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The first release from Nocturnus. Wow, what promise this held. I still remember putting it on for the first time, being astonished. Space and Death. Whoa! That's a mix for you!
I should note right here that I'm a bit of a geek at heart. One minute you might find me checking out old episodes of Star Trek. The next minute? Banging my head to Morbid Angel or Carcass. Yeah, not a real great combination for attracting women, I know. Not something I mention on the first date.
But a combination that nonetheless puts me right in the demographic Nocturnus was undoubtedly looking to woo with their first release!! Or maybe -- just maybe -- they're really as weird as I am. Regardless, it goes without saying that The Key was right up my alley, and I still love playing it every once in awhile. Here's why you should, too (even if you don't like Star Trek).
The CD opens with Lake of Fire, which explodes from your speakers with seething death, keyboards, and power. Nocturnus is not afraid to let the keyboards shine. It sets them apart for sure. The guitar work is twisted, fast, unusual in its style. Actually I think they hold a bit of a shredder's sensibility. There's just so much soloing happening, at every opportunity. And Browning's vocals, while I would call them a weak point, for some reason seems to add to the package here. I feel like a "traditional" death vocalist would take away from the effect. Actually, I think Nocturnus tried this on their followup, Thresholds, and the vox were better, but somehow didn't work as well. But anyway, I digress.
The CD progresses through atmospheric death riffing with weird keyboard interludes, death vocals -- always this theme of outlandish aliens threatening to arrive in orbit and take us all hostage. Good God -- look at the cover art. It's some freak from beyond sitting in orbit piloting some otherwordly machine, initiating the command that sends us all to our doom.
All of this is not to suggest Nocturnus doesn't know how to settle down and groove with the best of them. Witness the opening riff of Neolthic, or the entire song Undead Journey (a highlight of the release by any measure). But there's a certain swirl happening, always. Something unhinged about the whole affair. Raw, not produced. And I like it. Give me less polish. It adds to the whole thing. Undead Journey probably has the most logical layout of the entire album, but there are definitely other more structured parts, such as the chorus section of Before Christ/After Death, or the bridge work in Droid Sector.
But most areas of the CD are populated with this spacey, technically challenging, space-death metal. Andromeda Strain, Destroying the Manger, Droid Sector -- all of these find Nocturnus exploring their inner Trekkie. With a brutal touch. Listening to Nocturnus' further work -- especially the 2nd CD -- I feel like they may have let the technical overtake the brutal. This first CD was a great mix of the two. It's monstrous and mysterious at the same time, and is unlike anything I've ever really heard since.
“Keyboards? In Death Metal?” That’s what I first thought when I heard of this band a few weeks ago. I thought that this album would sound something like the death metal equivalent of Dimmu Borgir (and we all know how horrendous that would be)! Fortunately for me and the entire death metal community, this album is among the greatest death metal albums ever! Almost at the level of Cynic when it comes to innovation yet at the level of Massacre when it comes to brutality. Now all I’m wondering is: “how did they pull it off?”
The vocals on this album are nothing special. Perhaps the worst aspect of this masterpiece. They’re sort of raspy like David Vincent on Altars of Madness but not as deep or raspy as that. In fact these growls are pretty weak...
But the guitars save it! There are some really heavy riffs here. This album is also laced with brilliant guitar solos, often more than one per song! The guitar also goes really well with the keyboards. Often the keyboards play the intro to the song and then the guitar picks up where the keyboards left off.
Since I mentioned the keyboards, let’s go over them in more detail shall we? As mentioned before the keyboards are often used as intros to the songs. This is true but they are used in the middle of songs too. I believe the best example of this is Neolithic. They use some really cool almost alien-ish sounds in that one, it really gives the effect of something spacey and out of this world.
The bass isn’t really audible but hey, this isn’t Atheist. This album is innovative in its own way and only really needs the bass to keep the songs together.
The drumming on this album is really cool. Not as accentuated as the guitars or keyboards but it’s still really good! It nicely complements the guitars with fast drum patterns but never gets old or boring. If there is one thing this album isn’t it’s boring.
There you have it. This album is the debut album by one of Florida’s most innovative, interesting and brutal death metal bands. All fans of death metal should enjoy this album and if you don’t then I suggest listening to this: http://www.metal-archives.com/release.php?id=134197 it should be more to their liking.
