Five years ago on the day Nachtmystium signed its original North American publishing deal with Century Media, vocalist/guitarist Blake Judd planned his final escape from black metal. At his then home in suburban St. Charles, the frontman recounted seven years that had seen a fanbase of self-harming extremists be replaced by Sonic Youth-adoring indie rockers. “It’s great because I’m meeting a lot more normal people,” he said at the time, boldly adding that Nachtmystium would rather tour with Pelican than Mayhem.
Embarrassed by the $300 recording budget of his tumultuous, makeshift 2006 full-length, Instinct: Decay, the future would be different, he said: two albums on a big label, Moog synthesizers and choir vocals, respect for The Grateful Dead. “Hopefully within the next two years the words ‘black metal’ won’t come up unless they’re talking about our past.”
Judd (formerly “Azentrius”) marched right out and destroyed the genre’s molecular structure – or at least its spelling. The double-edged Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1 (2008) and Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II (2010) subverted black metal’s buzzsaw myopia with catchy verse-chorus-verse arrangements, outlandish spaceship effects, dust-bin psychedelia, and a series of proud WTFs: clean saxophone, backing croon, a dance stab more techno than post-punk. Nachtmystium became a voice beyond Judd’s once totalitarian control, and the spotlight began highlighting those who would previously have been session drones with mythic pseudonyms (namely producer/keyboardist Sanford Parker and producer/lyricist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Black). “We’re like hippies,” Judd claimed of the new Nachtmystium in 2007.
No more. Silencing Machine, the first full-length of Nachtmystium’s latest, worldwide two-album deal with Century Media, has all the progression of a forced-march rewilding mandate. Recorded by Parker at Engine Studios, the effort reigns by harsh percussive blasts and feral chord progressions, pausing only for self-destruction (“The Lepers Of Destitution”) on the warpath over ancient foes (“Dawn Over The Ruins Of Jerusalem,” bluntly). For the first time since Instinct: Decay, the frontman wrote lyrics to almost every song on the album, the act’s sixth overall. Session work is minimal (Matthias Vogels from Murmur plays synthesizer on “Reduced To Ashes,” a song he co-wrote with Judd); the studio band is the live band (guitarist Andrew Markuszewski, bassist Will Lindsay, drummer Charlie Fell, Judd, and Parker). By telephone from his new digs in Logan Square, Judd enthusiastically agrees that Nachtmystium has regressed. “I had a lot to say,” he begins. Nachtmystium hosts its official record-release show July 31st at Reggies Rock Room.
Mosh: Are you done with the whole Black Meddle naming scheme?
Blake Judd: Yeah, that was just Assassins and Addicts. It’s a two-part series. Totally done with that.
M: Was there something about deviating from black metal with the Meddle albums that bugged you?
BJ: No, they didn’t bother me at all. That’s why they’re a series and given their own separate little subtitles. Those records were meant to be provocative, experimental albums. From day one, my plan back in ‘07 when I started putting the plan together for those albums was to do part one and two. And then for the third full-length afterward, which is Silencing Machine, for that to be a total return to black metal. So this has all been strategically planned out for the last couple years.
M: I hear synth, but it’s scaled back in the mix. It’s not overbearing or trippy.
BJ: Totally. We wanted something that is very much a hark back to our early days – something that sounds like we would have sounded when we made Instinct: Decay had we been in a real studio when we did it. That album and everything before it was recorded in someone’s living room or basement. So this was basically the old Nachtmystium recording under the circumstances of which we record these days.
M: “The Lepers Of Destitution” uses keyboards – even apparently movie dialog – to emphasize intense yet resigned-to-the-point-of-helpless lyrics. It’s not unlike Jesu or Ministry’s “The Fall.” And like, say, Wolves In The Throne Room, the production doesn’t sound forced or anachronistic. What were you trying to convey with this song, which I believe is the album’s most epic?
BJ: That was me at the absolute worst part of my personal issues that I had with substance abuse. In the past I had serious, serious drug problems, a lot of which I touched on in [the January 2011 IE cover story by Trevor Fisher] and since gotten completely under control, which is great. I feel like I have my life back. That song is basically explaining what it’s like to be completely fucking fucked due to your drug-abuse issues.
M: Is it true that the title of the album is from the Nine Inch Nails song “Mr. Self Destruct”?
BJ: The lyric “I am a silencing machine” is the lyric that inspired the title, yes. I thought it was a very cool analogy for what drugs did to me. It’s something that cuts you off from everything in your life and closes you up and silences you, essentially. And the way that addiction works, it’s much like a machine. It’s a routine. It’s every day. It’s always the same.
M: At a Q&A after a showing of the Ministry documentary film Fix last year, the filmmakers and former Ministry bassist Paul Barker rolled their eyes at the influx of metal in industrial. But I remember going to Wax Trax! [Records] on Lincoln Avenue in the early ’90s specifically hunting for the industrial stuff perverted by guitars – 1000 Homo DJs, Pailhead. Those riffs, even sampled, to me made the impact. You seem to have an affinity for that era, too, especially [Ministry's] The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste.
BJ: Dude, that song “Thieves” is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s massively influential in all of our music.
M: Is industrial metal Chicago’s lost wisdom?
BJ: I think so, man. It’s kind of weird that it seems people have forgotten just how relevant Chicago was to that entire scene spawning in the ’90s. Like all those bands that got big. Stuff that we’ve probably forgotten – names that you haven’t heard in years – that spawned out of that shit. Remember bands like Stabbing Westward and Gravity Kills? There were a million of these [derivative] industrial metal bands in the ’90s. I feel like [industrial metal] kind of got snubbed out by nu metal, when that stuff started getting popular . . . All the [industrial metal] bands kind of peaked out around ‘95 or ‘96. Ministry did Filth Pig, and I feel that that was their last really great record. A lot of people don’t care for that album; that’s actually one of my favorite albums ever recorded.
M: That one wasn’t too popular, but I can hear it in your music.
BJ: That was the first Ministry record I ever got. I was so young. I was like 14 when that album came out, so I didn’t know any better. And I went backward from there and, of course, loved Psalm 69 and The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste and The Land Of Rape And Honey and so forth. But Filth Pig was always really special to me just because I hadn’t heard anything like that before . . . Like Metallica’s “Black Album” – that album came out when I was in second grade. So that sounded like the heaviest fucking thing I ever heard in my life at the time. And to this day I can listen to that record and be like, “Yeah, this is kick-ass,” even though it’s a totally cheesy Bob Rock record and is what most of their fans would consider to be their fall from grace.
M: Your recent “As Made” single is backed with a Joy Division cover with former Ministry vocalist Chris Connelly. Was this a Record Store Day thing?
BJ: No, it just came out around the same time. It was just a little something extra to put out before [Silencing Machine]. I thought it was pretty funny because we had been talking in press for the last year or so, mentioning that the new [full-length] record was going to have this heavy industrial influence. And it does in a weird way – more in terms of the instruments we’re using. Obviously the final result is not an industrial record at all. But putting that 7-inch record out first made some people a little nervous that that was the path we were going down.
MOSH-WORTHY . . . LIVE: Dawnbringer, The Skull (Reggies, 7/14); Iceage (Pitchfork Festival and Subterranean: 7/15 and 7/16); Agalloch (Reggies, 7/20); Refused (Congress, 7/26).
MOSH-WORTHY: Necros “Ambionic Sound” single (Alona’s Dream); Tragedy Darker Days Ahead (self-released); Ulver Childhood’s End (Kscope); Gojira L’Enfant Sauvage (Roadrunner).
– Mike Meyer
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