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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Nachtmystium

Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1

Review by Mike Korn

Black metal is an ever-evolving genre that is very difficult to pin down. However, one quality it must have in order to be considered valid is a feeling of darkness and foreboding. Based on that qualification, the Chicago area's Nachtmystium is one of the most successful black metal bands around.

Gloom and melancholy surround this disc, their first for high profile Century Media Records. It's the one thread uniting the diverse tunes displayed here. Beyond that, though, the sound of the band is unorthodox and experimental, ranging from traditional black metal blasting to twisted psychedelia to grim electronica. And yet it all sounds so natural that none of it stands out as being contrived or forced. The band can switch from a Satyricon-like bashing in true Norwegian style to a kind of sad melodcism ala The Cure or a pure rock n' roll solo right out of the late 60's. At one point, a saxophone appears to duel with a lead guitar.

All of this would ruffle the raven feathers of black metal purists, but the end result for me is a record that is fresh, listenable and has layers that constantly reveal themselves. It's one of the few American black metal records I've heard that is striving for a sound that isn't coming out of somebody's basement. And it also has the potential to reach beyond the genre to lovers of such bands as The Doors, Pink Floyd and Nick Cave. Paradoxically, the blacker than black Nachtmystium may be one of the American metal scene's brightest hopes.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
One of These Nights
A cold and icy wind is blowing somewhere, setting a grim and wintry mood. Minimal electronic noises slowly filter in and then a basic, almost Judas Priest like riff starts to thump. On top of this background, echoed spoken vocals and freezing cold clean guitar chords appear.
Assassins
This track begins with the most traditional of Norwegian black metal sounds, a furious, trebly blast. Blake Judd's harsh vocals kick in and the relentless double bass of Tony Laureano pounds away. The chorus is bleak but catchy: "We feel nothing and are nothing." The tune then morphs into a slow and ominous beat with a riff that almost sounds like an evil version of Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks,"  More of that frosty clean guitar adds atmosphere and the track gradually picks up steam until again exploding into full-bore speedy black metal, finally ending with a barrage of rising and descending electronic tones. This is a hell of an epic and should satisfy both conservative and experimental black metal fans.
Ghosts of Grace
Here we have a song that performs the most difficult of tricks...staying harsh, heavy and unyielding while offering up melodies that could almost be called beautiful. I hesitate to say it is poppy, because the tune has the speed and harshness of black metal, but the guitar work is beautiful and the riffing is so extremely catchy. Listen to the way Nachtmystium layers mournful melodies together to create a very sad and melancholy track. This could be a real breakout song if given the proper exposure.
Away From The Light
Creeping little insects scuttle away like cockroaches fleeing a light while in the background some human being is breathing and gasping his last. Meanwhile, the piano is playing an off-key simple melody that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. This is horror movie ambience at its most unnerving.
Your True Enemy
Following the tiniest flash of melody, this kicks in with absolute brutality and speed, with a twisted riff and breakneck drumming from Laureano. Judd's vocals have a clipped, robotic quality that does annoy but which also has a certain brute force. This cut reminds of prime Satyricon in the way it turns the most basic of riffs into something really dark and brooding. What really helps the cut stand out is a great guitar solo that could have come from a great 70's rock record as opposed to typical black metal.
Code Negative
You can't get much more depressing than this droning, slow paced funeral dirge. The vocals are sibilant whispers that are barely heard above this morbidly psychedelic cut, which has a vaguely Middle Eastern flavor to it.  The first warbly, watery guitar solo is reminiscent of evil circus music...a great touch that helps to separate the band from the pack. This is certainly not a track for lovers of speed or black metal purists.
Omnivore
A pounding war-like ditty, this is a constantly morphing cut that keeps you guessing. At some points, it's fast and aggressive in true black metal fashion, but at others, that predilection for droning melody is at the forefront. You could listen to this 100 times and hear something a little different every time in the various layers of sound...it's a cut that requires a lot of thought and attention.
Seasick (Part One: Drowned At Dusk)
Here's where the band really makes a daring musical statement. The first part of a trilogy about someone drowning in the middle of the ocean, this has a lot more to do with The Doors and The Cure than Bathory or Dimmu Borgir. The opening fuzzy, bell-like chords sound strangely like "Love Hurts" by Nazareth but then some very sad acoustic guitar comes in over the top to increase the melancholy. Drum and bass slowly add their accompaniment. The cut is very simple on the surface,  and more complex upon reflection. A mournful guitar solo and some electronic tones add to this completely instrumental track.
Seasick (Part Two: Oceanborne)
The second part of the trilogy is even more eclectic than the first. It has a bouncier, more pacy tone but still retains the sadness and feeling of Part 1. What makes you sit up and take notice here is the soulful saxophone playing of Bruce Lamont (courtesy of Yakuza) that weaves and duels with Judd's Robby Krieger like guitar soloing. It's actually a pretty brief track.
Seasick (Part Three: Silent Sunrise)
The album and trilogy both conclude here. This opens with a buzzing hum and then turns into another depressing clean guitar melody. The vocals return here, with Judd's harshness softened just a little. Repetition gives this a droning atmosphere and this is the only part of "Seasick" that can be considered metal. Is is black metal? That's for the listener to judge. The real question might be: does it really matter?
 
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