- The keyboards
- The riffs!
- The intro and middle to Neolithic
- The songs Lake of Fire and Destroying the Manger
Aw fuck it. Even the modern death can't be better than this. This is basically the ultimate album for any fucker who likes death metal just as much as keyboards. At the time this album came out, it was regarded as some obscure avant-garde music. Death metal with keyboards and Sci-fi lyrics? What the fuck! That was probably the only reason this band didn't become as big as Morbid Angel, something they really deserved (as they didn't fucked their fans in their later career). It was too weird for the early metalheads to listen to. The quality, however, is the very opposite of the generic-ness of the band.
Each song has dozens of riffs, all very consistent, yet quite different from each other. Check the chorus of BC/AD for some old-school thrash at it's best. Andromeda Stain on the other hand is melodic death metal all the way. The addition of a keyboard player is also one of the best things they’ve ever done. Not only does Louis Panzer provide great atmospheric intro’s, the way the keys compliment the guitars is magical. Instead of making the music sound gay or soft, the keys are evil as fuck. Check the 4:04 of Destroying the Manger for example. Fucking evil.
Because of the addition of a keyboard player, the band can play leads without destroying the riffs at all. And the guitars are sick... Not only does guitar prodigy Mike Davis provide some of the greatest shred solo’s ever, the riffs are strong, evil and varied. Only a very few riffs sound alike. Much of the playtime, Mike Davis and Sean McNenney experimented with speed, leads, time signatures and chord progression. There is thrash involved (mainly on Lake of Fire), there is death involved and on some occasions the guitar plays a lead on melodic style. This doesn’t sound like any Gothenburg lead at all. The intro of Andromeda Stain for example has the greatest, yet most evil lead guitar who ever roamed the valley of death metal. It’s very sad though that the bass is inaudible, although I wouldn’t expect much from it. Other than following the guitar riffs the bass had no other destination on this album, and I’ve got the feeling it would sound yuk to hear bass leads on this album.
Along with the evil vocal duties of Mike Brown, who also handles the drums, this is a most evil record. Especially considering the time it came out. I really praise this album as one of the most underrated albums ever. Not only because of it’s originality and quality, but also of the fact that every kind of metalhead can find some relief in it. There are leads, death metal riffs, thrash riffing and even some black metal influences. It’s all done better than any band who came after this band trying to copy the idea’s and perfect them. This album can’t be more perfected than it already is.
Standout tracks of the standout tracks: Andromeda Stain, Destroy the Manger, BC/AD, Droid Sector, Empire of the Sands, Visions from Beyond the Grave.
Note: BUY THIS ALBUM
I lend my ears to Nocturnus since I love old school death metal (mostly swedish since American DM is too much thrash oriented compared to swedish). I've got them as a suggestion after reading about the funk-thrash metal act Mordred just because both bands was "special" in their respecitve genres. I've got surprised when I heard Nocturnus. It was a perfect mix of athmospheric keyboards and DM like Morbid Angel and Death. Since that point, I've listened to Nocturnus pretty much and I can safely say that it's gonna be more.
"The Key" starts off perfectly with the amazing "Lake Of Fire" which has a very nice and almost beautiful (if I might call it so) intro on keyboards. "Standing In Blood" and "Visions From Beyond The Grave" are two violent tunes with a lot of guitar bending, drum assault and bass rape. "Undead Journey" and "Before Christ, After Death" also has those nice keyboard intros and massive death metal riffs which breaks the silence after a while. "Droid Sector" is another sick song with some excellent riffing and blasting solos. "Destroying The Manger" and "Empire Of The Sands" are two perfect last tracks for an album like this. They're very athmospheric and those fucking keyboards are so damn beautiful in the mix of the dark and furios death metal. "Empire Of The Sands" also has some totally awesome riffing.
The production is great. It sounds like a thrash / american death metal album is supposed to sound like. It's like a mix of Morbid Angel (in which Mike Browning was the drummer before Pete Sandoval) and the always almighty Death. The most fucking awesome thing on this album is the guitar solos. They're fucking awesome. They're screaming and blasting your ears full of DM solo candy.
