Nocturnus – The Science Of Horror Review

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again: That Earache Grindcrusher compilation changed my life. (Not that it matters much, but I’m talking about the second one, from 1991, the one with fourteen additional songs.) Before I ran across that gaudily colored cassette in a mall in Atlanta, I’d never dipped my toes into the cesspool of truly extreme metal. Up ‘til then, I was happily cocooned in a world of Iron Maiden and AC/DC, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the me back then didn’t know just exactly how heavy heavy could get.

Enter the Grindcrusher, and with it, my introduction to the likes of Morbid Angel, Repulsion, Bolt Thrower, Entombed, Carcass, Napalm Death, Terrorizer, and Nocturnus, whose inclusion was the classic “BC/AD” from The Key. With its creepy keys and chant-along acronymically-incorrect refrain of “Before Christ… / after death,” that song was a highlight of that compilation. It’s still my favorite Nocturnus tune, some twenty years later.

Formed in 1987 after drummer Mike Browning left an early version of Morbid Angel, Nocturnus would be one of the first death metal bands to incorporate a full-time keyboardist, but they didn’t start off as such. They started off as a four-piece death metal band from Florida, featuring future Acheron acolyte Vincent Crowley on guitar. The Science Of Horror pulls together Nocturnus’ two demos, 1987’s eponymous release and 1988’s The Science Of Horror, the latter of which marks the first appearance of both keyboardist Louis Panzer and longtime guitarist Mike Davis. From there, 1990’s The Key was Nocturnus’ first full-length, and still their best, a science-fiction-inspired Floridian classic, with Panzer’s keys adding the perfect touches of eerie futurism to the band’s death metal base.

For the purposes of this compilation, the two demos are sequenced in reverse chronological order, which works to the advantage of easing the listener backwards from Nocturnus’ debut, and also works because it puts the disc’s proverbial best foot forward. The Science Of Horror demo is the better of the two, by a wide margin, in terms of sound quality and also songwriting. All of the four songs on the Science demo would show up again on The Key, albeit in much more polished form. “Before Christ / After Death” makes an appearance here, as do “Standing In Blood,” “Neolithic,” and “Undead Journey.” These earlier Science tracks are of good quality, nothing amazing, just demo versions of the songs from The Key, showing promise but not yet what they would be. Everything is sloppier, rawer, as you’d expect; nothing exhibits the sleek sci-fi sheen that helped make The Key such a different beast than the other Floridian monsters.

The self-titled demo follows, missing Panzer’s keys, and also of a markedly lesser audio quality. There’s another, even earlier version of “Before Christ,” here just called “BC – AD,” and it’s much the same, but even more ragged and rough. Beyond that, there’s the eponymous track “Nocturnus,” and two others, all of which would never see official release, and probably with good reason. Placed alongside the one song that would take them through to their best moment, these three are the sounds of a band finding its feet, with nothing really coming together to form anything particularly special or even worthwhile.

In the last decade, this is the second Nocturnus demo compilation, the track listing of the first identical to this one. (Naturally, as that’s all the demos they had, apparently.) All told, the historian in me appreciates this type of re-release – it allows the listener to see where the band came from, to follow the origin, to trace the progression back to its roots. But the realist in me understands that these are demos, almost never as good as the records that follow, primitive by nature, roughshod and underdeveloped. Such is the nature of the beast, and anyone pursuing a collection of demos should understand that, should know what they’re getting into. Nocturnus’ first album is a classic, hands down – they’ve effectively been trading upon it since then, since neither Thresholds nor Ethereal Tomb achieved the same impact. These eight songs are the steps it took them to get there, and nothing here is breathtaking, nothing brilliant.

Do you absolutely need to own this latest take on The Science Of Horror? No, not really, unless you’re a Nocturnus die-hard.

But if you’re a death metal fan, do you absolutely need to know Nocturnus? Yes.

And therein lies The Key

[Note: This version of The Science Of Horror is released in tandem with Nocturnus’ reunion gigs, an earlier one at Nuclear War Now’s 2014 festival and then a second limited release to promote the band’s upcoming appearance in San Francisco in March of 2015. For now, sales are limited to those fans going to the show, but a future run will apparently be available to the general public.]

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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