Welcome back to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. For this week's 25th edition, we take a look at an experimental album whose psychedelic influences set it far apart from its black metal contemporaries. Excited by their new sound but spurred by the antics of Blake Judd, Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 had many fans wondering if black metal in the US could ever see the kind of legitimacy it's worked so hard to achieve.
NACHTMYSTIUM'S ASSASSINS: BLACK MEDDLE, PART 1
Release Date: 2008
Record Label: Century Records
In the last two decades, American bands have been stretching the boundaries of black metal by bringing new twists to a classic genre. Redefining the borders of a beloved and severely protected genre, Nachtmystium is an interesting study in the evolution of modern metal in the US. Founded by controversial figure Blake Judd, the band immediately gained followers for their unconventional breakout album Instinct: Decay.
Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 is the band's 4th studio album. A young Judd was determined to break out of the black metal mold and to "do whatever he wanted to do at any given time". Assassins is a true reflection of that sentiment. The album is alluring and feels intriguingly desperate. There are quite a few Pink Floyd references throughout the album which has led many reviewers to brand Nactmystium's style of music 'blackened psychedelic rock'. Intro song "One of these Nights" is a conspicuous tribute to Pink Floyd's "One of these Days":
Pure psychedelia doesn't come to mind when listening to Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1, but it's a great way to explain the groovy, moody atmosphere that penetrates the entire album. "One of these Nights" is a track that stitches together a variety of genres in an over-the-top, groovy, blackened post-metal song. This opener, however, doesn't prepare you for the immediate blackness of the seamlessly blended second track "Assassins". The experimentation with rotary soundscaping towards the end of title track "Assassins" doesn't sound meandering. It's atmospheric and pregnant with anticipation. The simple, short sound bursts create an unsettling dissonance and tension:
This track sounds like Against Me! and Pink Floyd had a baby, then decked him out in black metal face paint. The energy of the song continues on into "Ghosts of Grace":
I love the punk-rock vibe of this track combined with the echoey, clean lead picking.
The crown jewels of the album are the triptych of songs found at the end, "Seasick" parts 1, 2, and 3. As Assassins closes out with these songs, it dawns on me how successfully this album pulls off expanding the metal genre. Consider the elements stitched into this album: slower, shoe-gazey moments, expressive and clean solos, blast beat drumming, proggy and subtle time changes, and even a saxophone solo. While Assassins might come off initally as black metal, the influence remains but a governing principle to the dramatic exploration of its tracks. While some critics call the album too unfocused, I think the consistency of the mood draws the tracks together to create an angsty, brilliant record.
Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 is an album whose greatness may have become shadowed by the subsequent controversy surrounding Blake Judd. He has been cited multiple times as having a shitty attitude towards fellow bands, even dropping out of a tour with Nile stating, "we don't want to tour with guys with funny little haircuts and tight jeans on…." His bout with a serious drug addiction had him stealing instruments from his bandmates and money from his fans.
Some claim that his actions are 'predictably metal'. After all, do we expect practitioners of one of the edgiest and most-extreme music genres to be 'nice guys'? Others say that his music is a business and that Judd is a businessman; that he offers entertainment to be enjoyed, spectated, and purchased in the form of merchandise, records and tour tickets. As with all art, appreciation of a piece music is subjective. We often appreciate an artistic creation more when we know the story behind a piece, making our investment into the expression personal. Knowing that this record was built by a man who developed a crippling addiction to heroin, stole from his fans, stole from his bandmates, served time in jail, and created this record with a sense of superiority to other 'bland' black metal bands, should these facts influence our appreciation of the album? In the case of Nachtmystium, do we need to separate the art from the artist in order to enjoy their music?
I am just a reviewer and a music fan. I don't know Blake Judd, and can't definitively say what he was thinking and feeling through all of this. All I can do is absorb information from interviews and videos and listen to the music. Should the music speak for itself? That is a question each and every listener needs to ask themselves. For what it's worth, he's sincerely apologized for his actions and the pain they caused. In an interview for Jedbangers, he comes across as very self-aware of what happened during his rise to fame and how it birthed his attitude and drug addiction. His destructive substance abuse started right around 2010 when Nachtmystium was recording Addicts, an almost too-perfect coincidence. Judd recounts in this interview, "these lyrics (to the album Addicts) are about [what I was] doing to myself". He also recounts that the lyrics to "Every Last Drop" became his reality years later. What is further concerning is about this interview is Judd's account of legendary musicians and their relationships to drugs. Judd romanticises dying in a tragic fashion. He quips, "The guys who've left the biggest marks on history are people who've have died in bathtubs of drug overdoses…" He even recounts a story of almost overdosing right before a show while on tour with Cradle of Filth "That moment was, ya know, I told that story I can't tell you how many times probably starting that night to people like it was cool. And I thought it was cool. And I still kind of think it's cool – that's rock an roll as fuck. And we went on stage and played a great show. But it's not healthy".
What I believe, is that Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 should be appreciated as a piece of art. It's great music. I don't think the situation of the band or Judd is as black and white as the facepaint of Nachtmystium's influencing musicians Burzum and Darkthrone. Blake Judd isn't the first (and won't be the last) guy who got famous and subsequently drunk with the indulgent notions of living like a rockstar. I'm not defending his actions, as many fans who believed in the band and supported them with album and merchandise purchases felt the negative repercussions of his selfishness. But, he was young, brash, and worst of all an addict. He was very, very sick.
What do you guys think? Do you feel Nachtmystium deserve recognition as great artists? Does it matter what the band members do? Are sex and drugs just an inextricable part of rock 'n' roll? I don't think there's a right or a wrong answer, but I'd love to hear what you think.