The cast are awesome. These guys might not be the best musicians in the world but they sure can make some killer metal! They invented this kind of DM and they should have a lot of credits for that. The guitar solos are particularly good and the guitarists should have been rated among the masters with solos like these ones. Mike Browning's drumming are insane too. The double bass drum sometimes go out of synch but who the fuck cares? I don't, that just shows that he's a drummer built on flesh and blood and not of metal like a fucking drum machine like in Godflesh. The whole thing sounds more human when it's not "perfect" which it still is.
So finally to my last comments on "The Key"...
This album is totally amazing and a legendary piece of DM history. I've heard that this album is outta print nowdays but I still suggest that you somehow look up this album. It's worth it and you're worth hearing it too!
Nocturnus is one of the most unique death metal bands that ever existed, but they're not very well known, even within the metal community. "The Key" is very hard to find in CD format, and the copy I won on eBay cost me $33, but it's worth every penny. Earache Records really needs to re-release this album (along with other Nocturnus albums) with bonus material because no metalhead should have to go in savage hunts for this.
Now to the album itself, this is one of the weirdest yet coolest death metal albums you'll ever hear, and it's one of my all-time favorites. Louis Panzer plays the keyboard to make sounds like space-age computers and alien-spacecrafts etc., and they go with the music very well. Louis's shining moment is the trippy keyboard passage on the three-minute mark in "Neolithic," it sounds alot like The X Files theme song, and this was made four or five year before that show even came along!! Mike Davis and Sean McNennery are some of the baddest mofos concerning death metal guitarists, their riffs and solos will amaze you while peeling your face off. Mike and Sean make Tom Morello and Kirk Hammett look like those guitar "playing" retards from Korn. Jeff Estes's bass isn't very audible, but I'm sure it's very good. Mike Browning is a very good drummer, and his vocals are very cool too as they aren't generic cookie-monster growls. Last but not least, the song-writing isn't the least bit generic or stupid. This album will make you headbang, give you goosebumps, and melt your brain. This is a death metal album that shouldn't be missed by any death metal fan.
I've listened to this album many times from start to finish, and there isn't one bad song on here. My favorites on it are "Lake of Fire," "Visions from Beyond the Grave," "Neolithic," "BC/AD," "Destroying the Manger," and "Empire of the Sands."
It's so sad these guys couldn't hold it together and would brake up for good in 2002, because these guys really had a unique and awesome sound. I hope Mike Davis starts another DM band where he shreds as crazy as he does on here, or better yet, join Morbid Angel. Mike and Trey shredding together would go together perfectly like peanut butter and jelly.
If you enjoyed "The Key," be sure to pick up their follow-up album "Thresholds."
If I'd make a list with all the albums out there that deserve a 100% rating or are a milestone in the metalscene, the key would be leading that list without a doubt. The Key is an essential and unique album to date, nothing like this was released back then in 1990. Imagine a mixture of lyrics like in "Seven Churches", the technicality of "Mental Vortex" and "Spiritually Uncontrolled Art", a touch of sci-fi and the most fucked up and skin-shredding solos you can imagine and you have an idea about what this album could sound like.
What differs this album from the most death metal albums, is the speed and the catchiness. The Key is not the fastest album in the land, but it's truly the one with the catchiest riffs.
Unlike most of the technical bands, these guys have a lot of variety and catchiness thrown in; the songs are not only impressing you with over-the-top technicality and speed, but they get stuck in your head. If you heard the first song, "Lake of Fire", you can sing along to it after the first listen.
Talking about songs, let's get started.
10 Songs, each of them is disembowelling you, again and again (Uh?). The vocals possess you, the drums are beating you up, the bass is crushing you and to end the violence, the guitars grind you down.
Vocals: Somewhat scratchy deep growls and they fit perfectly to this album. I can't imagine any other vocalist for this album, no matter how good they would sound, this guy is the only one who fits perfectly into the key. Unlike most vocalist, even though that the vocals are growled, they are not hard to understand, plus point for that.
Drums: The drums don't sound like anything new, there is nothing all too special about the drumming, except for the bass-drumming. While most death metal bands used the legendary "d-beat" (created by Discharge) double-bass drummed or just blast beats over blast beats, the drums here are somewhat improved and they sound different on all songs.
