[Cross-posted at my MSN Music metal blog.]
Chicago-based metal band Nachtmystium's fifth full-length studio album, Addicts: Black Meddle Part II, comes out tomorrow. It's a sequel of sorts to 2008's Assassins: Black Meddle Part I, which was a somewhat controversial entry in the band's discography. Nachtmystium started out as a pretty orthodox black metal group, thrashing and bashing away in a high-pitched, high-speed assault on the listener. But each album was a little more ambitious than the one before, and starting with 2006's Instinct: Decay, a strong element of psychedelia seeped into the music. This was even more prominent on Assassins, which frequently sounded like an overt homage to Pink Floyd (note the subtitle). It also featured guest saxophone from Yakuza's Bruce Lamont. About the only link between it and early Nachtmystium was frontman and group leader Blake Judd's hoarse, rasping vocals. (The lack of artistic continuity isn't just about the songwriting, either—the rate of member turnover in Nachtmystium is absurd, with literally dozens of musicians having passed through the ranks in the group's decade-long existence.)
Addicts is another change for Judd and crew, as it abandons the psychedelia of Assassins in favor of...Gothic rock and industrial. There's still some black metal in the sound, most notably on "High On Hate," but the biggest influences here, as Judd will freely admit, are bands like Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails and Sisters of Mercy. The disc is swathed in analog synths, dubby basslines and even a few electro-disco beats. I called Judd at his home in Chicago to talk about Addicts, as well as Monument to Time End, the recently released second album by his side project Twilight. That band was originally a sort of black metal all-star group, featuring Judd, N. Imperial of Krieg, Wrest of Leviathan, Malefic of Xasthur and Hildolf of Draugar, but since the group's self-titled debut was released in 2005, Malefic and Hildolf have departed, and some unlikely new members, including Aaron Turner of Isis and Sanford Parker of Minsk (who, along with Wrest, also plays on Addicts), have joined.
Each album seems so different from the last. Are you headed in a specific direction, or is the band’s evolution sparked in the studio, in the moment? Or does each album depend on who’s playing on it?
I think it’s a little of all three of those things, actually. In general, I’d like our music to head in a more accessible direction, just 'cause that’s where my tastes have gone as I’ve gotten older. I’ve found myself less drawn to really extreme metal music, and maybe it’s just me growing up or whatever, but I listen to a lot of different types of music, and metal has kind of dwindled on the spectrum of things I’m listening to lately. I think that has the most to do with the sound you’ll find on Addicts being a little more rock-oriented. But also, the people that are playing on the records, they’re all chosen specifically for what I’m trying to go for at the time, and I’m fortunate enough to know a ton of people that play in good bands and are willing to come and work with me. So it’s a little of everything. But as far as the future goes, I don’t think we’ll ever have one set style, and it’s not like we’re lost directionally at all. It’s what I feel like doing at the time more than anything, and currently it’s kinda this wannabe Killing Joke/Queens of the Stone Age thing, and I think the music we’ll be doing in the future will be more on par with what we’re doing now than, say, Demise or Instinct: Decay or something like that.
The Pink Floyd influence that was so prominent last time seems mostly gone, except on “The End is Eternal.” Why did you choose to call this one Black Meddle Part II, given how little it has in common with the last record?
Basically, the lyrical content is pretty similar. The themes of the records are the part that’s the most cohesive—the visuals and the lyrics are the connection between the two. I kinda wanna throw a curve ball at people, too.
Listening to what you're doing now, I kinda feel like your vocals no longer fit, that maybe you should start pursuing a more Pete Steele/Andrew Eldritch type baritone delivery. Have you thought about that at all?
