Can Nachtmystium’s new album ‘The World We Left Behind’ get a fair shake because of Blake?

NachtmystiumThere are some artists that, unfairly or not, always will have their personal actions associated with their music. It’s what happens when you live at least a portion of your life in the public eye and let certain aspects of your existence or personality get away from you and become a bigger story than your music.

Seriously, how can one review or comment on any new music by Burzum without unearthing the tons and tons of shit lying on top of Varg Vikernes’ reputation? We’ve written about his music before, but I won’t again. Because he just keeps proving what a cretin he is, and I won’t give him any more publicity. Necrophobic’s last record, any merit it had, couldn’t overcome the negativity surrounding the actions of then-vocalist, whose name I won’t even type here because of the acts he committed. The band kicked him to the curb, wisely, but how can a writer honestly talk about the band’s new work when it contains said filth of a human? And that takes us to Blake Judd, longtime leader of Nachtmystium who has kind of been in the headlines the past few years. He made news because of his drug habit, his alleged propensity to screw over fans and band members, and his reputation for taking the money and running when it comes to fulfilling merch/record orders from fans. Hey, he never screwed me over (because I never bought from him), but he did do that to two close friends of mine. And again, allegedly allegedly allegedly, because there are two sides and blah blah. But all of these things bring sort of a black cloud to Nachtmystium’s final-no-wait-it-isn’t album “The World We Left Behind,” justifiably or not.

Nachtmystium coverI also linked Judd with the Burzum/Necrophobic examples because, in comparison to those, his shortcomings are small and mainly self-inflicted. So perhaps some gravity can be achieved. He made news for abusing his body and killing trust with others, but it’s not nearly as bad as being a publicly racist asshole murdered or someone who physically abused a family he is supposed to love. Hate him if you must, and I don’t know the guy, so I remain neutral, but you won’t be looked on as a shit person for listening to Nachtmystium’s music, nor should you be. And when it comes to “The World We Left Behind,” it’s not a terrible record. It’s not the best record in the band’s canon by any means, and much of the lyrical content sounds like an over-the-top pity party (and some just falls flat in light of the band now continuing on rather than this being an epitaph), but I expected a disjointed mess. And it’s really not that at all. But it’s not very daring, it tries to assimilate the “Black Meddle” sound back in for better or worse, and it’s really hard to listen to the vocals. Thematically, it just hits you over the head so repeatedly that it gets impossible to take.

Judd, of course, is not alone on this record. Joining him is a largely unknown cast that includes guitarist Scare Crow (uh), bassist John Porada, drummer Sam Shroyer, and keyboardist Dustin Drenk. No offense intended toward those guys, but that lineup is a far cry from ones in the past that included Chris Black (at least as a creative force), Andrew Markuszewski, Will Lindsay, producing/electronics wiz Sanford Parker, Charlie Fell, and Jeff Wilson. It sort of shows you how far Blake has fallen among his peers, and it might explain why the record often feels like it’s just kind of there.

The album opens on a strong note with the instrumental “Intrusion” that chug and charges with a fury, fires burning heavily and angrily. Then it’s into “Fireheart,” which starts with a thin-sounding guitar line that eventually meets up with beefier playing. Judd spouts off tons of lines meant to convey his inner turmoil, first demanding, “Tear down this world of scorn,” finally ending by vowing, “Nothing in this world can stop me.” Sounds affirming after such long personal battles, and for his sake, hopefully it holds true. “Voyager” is the strongest of all the cuts on here, running more than seven minutes and letting things space out a bit. “Is any of this real, is this all just a lie?” Judd wonders out loud, as the band backs him with a plodding pace and some inspired playing. Like most of the songs on here, the lyrics lay it on a little thick, and that can cause some eye rolls. “Into the Endless Abyss” blasts open, with keys zapping, the song heading toward space, and the guitar work adds some texture to the whole thing.

“In the Absence of Existence” is overly dark and perhaps recounts times when Judd felt at his bleakest, as he growls, “I pray for a quick death every day.” Like the tracks that precede this one, it also is treated to a nice helping of keys and spacey atmospherics, feeling similar to the sense achieved on “Assassins.” The title track is one of the ones that feels awash in finality. I mean, the title alone hammers that home, and as you travel further into this one, it seems to be the last nail. We know better now, and maybe the band’s demise isn’t even the driving force behind the track, but it sounds a little hollow now. “Tear You Down” is the first track from this record to premiere on the internet, and it’s a trip into Judd’s turbulent drug problems and his slavery to heroin. “Come eat from the tree,” he calls, as the band sets a mind-altering dream state. Things hit a bit of a thud after the repeated teased cries of, “Set you free,” when evil cackling erupts that sound an awful lot like the ones from Metallica’s classic “Master of Puppets.” Maybe it’s by chance. “On the Other Side” is the toughest track to take on this one. Look, I hope Judd is better and really had his substance issues behind him, but his declarations of, “Alive again, alive as me,” and, “Never going back again, I’m free,” are hard to take at face value an sound like the singer trying to convince himself. “Epitaph for a Dying Star” ends the record on a strange note, sounding like a creative suicide note and a farewell to a life left behind. Soulful female backing vocals (courtesy of Karla Murphy) erupt during this, feeling kind of awkward or like another leap toward Pink Floyd territory, and while it’s an interesting experiment, it doesn’t completely work. It’s a strange ending to an uneven record that sounds philosophically obsolete for the most part. And it just came out.

Fair or not, this Nachtmystium album is likely to be judged by many not on its music, but by the behavior of its primary member. Judd brought this on himself, mind you, so there’s no reason to feel too bad. But ultimately, if this music was presented by a faceless band with no known history, it likely would not set the world on fire. It would be a decent foray into moderately experimental black metal with messages that blast you over the head, and later it would be forgotten in a heap of thousands of other 2014 releases. That’s how this record hits me, and while it’s not bad music by any means, it doesn’t feel like a record that’ll resonate in the future, especially since its declared finality was another broken promise.

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