Guitars & Key's: Nothing but respect for this. Though I may be young, but I experienced some technical, stunning and "out of this world" albums that were released up to date, but none of them had the skills that could reach the water to the shredding, grinding and crativity going on here. What I like about the keyboards, is that they are placed in the background, they truly bring you on a journey and you feel the outter space atmosphere. Don't you hate it when the entire album is dominated by the key's? The solos stand above anything created on this album. Most bands play riffs over riffs, a solo, some riffs and a final solo. But this album is full of solos. I'm not sure if we have more solos or more riffs in it. Fantastic, nothing less.
There's a stigma attached to this album; the bass. It's seriously the only thing on this album I could not get into, why? Because (of the production?) you don't hear it very good and the basslines are nothing special neither. Though, they are somewhat harmonized with the keyboards, which is good, because so the all around heaviness and atmosphere get's more intense.
This album is full of perfect songs and it's really hard to make top-list, but the top of the bunch in my opinion, is: Lake of Fire, Standing in Blood, Neolithic, Andromeda Strain and Empire Of The Sands.
For the love of death metal, old school and anything technical, get this album. If you're a fan of Atheist, Gorguts, Cynic, Liers in Wait, Phlebotomized, Hellwitch, Septicemia etc... you'll love this album.
Typical Scott Burns/Morrisound production + unimaginative lyrics and riffs + lots of widdly-widdly shredding + gratuitous keyboards that really don't add too much to the music = boring and overrated. People made a big stink over this album when it came out in 1990, and I listened to it, but really didn't get too into it after a while. Let us not forget Mike Browning's heavily effected-out vocals and the fact that, well, he wasn't a pimple on Pete Sandoval's ass in the drumming department. I can hear his feet faltering on some double kick parts and on the few blast beats on this album he totally loses it.
Everybody was on about Mike Davis and Sean McNenney and how they shredded so much--the songs were really only vehicles for them shredding. And even then I found the soloing not that inspired, more Slayeresque wankery than anything else. The bass as always is buried underneath everything else and the keyboards...all those who think black metal these days is all gratuitous keyboards should hear this joker trying too hard to add atmosphere when all he does is make silly horror-film noises. Quite laughable, really--and live he looked like he was being electrocuted when he was headbanging behind his keyboards!
The songs are, as I said, more vehicles for guitar wanking more than anything else and when they're not wanking they are playing the most boring and basic riffs ever. And when they try and go off on tangents to try and seem more "artsy", it just doesn't work; it comes off as forced and unnatural. The lyrics are utter tripe, too, silly Satanic cliches to the max. Kam Lee's appearance is limited to a couple of backing vocal grunts here and there, and adds nothing to the overall picture. In short, the record label promoted his appearance to try and whip up some interest.
If you are a completist for the heyday of Floridian Death Metal, pick this CD up if only to see where it began going downhill. I really didn't find this anything special when it came out and feel about the same to this day.
After getting signed by Earache Records, Nocturnus unleashed this fucking beast onto the Death Metal world in 1990. At the time, this certainly tore down some boundaries at the time, as just about no other extreme Metal bands utilized keyboards as an integral part of their music. That along with the fact that their drummer/vocalist Mike Browning used to be in Morbid Angel were key factors that helped to gain this band more recognition.
Musically this can be compared to bands like Death, Sepultura, Possessed, Morbid Angel and the like. This entirely avoids blastbeats, and stylistically is more old-school Death Metal, made technical and with synthesizers adding to the atmosphere at points. Because of the synths, this is almost like a video game or movie soundtrack at time. Despite the synthesizers though, this is still a very menacing and haunting album; the synths just add to its menacement and hauntment!! The vocals are basically harsh, raspy shouts that sound almost like Thrash shouts at times, but overall they are still Deathish in nature. Lots of guitar solos appear everywhere here, making Slayer sound hesitant in comparison. As far as riffing goes, the guitars are constantly interlacing melodies in between thrashy riffs, which often goes with some keys underneath, playing a counterpart melody alongside the guitars. This is usually what establishes an atmosphere to the music.
