Nachtmystium’s black metal resurgence on ‘Silencing Machine’ has hits, misses

Blake Judd

I like to think that Meat Mead Metal has been pretty open to accepting the changes and shifts bands decide to take as their careers wind along. Any weird whim or claim of maturation has been embraced, analyzed, and either accepted or rejected, but never have we taken a band to task from trying something new. We just haven’t always liked the changes.

While their last two full-length albums were released before this site was formed, I have gone to great lengths to proclaim elsewhere the merits of Nachtmystium’s “Black Meddle” duo of albums and the value in the different things they tried. In fact, “Assassins” was my favorite album of 2008, and while there was some of their black metal past packed into that adventurous effort, it was a deep exploration into psychedelics and space rock. 2010’s “Addicts” went even further, delving into deathrock, industrial noise, and gulp, dance-worthy, punk-flavored jams, and the whole thing seemed to leave a lot of listeners cold. I’m OK with the album, as I really like some of it, while other parts I occasionally visit, but it’s one hell of a risk to do some of the things that Blake Judd-led band attempted. I think it’s underrated.

One of the most punk rock and black metal things a band can do is to take the rulebook — and yes, both genres have thick volumes of regulations — and toss it into an incinerator. What’s more daring, adventurous, and non-conformist than to do something completely against the norm even if it irritates a large part of a genre’s audience? Adapt or die, Nachtmystium seemed to say, and they sure didn’t appear concerned that some folks had an issue with their experimentation. I won’t cite page and verse, but there were some reviews in particular that seemed childishly knee-jerk reactionary, ready to attack because the critics weren’t served exactly what they thought they’d get.

Two years after the divisive “Addicts” dropped, we have the latest full-length from Nachtmystium called “Silencing Machine.” Before any notes of music were revealed, there was a ton of speculation regarding how it would sound considering two things: One, the band performed their classic “Instinct: Decay” at Roadburn, fanning excitement they would return to their roots. Second they had released a 7-inch effort that featured a Joy Division cover and sounded a hell of a lot like Ministry, making others wonder if this was a new path. Were we in for a throwback or something that sounded more like their last couple risk-taking albums? Turns out the answer is mostly the former with a handful of the latter.

“Silencing Machine” is heavier than the last two albums combined. It does hearken back to the band’s earlier days, when Judd was a promising, upcoming musician who was as hungry and deadly as they come. His snarl and growl is in fantastic shape, and he has one of the most recognizable voices in black metal. On the other hand, there is attention paid to melody, and sometimes the tracks have more of a rock tempo, such as on “The Lepers of Destitution” and “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams.” If Judd decided to sing or yell over those tracks, you could argue there’s nothing black metal about them. The rest of the band — guitarist Drew Markuszewski (also of Avichi, Lord Mantis), drummer Charlie Fell (Lord Mantis), bassist Will Lindsay (Chrome Waves, Indian), and programmer/keyboardist Sanford Parker (producer to the stars) — is sharp and deadly, proving the time they’ve had to gel as a live unit bore poisonous fruit. They’re one hell of a multi-limbed beast.

Actually, another short bit on the band and the instrumentation. While this is a black metal album, it is not one full of cliche. The guitar work is imaginative and provoking, while the drumming isn’t all blasts all the time. They went for something interesting instead of expected, and that makes these songs sound fresh and not like your everyday black metal.

So the band is back with most of their weight in the black metal terrain, that cannot be disputed, but is it for the better? Is this a stunting of their growth? Perhaps. One thing that struck me after spending a good bit of time with this album is that the songs don’t stand out as much as they did on the “Meddle” records or “Instinct.” There are some cuts, such as the enthralling, exciting title track, the psychedelic, mid-tempo “And I Control You,” and sci-fi brushed, powerfully constructed “Decimation Annihilation” that should be great live staples. These are strong songs and the ones I go back and revisit the most. The rest is hit and miss, with nothing really reaching greatness, but none that lack merit.

Opener “Dawn Over the Ruin of Jerusalem” is the first sign that the band is back for bloodshed, and while it’s a blast of a first salvo, it doesn’t really stick. “I Wait in Hell” is a cool song, with a deliberate pace and doom horns, and there’s a really neat section where the band segues into an old-school thrash beating seamlessly. Both “Reduced to Ashes” and “Give Me the Grave” are OK but a bit underwhelming, and neither would have been missed had they been cut from here and been used as B sides. Closer “These Rooms in Which We Weep” is a chilling, slower song that lets the album ice over with a layer of somberness. I wasn’t wild about this song at first, but the more I listened to it, the more I started to see the magic and beauty of the track.

So “Silencing Machine” certainly will bring calm to those who just wanted Nachtmystium to be a black metal band and nothing else. You’re getting a hell of a serving here. Those who liked the band’s more streamlined, focused songwriting from their last two albums may be left wanting a little more from these guys. This certainly is a good album, one that has some of the band’s strongest black metal displays in half a decade. But it simply doesn’t reach the level of greatness that this band is capable of achieving. That alone makes “Silencing Machine” a bit of a disappointing effort, but one that does have moments where the band shines like they should.

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