Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Interview with Mike Browning of NOCTURNUS
Nocturnus were a band I'd heard about for some time, but only got around to investigating this summer thanks to their constant mention in the almighty Metal Inquisition. Thanks Lucho Metales, Awakening, Gene Hoglan's Balls and Sergeant D.
In summary of their awesomeness, I will say this: there are plenty of raw, shredding 90s Florida death metal bands, but how many had a full-time keyboardist, a singing drummer and songs that opened with lyrics like "ENTER THE DROIDS"?
Nocturnus had all these things, and sweet cover art by the immortal Dan Seagrave. A weird cyborg dude using some gizmo to unlock something. Hence the album being titled The Key.
As sci-fi and death metal are two of my favorite things, my curiosity was more then piqued. I also wanted to pick Mike's brain about his purported backstabbing by the other four members in the early 90s. Quite an interesting story.
True to the words of my buddy Steve Flynn, Mike was a class act dude and gave thorough, honest answers.
Please note: This interview and others will be appearing a zine some friends and I are doing at some point this year. More details as they arrive. Without any further ado...
How did you first grow interested in metal music? What was your first memory of discovering death metal?
Well, I was into metal way before there was even anything called death metal! Of course my first stuff was Black Sabbath and then I heard Angelwitch, Venom and Mercyful Fate and that was it, I knew what I wanted to do!
At what point did you decide to sing in addition to your drum duties? Was Morbid Angel the first band you did this in?
Yes, Morbid Angel was actually the first band I was ever in. We went through a few singers in Morbid Angel and it got to the point where I just said “fuck, let me try singing.” And since Trey and I pretty much wrote all the lyrics together, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try singing since I actually understand and am really into what the lyrics are about.
Did you and Chris Reifert from Autopsy ever swap tips?
A long time ago we wrote back and forth a few times, but I have never actually met him in person. He was always a very cool guy though.
How difficult was singing and drumming simultaneously, initially? Whenever singing/playing an instrument, rhythmic consistency is a given, but drums seem to be a very cardiovascularly demanding instrument.
Well I have been doing it so long it’s just kind of natural now for me, but using a headphone mic actually makes it a lot easier. Once I really get a good memorization of the lyrics to where I don’t have to think about what I am singing, then I can really get into just becoming the song instead of playing it!
In your interview with the now-famous Hard ‘n’ Heavy magazine Grindcore special video, your drumkit looks rather large; how many pieces were in it? Is it the same today?
That was a huge drum set that I had back then, two kicks and eight toms including the floor tom. That was one of the reasons why Earache had wanted Nocturnus to have a frontman because live all you could see was a big drum set and a voice coming from behind it. But now I use a vintage 1970’s Ludwig clear Vistalite kit with double bass and just four toms. But the drums are clear, so you can actually see me now right through my kit.
In Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore, you claim that David Vincent copied your vocal style and improved upon it. Where did your style come from?
Well, it’s quite obvious when you hear the way Gayvid Vincent sings on Altars (of Madness, Morbid Angel’s 1989 debut) as compared to Blessed (Are the Sick, 1991) that he was trying to sing like what I did on Abominations (of Desolation, Morbid’s scrapped first album) in 1986. I would say that my vocals were similar to chanting and a lot of chanting is done along with drumming, so it actually fits quite well. But I really got my style from chanting spells from The Necronomicon.
Conceptually, how was Nocturnus conceived? There were occult/anti-religious elements, but also heavy doses of sci-fi storytelling. Where did the idea to add the sci-fi themes come from? Where any authors of particular influence?
I came up with the name in 1987 after the band Incubus that I was in split up. I had wanted to do a band all about the occult. Something similar to Morbid Angel, but still different from that too. The science fiction parts of Nocturnus were really more of Mike Davis’ influence. The first Nocturnus demo was mainly occult and satanic subjects as far as the lyrics, and that was before Davis had even joined the band. So when the lineup changed and we did The Science of Horror demo, it was more of a mixture of science fiction and the occult. I am definitely into science fiction stuff myself, but it wasn’t much of an influence on what I did musically. When Davis had some cool ideas, we decided to blend the two together and do some songs about it. I would say some of my favorite science fiction authors are Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Isaac Asimov and generally the older sci-fi authors like them.
At what point was the decision made to include keyboards in the band’s music?
Well, we really only wanted to have some keyboard intros for the next demo, but when we brought the keyboard player in to hear the intros that he was working on for us, we tried using him in a few parts of the songs and it worked quite well, so we decided to make him a band member.
What exactly is the cyborg creature unlocking on the cover of The Key?
