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As it turns out, things did not pan out so swimmingly for death geek magnates Nocturnus after their sophomore Thresholds. While it wasn't exactly what I'd call a flop, it failed to capitalize on the bright potential of The Key, and their time at an end, the band was cut from the Earache roster, and thus the same potential success of peers like Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower and so forth. There was also a legal struggle within the band, and longtime drummer Mike Browning (who had also been in Morbid Angel during their demo phase) was fired and replaced with James Marcinek. Inevitably, the whole band would grind to a halt, but they did manage to slap a pair of tracks on a 7" (and later CD single) through a younger Moribund.
You'll notice immediately via glancing at its cover that the Nocturnus EP has shifted lyrical focus from the dire science fiction of its predecessors to Egyptian mysticism and horror, but this is not exactly a letdown, as its a natural topic for imaginative speculation and makes sense (the band had explored the past before). There are but two tracks here, "Possess the Priest" and then "Mummified", for a total of about 10 minutes of content comparable to the material on their full-length albums. I found Nocturnus to possess a denser, stronger tone than Thresholds, but unfortunately the music here, while similar, is just not that memorable, not even at the level of a "Climate Controller". The guitars are choppy and busily strung against the unimposing backdrop of the keys, and the tempos shift from a thrashing median to bursts of blast, but there are no real choice riffs here or moments of commendable atmosphere that reach out to you.
The band is as technically competent as ever, but the songwriting is simply uninspired, returns diminished from even the slightly lacking sophomore album. With all of the potential their path of exploration had laid out before them at the turn of the decade, one wonders why they went so limp. Was The Key an example of brutal, premature ejaculation? Could they no longer get it up? They could have turned out so much better than this. What a frustrating turn of events.
The "Nocturnus" EP was released in 1994, after the band had already split up (though the band would reform again years later). It contains only two tracks, and features James Marcinek playing drums in place of the departed Mike Browning. The overall sound is pretty similar to their previous release "Thresholds", with one notable exception: the eerie sci-fi atmospheres have been replaced by an aura of good old-fashioned malice. A rage pervades Dan Izzo's vocals like we've never heard before, and Marcinek's rolling double bass and energetic fills only heighten the chaos.
Mike Davis's lead guitar work is distinctive as always; the many solo breaks on these two songs feature all form of tapping, sweep picking, and further exhibition of fretboard dexterity, and when he wants to he can spray notes so fast from the upper registers the listener can only make out a squeaky sonic blur. The rhythm guitar is often doubled by synthesizer pads to give weight to the songs' focal melodies.
The first track, "Possess the Priest", is captivating and powerful. It cycles through quite a few melodic passages and solo breaks, united by vitriolic vocals and ceaseless rhythmic momemtum. It's progressive and accessible at the same time, and in my opinion, the best song Nocturnus ever recorded.
"Mummified", the second track, marries egyptian themed lyrics with some experimentation in middle-eastern tinged scales. It is interesting to note this predates works by Nile and other bands that would popularize this style. But to my ears the arabic themed riffs sound a bit contrived, and in spite of having a few brilliant sections, this song lacks the cohesiveness and focus of the previous track.
Nocturnus was a groundbreaking band, and for anyone new to the band, the full-length "Thresholds" is a more comprehensive exhibition of the talent and creativity that they introduced to the technical death metal genre. The two tracks here are essentially bonus material -- we can be thankful these recordings found their way to the public ear after the band's breakup, and this is some material fans of the band won't want to miss.