You know, I agree with you, and I actually tried to sing in the studio for Addicts. I tried to do a more proper vocal style, and basically, I’m good at some things but singing just ain’t one of 'em. Given my limitations naturally with my ability to sing, the thing I try my best with is to make sure that even with the harsh vocal approach, you can understand me. I try to be more intelligible than most people. I think that’s one thing that keeps a lot of people away from metal music, is that they can’t understand the lyrics, and I figure if I’m gonna have this kind of delivery, I’m gonna enunciate enough that if you listen carefully you can pick out good chunks of the phrases if not all of em. That’s about as good as I can do at that. And I struggle, too. Ideally, I would love to have an actual singer at this point, but it would change the dynamic of the band so much that it wouldn’t be Nachtmystium anymore. So I feel like I’m kinda stuck in this place where I need to continue to be the vocalist, just because we have about ten releases prior to this. If we brought a real singer in, that would mean we’d probably have to abandon the majority of our back catalog in terms of live performance. And it just wouldn’t be the same band anymore. So if I ever get inspired enough to do something where I really wanna bring in a new singer, I’d probably just start a new band.
There are some clean vocals on the record—who’s doing those?
That’s our producer, Chris Black. He can actually sing a little bit, so we stick him in there and let him do it.
I thought it was Bruce Lamont from Yakuza. It kind of sounds like him.
He’s on the last track on Addicts. The throat singing, the kind of Eastern vocalizations, that’s Bruce Lamont. As far as anything where there’s actual lyrics being sung, that’s all Chris Black.
There are a lot of Goth and postpunk and early industrial sounds on this album. What were you listening to and taking inspiration from this time out?
Oh man, I’ve been totally guiding into classic Goth rock, and some industrial as well. I kinda went back to some of my roots—when I was a kid I was really into Nine Inch Nails' early stuff, basically right up through The Downward Spiral and including all the EPs that followed that record. I kinda shelved those records for a lot of years, 'cause I turned into "Black Metal Kid" and I didn’t wanna listen to the music that was associated with the guys wearing makeup at my high school, so to speak, so I didn’t listen to a lot of that stuff for a long time, but I found myself coming back to it in the last year or two and being like, "Man, a lot of these are really great records, I don’t know why I stopped listening to them as much as I used to." So there’s that. Killing Joke is a new band for me. I never got into them when I was younger and Sanford Parker turned me on to them when we were making Assassins, and since then I think I’ve obtained most of their discography, and I find that to be an endless wealth of great music. Also lots of Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus, early Christian Death, Fields of the Nephilim, all bands that I listened to when I was a kid and, again, just kinda shelved those records and didn’t find myself coming back to them until more recently. So it’s all that stuff, in combination with my love for anything that sounds like Joy Division, including Joy Division. I’m the guy that loves all those knockoff bands. I love Editors, I love Interpol, I actually kinda like the Killers, I’m not gonna lie. There’s an influence from all that stuff coming through.
You’ve got Wrest from Leviathan playing drums on this disc, and he’s also part of the second Twilight album, as is Sanford Parker. How did the sessions overlap?
They didn’t really overlap at all. We did the second Twilight record in March 2009, and it just came out this year. The reason that album got held up is, I’m not sure if you heard, but I broke my leg really severely during the recording, so there was a three-month window where I wasn’t walking. I broke it on the first day of mixing, and we just put the session on freeze until I healed up, and then we got back in and mixed it months later. Then we had to wait and get it mastered, and get the art together, so there was a huge delay between when that was recorded versus when it was released, and it’s just a coincidence that that album and Addicts are being released so closely together. But as far as the sessions go, there’s really nothing too similar between the two records other than the fact that the three of us were there. Twilight’s a cohesive thing between a group of people, where Nachtmystium is more guided by me. Not to say that the guys involved don’t have their own input, that would be a lie if I said they didn’t, but we just operate differently. What I did take away from the Twilight session and bring to the Nachtmystium session was an extremely easy time bringing my ideas to life, because I did write a chunk of that Twilight record, and Sanford and Wrest know exactly what to do with my music. It’s kind of amazing, especially Wrest and I. You put us together, we don’t even have to talk about it. We just show each other the parts and the other one just feeds off of it. We work really, really well together like that; it’s not a challenge to create together. Sanford is the same way. Sanford’ll have some idea that neither one of us is hearing, and he’ll start incorporating that and say, "What do you think of this?" and it’ll be like, "Well, duh, of course that’s what we should do there." He’s just the guy to bring that to life, so it works really well. Those guys are great to work with and I hope to continue to work with them in the future.