He is actually the human that is talked about in a couple of the songs like “Droid Sector,” “Destroying The Manger” and “Empire of The Sands.” He is in a cyborg suit to keep himself alive after the Andromeda Strain virus plagued the Earth. He is sitting in his time machine and he is holding the key that he discovered in the aliens’ ship. The Key itself is the thing that makes the time machine function, so he can go back in time and destroy Jesus and take over the Earth.
The Grindcrusher tour with Napalm Death and Godflesh sounds like it was massive– any particular memories? Were you on good terms with the Morbid guys?
Morbid Angel was not on the Grindcrusher Tour, it was only Napalm Death, Godflesh and Nocturnus. (Whoops- ed.) But yeah the tour was an awesome tour and ever since I have remained really good friends with the Napalm guys! As far as Morbid Angel, I don’t really get along with them, they have those I-am-better-than-you rock star attitudes, which I hate anyway!
Before recording Thresholds in 1992, Nocturnus inducted a full-time vocalist, Dan Izzo. Why was this decision made?
It was first something that the record company Earache thought would be a good idea so that the band would have a frontman and a focal point since I was behind a big drum kit and the other guys in the band barely moved around on stage. It was something I was definitely against doing but everyone else in the band thought it would be a great idea. And as history shows it was not a good idea at all as Thresholds sold only about a third of what The Key did. When we toured for Thresholds, every night people were asking why I wasn’t singing anymore, which caused even more tension in the band. The fact that I was right and should have stayed as the singer was probably why they felt they needed to get rid of me completely so that pressure for me to be the singer again was not there anymore. As you can see, the band only lasted less than 6 months after they fired me and was dropped by Earache and broke up.
Was “Subterranean Infiltrator” about Snake from the Metal Gear video game series? Mike Davis’ (guitar) Wikipedia page suggests it was.
I don’t even think Metal Gear was even invented in 1991 when that song was written (Actually, the first Metal Gear came out in 1987. --ed.) I only contributed to a very small amount of the lyrics on Thresholds, so where Davis got that idea I am not really sure. By then, my only involvement in Nocturnus was playing the drums.
The initially dissolution of the Nocturnus lineup was due to legal action by Louis Panzer (keyboards), Sean McNenney (guitar) and Davis. What was your experience? How and why did it all happen? Is there still bad blood today?
Louis Panzer was the reason Nocturnus failed the first time and again when they tried to reunite in 2000. He destroyed Nocturnus with his jealousy. He wanted to run the band, and you see where that got him! It was all Lou’s idea to go behind my back and steal and trademark the Nocturnus name that I created. The others just sort of followed him. I still talk to Davis occasionally, and we have even jammed a few times, but he doesn’t want to play in a band ever again since even he was burned by Panzer, McNenney and Emo Mowery. I don’t care how much money they offer me-- I will not ever play in any band with Lou or Sean. For me, it’s a matter of what I believe in, not how much money I can make.
This fall, you are touring Europe as Nocturnus. How are you legally able to do this? How does your newer band, After Death, compare to what you were doing in Nocturnus?
Yes, my band After Death will be touring Europe for 13 shows in October and we are going as Nocturnus. The promoter’s lawyers have found a legal loophole that says that a name trademarked in the US is only good in the US, so in Europe I can use the name Nocturnus. We are only playing songs from The Key, where I wrote most if not all of the lyrics and helped work on the music of every song off that album. We will also be playing a few of the old Morbid Angel songs that I did the same with off of Abominations of Desolation. I was only credited for a few of the lyrics on Abominations, but really it was just Trey and I who put that whole record together, so I think I should be able to play and have some claim as to the amount of creativity, work and effort I put into both of those bands.
To me, After Death is the synthesis of all of my former projects and bands all rolled into one, with even more new elements added as well.
You practice and study the occult. What spiritual ideas and elements do you specifically follow?
The occult is huge a huge spectrum that I don’t think I will ever be done learning and adding in elements as to what I do with it. When I was very young-- around 14-- I began with witchcraft and Satanism and then was introduced to The Necronomicon, but I never stopped there. I just kept reading and collecting books and material and branching out further and further on occult subjects like Crowleyism, Kaballah, Tarot, Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylonian magick and Left Hand Path studies. For me, there is always something that I am reading and learning so that I will never follow any one thing. I will just take everything I have learned and add it to my own system that works for me!
Thanks for your time! Anything you’d like to say in closing?
Just thanks to everyone that has supported what I have done through all these years, and I hope that everyone will come out and see this tour in October and check out After Death!
Official After Death MySpace