defeater of the ancient ones. I find the references are directed toward the man-made climate control technologies admitted by NASA and other institutions to be of particular interest.

In many ways i love THRESHOLDS even more than “The Key.” The tracks are much more interesting as individual slices tech death metal magic however the album lacks the overall cohesiveness of the debut. Add to that the drum parts are by far the biggest disappointment but despite the elements that could’ve used some more work, this is an excellent album that stands out not only from pretty much every other metal album that has been released but from the band’s debut itself. While Browning was kicked out of his own band, the rest of the team only managed to squeak out a pathetic little EP before disbanding the following year and although there was an attempt to revive the band several years later, the album “Ethereal Tomb’ didn’t come close to capturing the creativity cranked out in the first two NOCTURNUS albums so as far as i’m concerned this is the end of the road for one fo the most creative metal bands of the 90s. While not quite as perfect as the debut, THRESHOLDS is still an outstanding slice of 90s extreme metal that shouldn’t be missed.
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Tupan wrote:
3 months ago
And thanks, Vim!
Vim Fuego wrote:
3 months ago
I loved The Key from the first time I heard it, because it was as close to Morbid Angel as you could get without being Morbid Angel. And I really loved Morbid Angel at the time...
siLLy puPPy wrote:
3 months ago
RYM says it was released May 24th. Add away!

https://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/nocturnus-ad/paradox/

Tupan wrote:
3 months ago
Good. Just waiting the release of the album to add them here.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
3 months ago
Haven't heard it yet but i noticed there is a brand new album this year. It's on my list for sure.
Tupan wrote:
3 months ago
What about Nocturnus AD, the new band of Mike Browning?
siLLy puPPy wrote:
3 months ago
It's very experimental. If you were hoping for a similar approach to The Key i can understand why you didn't like it. The Key was a grower but this one was an instant hit for myself however i'm more into the prog world so like these weirdo kinds of things ;)
Vim Fuego wrote:
3 months ago
I couldn't stand this album! I remember trading the vinyl for something else and feeling I had done very well out of the deal.

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