Review Summary: Improving on the formula of Assassins, Blake Judd and his crew deliver their genre-bending masterpiece.
Up until fairly recently, American black metal was rarely ever taken too seriously and was seen as a novelty by some, especially those who fall under the “black metal elitist” category who won’t accept anything that comes from anywhere else but Scandinavia. American bands that donned corpsepaint and leather armor and imitated Norwegian low-fi production styles were seen more as unfunny parodies of black metal and not as groups of earnest musicians, and by looking at silly photos of Leviathan, Xasthur, and Absu that ape early Darkthrone album covers, it’s not hard to understand why. It finally took some bands that were brave enough to opt out of that decade-old image and take black metal into new stylistic territories for critics and fans to start paying attention to what the Americans were doing with great interest. By no means has this pleased everybody; the stigmatized “hipster” tag gets placed on many of these bands, and even veterans of American black metal like Wrest of Leviathan have derided them for not being “satanic” (“Don’t call it black metal then.” He said about Wolves in the Throne Room and Liturgy in an interview with Decibel.) But the development of black metal since the Americans have taken over has been an exciting evolution of sorts, and who knows where the genre will end up next.
Chicago’s Nachtmystium were at one time a corpsepainted, satanic American black metal band, but they quickly grew out of that tired image and became what is possibly the most forward-thinking black metal band in the country. Starting with their third album Instinct: Decay, they began drifting away from the long-established Scandinavian sound into an overall weirder, unorthodox mode of attack, and by the time Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 was released, they sounded like they’ve fled so far away from traditional black metal that it wasn’t even funny. Its follow-up – Addicts: Black Meddle Part 2 – found the band halfway to the moon in its attempt to leave tradition behind, and can barely be categorized as black metal at all. The raspy vocals and the occasional blast beats are the only things keeping Nachtmystium from drifting all the way into the depths of space and away from its black metal foundation, and the resulting album opened up a new possibility for this challenging style of music that has eluded change for so long.
After a foreboding introduction (where the band spells out “NOTHING HURTS MORE THAN BEING BORN”) the band’s mastermind Blake Judd launches you into familiar black metal territory complete with blasting and tremolo-picked guitars reminiscent of artists like Mayhem, but enjoy it while it lasts because it’s some of the only archetypal black metal to be found on the entire disc. They veer into a milder rock style halfway through, ending with a decidedly “un-kvlt” guitar solo. While subsequent tracks like “Nightfall” and “No Funeral” feature some Norwegian spice here and there, they’re so, dare I say, POPPY, that if the vocals were cleaner and the production were sharper they could conceivably be played on commercial rock radio. “Nightfall” is simply a catchy rock song even with some melodic group vocals located in the chorus, and “No Funeral” is driven by a poppy synth line that all of a sudden veers into spooky Halloween-like atmospherics so not to abandon the darkness altogether. The title track continues with the lighter sound that is experimented with throughout this album and features an accessible, catchy chorus, and Sanford Parker’s subtle synths keep things sounding fresh and interesting on tracks like “The End is Eternal”; the “proggiest” song on the album which succeeds at being cinematic at times before veering into classic wretched black metal bleakness. “Ruined Life Continuum” is propelled by a straight-up dance beat making it the most unusual inclusion on this disc, but the finisher “Every Last Drop” is the true showstopper. It’s easily one of the most emotional and cathartic pieces of music in extreme metal history; the acoustic guitars are an excellent touch, and when they come back into the forefront at the song’s end, you’ll feel fulfilled like you’ve spent the last 48 minutes of your life being fed a wholesome dish of scary looking, yet delicious food, and a tear might even work its way out of your dry hesher eye.
There are some minor complaints worth noting, however. While Wrest’s drumming is far less irritating than Tony Laureno’s on Assassins, the guitar leads have taken a major hit. The solos that are spread out amongst these songs are pretty lackluster for the most part, completely unlike the fantastic soloing on Assassins (all were guest appearances.) The “Then Fires” solos in particular simply don’t deliver; they struggle to be emotive, but fail to achieve it. Blake Judd’s vocal delivery, while far from the worst, is entirely one dimensional. He’s utterly monotone and employs no guttural growling or shrieking whatsoever, making this particular reviewer wish that the aforementioned Wrest should’ve given up his drumming duties for a second so he can lay waste to the microphone like he does with Leviathan, but those are just minor quibbles. What Blake Judd and company accomplished with this album is the expansion of black metal’s horizons. They take sounds and textures that range from unusual to mainstream and combine them perfectly so that their black metal roots are still visible, creating a perfect storm of extreme underground metal that shows of its dynamics rather than trying to compensate with monotonous pummeling aggression all the way through. The band has since reverted back to the somewhat more traditional sound they exhibited on Instinct: Decay, but let us never forget their triumph that is this album.