[10 August 2012]
Black metal is well accepted as being a genre which staunchly holds its deep-seated ideologies close to its crippled heart. It’s also one of the most effervescent genres in existence today, with a seemingly endless amount of bands desperate to push its severe principles and practices into uncharted territories. Nachtmystium just so happens to be one of those bands and their experimental appetite has marked them out as one of the most exciting entities existing within the US (black) metal scene, today.
Sole original member, Blake Judd, should take the bulk of this kind appraisal. Since the release of 2004’s Demise album, Judd has increasingly used Nachtmystium as a vehicle to push his own musical hallucinations. Although in saying this, his pursuits have not come without external stimulation. He has leaned heavily on a wealth of like-minded individuals (some who remain to this day and others who have passed through their ranks) who have exposed him to various genres outside the realms of archetypal black metal.
Self-produced and self-released in 2006, Instinct Decay was the band’s first real innovative attempt at dipping black metal into shallow pools of psychedelic wonder, and a result of its experimentation, received critical acclaim at the time of its release. Judd confidently followed this album with his middle finger raised and created the wildly defiant side-step of Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 and its drug-riddled twin Addicts: Black Meddle Part 2, both released individually over a period of two years. The melting pot approach of the Black Meddle albums managed to highlight Nachtmystium’s ambitions to stand out from the pack, with Judd taking sadistic pleasure in further testing the limits of their blacker-than-thou fan base—dragging them by their bullet belts through shadowy moments of sinister psychedelia, post-punk, industrial, Goth and progressive rock—and subsequently gaining a greater following in the process. These brave excursions have been artistically rewarding for Nachtmystium, but also musically satisfying for the listener, as the band’s increasingly unpredictable nature has been causing quite the buzz in the run up to this, their sixth full-length album (Nachtmystium have also released number of demos, EPs, splits and live albums including the storming, Live at Roadburn MMX), Silencing Machine.
Silencing Machine sees Nachtmystium take another swift shift in sound, this time deliberately revisiting their darker origins. Some of the more accessible edges of the previous two albums are minimized in favour of tumultuous black metal and implicit layers of atmosphere brought to life by album producer and full-time band member, the formidable Sanford Parker. “Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem” begins with Nachtmystium moving through a number of tempos with vicious intent, but still balancing the belligerence with some expansive passages. Judd’s carcinogenic scream sits centred in the mix and both he and the band sound bleaker than ever before. Joining Judd are long time collaborators Will Lindsay on bass (Middian/Wolves in the Throne Room) and the previously mentioned Parker on keyboards/synthesisers, along with new-blood—Andrew “Aamonael” Markuszewski (Avichi) on guitar and Lord Mantis frontman Charlie Fell on drums. It’s a sterling group of musicians and they work great together. Fell’s tight and punishing drum work suits this collection of songs, his blasts scatter their power across the title track. Parker’s industrial soundscapes ripple through coruscating riffage, stirring the same cold atmosphere that Satyricon managed on Rebel Extravaganza. This vibe continues with the callous sections of “And I Control You” as Eastern-influenced guitar leads appear like a mirage on the horizon with the listener moving closer toward it, only to be blown away by a plague of double bass and swarming guitar work that rings out before the song settles into shoe-gazing mode, interchanging at will.
On previous album Addicts: Black Meddle Part 2, Nachtmystium consciously attempted to mislead the listener with first track proper, “High on Hate”. It was a shot at luring the listener into thinking the band had returned to a classic black metal sound, all before they pulled the proverbial rug by introducing numerous atypical influences throughout the rest of the album. On Silencing Machine, the head trip is found waiting for curious elements to arise from the concentrated murky atmosphere. “The Lepers of Destitution” contains subtle synth-lines that following the vocals, creating the kind of disorientation that My Bloody Valentine excelled at, and with its eight minutes plus run-time, Nachtmystium really allow this song to breathe and discover itself. “Lepers…” is all the better for this space and happens to be the most poignant song they have even written; the passages of post-rock are proficiently used to bolster the profound sense of regret coming from Judd’s distant vocals. “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams” and “I Wait in Hell” open the album back up and demonstrate the skills the band has previously acquired, incorporating rock/post punk influences, flawlessly. “Decimation, Annihilation”‘s gonzo industrial metal, complete with bleeps and distorted noise, is probably the album’s biggest curve-ball and its uniqueness is bound to be divisive. “Give Me the Grave” is built on a polluted bass-line and moments of effortless cool. The poisonous chants of “Born to Hell!!” and its straight up rock groove, contrast nicely with the rampant black metal of “Reduced to Ashes” and the forlorn post-rock of album closer, “These Rooms in Which We Weep”.
All in all, Silencing Machine isn’t an attempt by Nachtmystium to try to regain the fans they may have lost through their past experimentation; there are still plenty of sections (and songs) at odds with your more fundamental black metal progressions. What you get with this album is a much more threatening, emotional and expressively engaging version of Nachtmystium than ever before. Silencing Machine has been marvellously orchestrated and hides enough hooks and ambient layers beneath Parker’s cavernous mix to demand repeat listens. It also happens to be the best album that Nachtmystium have ever released. There is no silencing this machine…