Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 16, 2019
Floridian sci-fi Death Metallers Nocturnus released their groundbreaking debut album, The Key, on Earache Records in 1990. The album was a real game changer in the genre, introducing keyboards to a Death Metal album for the first time. After releasing two more albums, the band broke up in 2002.
For many, the band's driving force was always drummer and vocalist Mike Browning. When the vocals were taken over by Dan Izzo on the follow-up album, Thresholds, many felt the band had lost something remarkable and meaningful in their sound.
The story of Nocturnus was not completely written, however. Mike Browning's initial plan was to use the Nocturnus name and come up with a continuation of the successful sounds of The Key but the rights for the band name caused headaches among the original Nocturnus members. Mike saw it wiser to carry on with a slightly modified band name, Nocturnus AD, in order to make his vision a reality. It took several years to get to this point—with a renewed lineup—but, finally, all of Mike's hard work has paid off with a new album.
Paradox is the title of Nocturnus AD's first album and it continues telling the story where The Key left off. Musically, there's a surprisingly strong bond between the albums. Paradox was released on Profound Lore Records on May 14, 2019.
The Metal Crypt contacted Mike in order to get some detailed information about the making of Paradox—and as usual, Mike was a polite gentleman and answered all of our questions despite living a very hectic life...
Luxi: How's life in Florida these days?
Mike: Busy!!! It has been a whirlwind ever since we signed to Profound Lore not even a year ago and we already recorded and have the album coming out in a month! People really seem to be liking the new songs!
Luxi: It's been a while since you were interviewed for The Metal Crypt in August 2016. Now with the first ever Nocturnus AD album coming out, what are your feelings about this creation?
Mike: It has been a long time coming to finally be able to continue with The Key story and other songs from that album. Everything just seemed to come into alignment and it all just clicked together like a big puzzle!
Luxi: Paradox was in the works a pretty long time. Did you set the songwriting bar high, knowing deep down that the fans expected to get the kind of album that would be on the same level as The Key?
Mike: Yes, most definitely. Even with most of the same band members, it took us playing those old Nocturnus songs for a while until we all felt that we were ready to take on writing something that will be compared to The Key. That is why I prefer more to look at it as a continuation rather than a new version.
Luxi: Every dedicated Nocturnus fan can definitely hear elements from The Key on the Paradox album. Have you deliberately and purposefully avoided repeating some of those same things on Paradox that made The Key such a groundbreaking and unique Death Metal album?
Mike: Well, musically the album is in that style, but the music is still pretty different from The Key. There are elements and lots of signature things that need to be there for it to even be considered a continuation. Most of the lyrics continue with the same stories and themes on The Key.
Luxi: I have listened to Paradox five or six times in a row now and I must say that I absolutely love it. I admit that some of the stuff that one can hear on Paradox sounds like you could make a space warp back to the recording session of The Key thirty years ago. How difficult was it for you to find that same kind of vibe and feeling that made The Key such a unique Death Metal album?
Mike: There were a couple "Key" things actually (pun intended), but one was finding the right person to record and produce the album and Jarrett Pritchard was the all-around best choice. Not only have we been friends and even at one point neighbors back in the mid '90s, he has become one of the best soundmen and engineers out there and he understands getting that old school sound. Plus, he produced the record and mixed it without us there, so I had to have someone who I felt that I could trust to give it the sound and those extras that it had to have to be a continuation of an album that was written almost thirty years ago. He also had just bought a 24-track 2" reel-to-reel tape machine and his studio New Constellation is in Orlando, so that pretty much is who I give the credit to!
Luxi: What made The Key such a special Death Metal album 29 years ago were, of course, the spacey keyboards that really added lots of atmosphere to the songs. Would you say that the strong keyboard presence on Paradox is also one of the most crucial and important elements, much like your distinctive, not-from-this-world vocals, that you wanted to get done right so that the fans could also get what they expected to hear from you guys?
Mike: Yes exactly, and that was another big reason that I wanted Jarrett to produce the album, because he was also from the Tampa Metal scene and so he was very familiar with what Nocturnus sounded like and he is an amazing guitar player as well! We even had him do the last lead on the last song of the album, so as far as Paradox goes, he was a huge part of it!
Luxi: What's the story behind "Number 9", and why did you choose to record an instrumental tune for the record?
Mike: That is the last song on the album, the one Jarrett did the last lead on. I really wanted to have nine songs on the album, but with as fast as we went in to record, we didn't have quite enough time to write another song and we only had eight songs finished. We had been working a little on an instrumental, so we really just put it together in the last two rehearsals before we went in to record. We used it as an instrumental to end the album and since it was the last track and completed the album, we called it "Number 9"! Sometimes things have a very simple answer, but not always! Heehee!!
Luxi: How much pressure was there when you were composing stuff for Paradox, due to the successful musical heritage of The Key?
Mike: There was at first because we have all the same band members as After Death and I wanted to make sure that the two bands didn't sound the same. At first when we were writing, there were a lot of riffs that we didn't use for Nocturnus AD, but we can use them in After Death instead.
Luxi: Do you have some sort of a conceptual storyline on Paradox?