The lyrics often have to do with Satanism or Death, although there’s a subtle sci-fi touch here and there. A good example of this is in the song Destroying The Manger, which describes someone going back in time to kill Jesus Christ at the moment of his birth. Which is actually pretty fucking stupid, but that just adds to the charm of the music. The cover art is also sci-fi themed. It shows a blue robot (evil Mega Man? heh) holding the pentagram disc from the Nocturnus logo (with the lightning-bolt) up to a beam of light from a computer/gun thingy. Then there’s a yellow circle behind him. I can’t tell what the hell that is, although it might just be the back wall of the ship. Overall the presentation fits with the theme of the music. And finally, the production is not horrible, but not 100% polished. You can hear everything clearly, yet the overall sound is slightly muffled, and gives off a colder overtone. It ends up adding more ambience to the music, like as if you yourself were on an alien spaceship while this was playing.
This is a very solid debut for a band that was unfortunately overshadowed by its more brutal counterparts in Morbid Angel. It wasn’t a rehash of what had already been done in Death Metal, and it also wasn’t different for the sake of being different. It struck a nice balance between the two, and was technical yet catchy enough to be enjoyed easily. This remains one of the best starting points for one who is interested in discovering the music of Nocturnus. If you’ve never heard Nocturnus before and you want to get some old-school Death Metal, or are interested in early technical, atmospheric extreme Metal, then I highly recommend you check this out.
Kids, this is one of the most original death metal albums ever created. Stunning technicality, keyboards, and Satanic themes never sounded so good. If you think that bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth invented keyboards and metal...listen to this. Nocturnus utterly annihilates both those bands, as well as the current powder puff shred "metal" (this term used extremely lightly) in a furious maelstrom of cybernetically reanimated Sumerian demons!
There's a simple base of crushing, Slayer inspired riffs from the opening song "Lake of Fire" and "Neolithic." Add Louie Panzer's keyboards on here, as an accompaniment to, not as a substitute for, guitar playing, and the music takes on a strange, synthetic dimension. When the guitars go off on a shredding tangent, like on the chorus of "Destroying the Manger," or "Andromeda Strain," they sound like an army of flesh tearing zombie droids from a black hole rather than light powder puff noodling.
The soloing here is a real treat. Both Sean McNenny and Mike Davis (especially Mike Davis) can fucking shred. And not just wild, Trey Azagthoth tapping, but actual shredding, and they don't sound weak or like show offs either. The placement of solos is also key, as they pop up even in some choruses, little one or two note peaks, to really terrific effect (the chorus of "BC/AD"). It's kind of reminscent of old blues songs...if B.B. King were actually a brain devouring cyborg reanimated by the spirits of the Ancient Ones.
Mike Browning's throaty bark is present throughout the album, but on some tracks he is backed up by Kam Lee of Massacre. Kam's vocals are the typical cookie monster roar, but used appropriately to keep some sense of gravity to the music. Mike's vocals definately suit the music more, keeping the spacy, airy vibe going.
Mike's drumming is surprisingly technical. On Morbid Angel's Abominations of Desolation, he was a little sloppy in an Abbadon way (which was great for that album), and on Thresholds he has a bit more of simplistic power to his drumming. Even in After Death, his new band, he doesn't go completely apeshit, pulverizing everything from the hi-hat to his rototoms in a techinical whirlwind. Amazing that he could still perform the vocals from the work out on this album!
The shit part of this album is the bottom end. It is NON EXISTENT! From what I read in certain interviews, bassist Jeff Estes didn't come into practice before this album, so when it came time to play on the album, his bass sound was absolute shit. Instead of re-recording the tracks, they simply took them down in the mix. What a shame, as songs like "BC/AD" and "Neolithic" have a very heavy groove, and a few other technical passages in "Andromeda Strain" and "Droid Sector" would have really benefitted from good bass playing. Imagine what Roger Patterson or even Steve Digiorgio could have done for this album...ah, but that could be asking way too much!
Quite a good production job was done on this, as the guitars and drumming are quite technical, but then sometimes go to a simple chugging. I can only guess that this was a real nightmare for the boys at Morrisound, who were used to producing bands like Deicide and Massacre. Then along comes Nocturnus with keyboards, ultra technical, layered guitars, and bass tracks that sucked. Kudos to those guys, and aspirin for the headaches that were probably induced at the mixing board.
Despite being a very techinal band with a sci-fi edge, Nocturnus still brings out the best in death metal and keep it evil feeling, unlike other bands that destroy things with overabundant use of keyboards, happy solos, and female vocals. What's more, the technicality doesn't ruin the music, and you can still tap your toe or bang your head to this stuff.
That is, if the flesh eating droids don't get you first!
