Every month, I do this thing, this “Pirate Guide,” wherein I offer short reviews of a handful of new records. This month, though, I started writing about one new record and could not stop writing. That happens, of course—enthusiasm can get the best of any of us, and that seems especially true when we are discussing music. So to you, dear Reader, I promise I will return next week with a second installment of this guide, one wherein I do in fact deliver “short” reviews of a “handful” of new records. I apologize for rambling, and I appreciate, more than you know, your patience, your forgiveness. As seriously as I take the discussion of music, I assure you, I do not take these things lightly.
Nachtmystium—Addicts: Black Meddle Part II (Century Media)
Reviewing records is not really about objectivity, per se, but it is generally expected that record critics approach their work with some degree of personal detachment, some level of neutrality. To me, that seems essentially impossible—for a million reasons, many worth discussing in a later column, perhaps—but I mention this now as something of a disclaimer, so I can discuss the music of Nachtmystium as, of course, a critic but also as, yes, a fan. (Because what are critics, really, except fans who have taken their obsession to perverse new levels?)
Anyway, Nachtmystium are one of my favorite bands; their last album, Assassins: Black Meddle Part I, fell at No. 2 on my list of the best albums of 2008, and since then, my feelings for the record, and the record’s place in my life, have grown exponentially. My admiration of the band was amplified by their amazing 2009 EP, the classic-speed-and-thrash-knockoff Doomsday Derelicts, as well as their brilliant late-’09 live shows with Merrimack and Marduk, where they slayed, displayed a weird sense of humor and covered G.G. Allin. To say I’ve been anticipating this new full-length is an understatement—for months before its release, I was literally e-mailing the band’s publicist several times a week asking for an advance copy. Needless to say, nothing could live up to my expectations, but Addicts comes awfully close.
A little history before we talk about the new stuff: Nachtmystium started out at the turn of the century as a standard-issue American black metal band—lo-fi crud cribbing from Norway’s classics—and over time, changed their lineup (frontman Blake “Azentrius” Judd is the band’s only consistent member), expanded their palette of influences and learned how to play their instruments. By 2006’s Instinct: Decay, they were one of the world’s finest metal bands, but it was on Assassins that Judd truly found his voice and was able to flex his muscle.
Assassins was (and is) a masterpiece: black metal with powerful, resonant production that matched the fury of the music (courtesy of the great Sanford Parker, he of Pelican, Lair of the Minotaur and Javelina, among many other things); performances that were both nuanced and ferocious; and songs—real songs—that were built to stand up, and even sound better, over time. Of course, the whole thing was held together by the psychological conflicts of Judd’s lyrics and his scarred voice—one of the best and most expressive in black metal.
Addicts may be the nominal second part of Judd’s Black Meddle series (the title is a nod to Pink Floyd’s best record, as well as Judd’s tendency to blur and ignore the oft-rigid lines of black metal), but it hardly feels like a continuation—nothing here would have really fit on Assassins and vice versa. Addicts is a deliberate, almost ostentatious leap forward—maybe two or three leaps forward. At this point, progression seems to be Judd’s primary motivation for making music—his work is in such constant, extreme transition that he may never reach a point at which he is not in transition—and he’s progressing at a rate faster than most songwriters in any genre.
Produced again by Parker (who is, this time around, also a member of the band), Addicts opens with a creepy-ish little intro: a chant, wherein the phrase “nothing hurts more than being born” is spelled out, one letter at a time. (A reference, perhaps, to Judd’s constant artistic rebirths? In which case: Ouch.) From there, they jump into the ripping “High on Hate,” which is as close to “black metal” as Addicts gets—and even that is only barely black metal; it is, like, the essence of black metal, or a postmodernist approach to black metal, or maybe just something greater, more inclusive, than black metal. Addicts is a decidedly song-based record, even more so than Assassins (which balanced out the “songs” with hazy stretches of psychedelia). Numerous sections here venture into pop territory: “Nightfall” has a central riff that borrows from Queens of the Stone Age and a Misfits-ian chant-along chorus; “No Funeral” has a dance beat and a snaking synth line that could fit on a Killers record. Other moments recall the darkwave explorations of fellow genre-benders like Katatonia or Paradise Lost. This is not to say the record is somehow not heavy, or not metal: It is decidedly very heavy; it could never be mistaken for anything but metal. There is immensity to the sound; there is violence, sadness, anger.
Vocally, Judd has never been better, and his primary lyrical focus here is—yep—addiction, the perils of addiction, the horrors of addiction. To be sure, it is refreshing to hear a black metal band singing about actual real-world concerns (unlike, say, the idiotic Theistic Satanism of the otherwise magnificent Watain), but given the band’s history, it seems almost a little hypocritical: Last time I saw Nachtmystium, they were selling T-shirts glamorizing the abuse of hard drugs, so to now decry the difficult times upon which one might fall should one indulge in such pursuits feels decidedly opportunistic. (That is, unless the abuses of yesteryear have led to the struggles of today, which would actually make perfect sense, though I hope for Judd’s sake that it’s all an act.)
I’ve listened to the whole thing dozens of times now. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it, wasn’t sure if it delivered what I was hoping it would deliver—I wanted, I thought, an expansion of what the band did on Assassins, or maybe a more refined take on what they were playing with on Doomsday Derelicts—but it’s grown on me immeasurably. Right now, I stand in awe of the thing. Whether it is better than the records that preceded it is a matter of taste: It is great by any standard. It is better than almost anything else I have heard this year. And it is better, certainly, than the pointless and arbitrary constraints black metal fans place upon its practitioners, better than pretty much anything the genre is producing right now—the only possible exceptions being those other remarkable artists who so fearlessly reject their so-called boundaries and find in the music so vast a world as this, so many new directions, so much to experience, to conquer. [9/10]