1. Lake of Fire
2. Standing In Blood
3. Visions From Beyond the Grave
5. Undead Journey
6. Before Christ / After Death
7. Andromeda Strain
8. Droid Sector
9. Destroying the Manger
10. Empire of the Sands
Although The Key isn't necessarily an early death metal classic, this debut effort by Nocturus represents a notable development in extreme metal. Throughout the 80s, most heavy metal bands eschewed keyboards as an instrument of namby-pamby new wave bands who like to wear nylon stockings and use plenty of hair mousse. But when Nocturnus implemented a keyboardist into their music, it started to create credibility for the possibilities synthesizers offered. It may not be particularly evident two decades later, but in 1990 the idea of having any keyboard sounds suggested that somehow the music would lack intensity. Anyone listening to The Key will verify that this is an extreme record that hardly had the same appeal as, say, Erasure or Nelson.
For the most part, The Key is one of the early entries into the "technical death metal" realm. Nocturus was all about tempo and time signature changes and relatively complicated song structures. Drummer Mike Browning (who also provided vocals) was fairly adept at various drum patterns. The guitarists were acquainted with the idea of many solos with many notes. Keyboards Louis Panzer, despite being a focal point in attention given the band, actually plays a rather subdued role, using keyboards for texture and mood. Considering a certain amount of the songs had a sci-fi theme, this actually makes a lot of sense.
The drawback to this album is that not all the songs are particularly interesting. The opener "Lake of Fire" is easily the best of the bunch, but there aren't many stand out tracks from that point on. "Neolithic" contains a fairly memorable melody, but a lot of the songs just seem like showcases for their ability to play somewhat difficult parts. And unfortunately, that often is the line drawn between the great bands and the mediocre.
One must give Nocturnus credit for utilizing the vilified keyboards, which ultimately became a staple of many heavy metal throughout the 90s and beyond. However, taken simply on its own merits, The Key is a passable, but not terribly impressive record.
Review by John Chedsey
Review date: 02/2011