If I'd describe this as extreme thrash turned black metal with keyboards, I'd actually not be far off, yet I would probably also put people on the wrong track. I could also call it deathmetal, but that would be misleading even more. For that matter Nocturnus first put me on the wrong track as well. When I first heard this, I thought it was pretty uninspired black metal with keyboards. On closer inspection, there appears to be a lot more to this album.
First track already opens with some synth stuff, then after 0:50 deathmetal-esque soloing and random guitarnoodling kick in, and not much thereafter, the synths sound as if they were directly taken from a cheesy old sci-fi movie. After that, the song goes into what is to be the style of the rest of the album; a steady up-tempo form of thrash, but with the guitars giving away prominence to the slightly corny synths superimposed on them. The vocals could be described as a harsher variant of a thrash-scream.
One of the things defining the sound on The Key would be the occasional frantic and almost seemingly random guitar-noodles that are short of being a solo, and the slightly off-key keyboard-play. When I put it like that, it might sound like a bad thing, but the weird thing about this album is that it helps to create a sense of alienation. The aforementioned sci-fi-esque synths aren't the only time a sci-fi-movie atmosphere is conjured up.
At the first few listens, from what Nocturnus plays, you're expecting standard songstructures and playing, but Nocturnus continually seems to deviate from what you'd expect, by throwing in a few extra notes/noodlings, by making the timing seem just slightly off, by sounding slightly off-key, or simply hitting a note you wouldn't expect, and this seems to work for Nocturnus.
Overall, this album won't appeal to many, and it takes some growing before you can apreciate it, but it is good. And from as early as 1990, so that's a bit extra in the points department.
Here we have it: one of the best, if not THE GREATEST death metal album of all time. Better than any Death, Morbid Angel, Carcass, you name it....Hell, is even a small notch above Seven Churches and that says a whole fucking lot. The secret: the technical genious, but above all the marvelous COHESION that makes all the complicated arrangements unite into one single piece (song).
Oh, and it owns you, totally, from beginning to end. Listen to "Lake of Fire", "BC/AD", "Standing in Blood".....all good riffing and 100% pussy-free.
The cool thing about this is that the songwriting values are never above the technical factor, which is the case among many modern prog metal bands. And yes, i consider this to be prog too (the riffs that scale up and down that are all over this album, the odd timed tempos here and there), but no wanking is to be found here. Well, maybe a little, the guitars do show off, specially in the solos, which appear seemly every five seconds. Plus, no br00tal sillyness to be found. Special praises for Mike Browning. He managed to improved A LOT since his Morbid Angel years, specially in his drumming which doesn't dumb or forced in any way and while he's not as technical as his band partners he does handle the time changes very fluidly.
Oh, and there are keyboards here, too. To enhance the darkness and heaviness of the songs, the keys add a very haunting atmosphere to them. No classically influenced or soundtrack melodies a-la Puritanical era Dimmu Borgir bullshit. I'm talking some seriously sick keys here!
Highlights? All the songs. Trust me, buy this and you won't get dissapointed one bit. If you do, fuck you. Is really that simple. Excellent death metal and yes, prog can be fierce and evil too. "Find me kindness - Find me beauty - Find me truth"? Fuck you. "Cybernetic crafts approaching - through skies lit with fusion discharge - androids from the Gamma quadrant - moving at the speed of death" is more like it. Hehehehe.
So this is where Mike Browning took his talents, and this is why Morbid Angel sucked after the demos. THIS shit is great!!! This is classic DM the way it should be played - with an emphasis on the riffs, and absolutely no grindcrap to be found anywhere.
What is here though is an unusual accent on the lead instruments - little solo noodling everywhere, and also keyboards in the mix. But, note that the keyboards detract nothing from the riffs, and thus are utilised properly. The lead guitar is very nicely done, and provides a definite highlight, because it doesn't just appear in the Designated Solo Spot (after the second verse) but rather everywhere.
Highlights... probably "BC/AD" for its crushing speed/thrash riffage, or maybe "Undead Journey". The riffage is reminiscent of Possessed meets Coroner, while the song structures definitely have an influence of Watchtower, and other tech-thrash bands, especially in the abrupt sound changes. This is nice and thrashy, the way DM should be done. Lots of great atmosphere is accomplished, to make this possibly THE worthy successor to Seven Churches.