What changed between the first and second Twilight records? Was there ever supposed to be a second Twilight record?
Yeah, I think right after we finished the first one, we were all really excited about it, not the fact that Southern Lord hyped it as much as they did—that was a great thing and a really horrible thing. What people don’t realize about the first Twilight record is, that’s a demo. None of us had ever played music together, and we made that album on a Tascam 424 MK3 four-track, in Wrest’s bedroom, with V-drums, which are like an electronic drum kit, a pod, a guitar and a bass. We never turned an amplifier on to make that record. The loudest thing recorded was the vocals. It was basically thrown together, like, "OK, I’ve got these ideas, you’ve got these ideas, we have two weeks here because this is all we can afford." Because this was before Southern Lord was in the picture. That record was done for a year before we even knew Southern Lord Records. We made that with a thousand bucks. And none of it was spent on gear. It was spent on getting myself and Neil from Krieg and Scott from Xasthur out to San Francisco to try and make a record happen. Once it did come out, and people actually seemed interested, we all got excited and wanted to make another one, but that’s also when I was running my record label [Battle Kommand], that was really dominating my time and Nachtmystium was becoming more of a priority to me, and everybody involved had personal lives, so that’s why the second album didn’t come to fruition until years later. At one point we broke up, too, because Scott from Xasthur didn’t want to be involved in the project anymore. He’s kind of a head case in general, as I’m sure you know. He doesn’t like to work with other people and this and that. And basically we put the whole thing on ice. But Wrest from Leviathan is a tattoo artist, and he told me he was coming to Chicago in February 2009 and asked if he could stay with me for a couple of weeks while he tattooed. I was like, "Sure, you can stay here, and since you’re gonna be here for a month, instead of rent why don’t you make a record with me? Let’s do the new Twilight album." And he was all for it, so we just kinda started writing in the evenings when he was done working, and we put that record together in about a month. And we went into the studio and cranked it out, and brought the other people in last minute, and it worked out really well.
Nachtmystium’s developed a reputation as a pretty strong live act. What's your live show like?
Basically, we just go out there and try to be Motörhead. It’s a rock show. It’s a little more stripped-down than the albums. We don’t bring all the electronics into the live show, though we’ve done that a few times, Roadburn [festival in Holland] being one of those times. We did a special psychedelic set, which basically means we do what we normally do but we have a Moog player. But live it’s a lot more raw and more of a fuckin’ kick in the teeth. Everything’s a little faster, and I think we look a little more like a black metal band, and sound a little more like a black metal band, just because everything’s that much more intense and that much faster and more aggressive. There’s definitely a very aggressive approach visually from the four of us, assuming we’re having a good night.
For a long time, Chicago didn't have much of a reputation for metal—all you had was Usurper and Disturbed. But lately it seems like with you, Minsk, Yakuza and Lair of the Minotaur, the city’s metal rep has really been rehabilitated. How organic and unified is the scene there?
To be honest, it’s incredibly unified. Everybody in those bands you just mentioned, with the exception of a few oddball members who aren’t from this immediate area, I can walk out my front door right now and go five minutes in one direction and be at Sanford’s studio, I can walk five minutes in the other direction and be at his front door, I can walk ten minutes in another direction and be where all the guys from Pelican live, and then everybody else kinda lives in between those points. The entire Chicago metal scene, we all live in the same neighborhood, we all record at the same studio, we see each other all the time. It’s really fucking cool. It’s a really interesting time to be here. The Wicker Park and Humboldt Park areas of Chicago are just where everybody’s at. Everything happens here. Our mastering studio’s here, our recording studio’s here, most of the venues we play at are rock-throwing distance from our homes, and we all live in the same neighborhood and all hang out quite a bit. I think it’s the only time since the Touch & Go Records era of Chicago in the late 80s and the early 90s on the indie scene where there’s been this wild explosion of creativity coming out of a bunch of bands that are linked not only by geography but by what they do.