Mike: Well it's more like The Key where the whole album is not a concept and only the second half of the record continues with The Key story, so this album is lined up the same way. The first half lines up with some of the first half of The Key as well, "Seizing the Throne" continues with "Lake of Fire" and "Standing in Blood" and "Paleolithic" lines up with "Neolithic".
Luxi: Talking about the lyrical approach on Paradox a bit more, for example, "Precession of the Equinoxes" deals with the shifting of Earth's magnetic poles, which is something that we humans are helpless to prevent. Are you afraid of the current state of our old planet?
Mike: I am not afraid of the inevitable events that will happen to this planet, everything is cyclical and will happen again sooner or later.
Luxi: Are there also some other songs on Paradox that either directly or indirectly bring up your own personal fears about the state of planet Earth?
Mike: No, most of the other songs are in a horror, sci-fi or historical setting just like on The Key.
Luxi: Your new keyboard player is Josh Holdren. How did you find him to take over Nocturnal's boots behind the keyboards?
Mike: We have had problems with Nocturnal and his treatment of women since the beginning. He was kicked out of clubs for stalking girls and he made some horrible comments on Facebook, and he still does, about dating abused women and it caused a big backlash against him which spilled right over into the band. Being it was about the 10th time I had warned him about doing stupid stuff like that, I fired him. We then started looking for a keyboard player and we found Josh right here in Tampa actually. He goes to the same local Metal bar and a couple people told me that he was a keyboard player. He just moved here a couple years ago so he still didn't know a lot of people.
Luxi: What new things has he brought into Nocturnus AD and how does his playing style differ from your previous keyboardist?
Mike: They are completely different, both of them can play guitar but Josh is a great drummer too. He can play several instruments, so he has made us all step up our game a little, which is a great thing. Also for the first time we have a couple keyboard solos on the album, which we never had before because our last keyboard player couldn't play them. He is also into the occult and he is intelligent, so it was an all-around great thing that he joined the band when he did, the timing was perfect.
Luxi: I just found out that you have at least one promotion video in the works. Would you mind telling us something about it?
Mike: Yes, we are doing a one song video for the album, for the song "Apotheosis" and it will be part of The Key story where Dr. Magus travels through a portal to an alien realm where he is put in a machine that gives him Godlike powers and intelligence and the video will be half computer 3D animation and half of the band playing with green screens with weird fractals that I created. The footage has already been filmed and the editing and animations are being worked on right now as I am writing this!
Luxi: Canadian label Profound Lore Records announced in June 2018 that they have signed Nocturnus AD. How did this label become your partner in crime? Were there other labels negotiating with you?
Mike: It happened pretty fast. We recorded some songs ourselves and we picked one and added some video to it and released it on Facebook and YouTube and about 10 labels contacted me right away, but when I told most of them that we wanted a recording and video budget, that made most of them drop off saying they couldn't afford it, but Profound Lore loved my ideas and were actually behind the band because the label owner Chris has liked Nocturnus since the old days. They just seemed to be the most genuine with their offer and reputation, so there were a few other labels that were up there, too, but I just felt most comfortable with them, so it was a no-brainer at that point for us to go with Profound Lore.
Luxi: Did it ever occur to you that a crowdfunding campaign might be a good alternative to get Paradox released? Or was it completely out of question? Too much work for the band perhaps?
Mike: That was not even a thought. I can barely keep up with things now having a full-time job and custody of my daughter and the band. I know the intentions are good for most bands to release their own records, but if you crowdfund and make enough to record and print and release a couple thousand CDs you would be lucky to make enough to just accomplish that, now you have the cost and time of distribution and shipping and advertising as well. An album won't sell without any advertising push these days, it takes a lot of work and money to successfully get your stuff out there to the public and those are the things having a label is for.
Luxi: As for some Nocturnus AD's future festival appearances and playing live overall, how does your calendar look at the moment regarding playing live with the band?
Mike: Right now, we have two festivals in June in Santiago, Chile, and Texas and probably Atlanta in December, plus now we are looking at doing a couple big European festivals summer of 2020, but I can't say which ones until they are actually confirmed.
Luxi: Time for my last question. Would you say when the fans get a chance to hear Paradox eventually, they won't be disappointed, especially if they liked The Key-era Nocturnus?
Mike: I would hope that most people like it and so far the reaction has been really incredible, way better than I even expected, so I am curious to see what happens when it gets released fully. I know you can't please everyone, but this is something that I have personally wanted to do myself for a long time, so it's here now for sure!
Luxi: Well, much thanks again for your time, Mike, for talking to The Metal Crypt. It was a pleasure to chat with you, as always. May 2019 be a fruitful and successful year for you and your fellow mates in Nocturnus AD. Anything to add?
Mike: Thanks, Luxi! It's always been great doing interviews and even getting to meet you in person because you have always been a big supporter of all of my stuff and maybe we will see each other again in 2020!
|Other information about Nocturnus AD on this site|
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning on December 7, 2013 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with vocalist and drummer Mike Browning on February 7, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with drummer and vocalist Mike Browning on August 21, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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