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The fate of USBM (United States Black Metal for the unacquainted/uninterested) has varied significantly during the history of Black Metal but it is generally accepted that the last few years have seen it make up some ground on the Scandinavians of yore, and especially the infamous Norwegian scene of the early 1990s. Three very different bands leading this charge have been Absu (new album out soon, at last), Leviathan and Nachtmystium, all who read the BM blueprint in different ways, surely a precedent to the development of a recognised 'scene'. Nachtmystium's development has lead to their fourth album, "Assassins - Black Meddle Part 1", where they have had the courage to move away from the Darkthrone worship of approximately 4 million other BM bands and create a platter combining psychedelia and Black Metal to such an extent that labelling the band 'Black Metal' circa 2008 does them a great injustice.
The purely aesthetic signs of a departure from BM are clear to see in Nachtmystium these days – the removal of corpsepaint, dropping of stagenames, a vaguely legible but totally spike-free logo - but even a cursory listen of "Assassins" shows how far they have come since their "Reign of the Malicious" debut. The lead solos in "Your True Enemy" and "Code Negative" drip in Pink Floyd-isms, the band of inspiration for Nachtmystium vocalist/lead guitarist Blake Judd, rock-like bass lines in "Ghosts of Grace" that should annoy any BM-elitists listening, and the none-more-Metal saxophone and moog synthesiser crafting a serene jazzy feel throughout the "Seasick..." triumvirate concluding the LP. That's not to say of course Nachytmystium would be the ideal opening act for a future Pink Floyd reunion show: the Burzum influenced opening to "Code Negative", the Satyricon-esque blasting sessions found in "Omnivore" and the overall brilliance of the meandering "Assassins" reveal a band still as happy as a pig in a mud to blast for Satan, and with the drumstool occupied by the legendary drum-whore Tony Laureano, who can blame them? Album highlight "Assassins", the first proper song after a short introduction, can be seen as a clear statement of intent, with a chorus that reads "We feel nothing/ And are nothing/ Travelling elitists/ Rejecting weakness/ We stand alone/ Pride does not die/ Kings in your dreams/ Slaves to this nightmare" expressing Judd's feelings about the band's direction and a possible backlash from diehard fans who dislike the new output. The song itself starts off as a rollicking Black Metal tune reminiscent of where Satyricon have taken themselves on their last couple of releases, before slowing down to incorporate a more dissonant guitar and classic rock sound with strong ambient and psychedelic influences flooding the distance, and then the foreground, in the song's conclusion. It really is a most brilliant song, and no surprise it has been chosen to head the album proper.
Despite how it may sound from the above, the greatest experimentation occurs in "Seasick" which is actually split into three at the end, and as well as including the elements mentioned above, features guitar soloing that sounds a lot like Opeth on "Damnation". Depending on personal opinion "Seasick" could represent the weakest portion of the album as the only resemblance to BM comes in the form of Judd's hoarse vocals and possibly ends the album on a slight downer, though over a number of listens I have grown to like it. One can only speculate if "Seasick" signals the future direction of the band...
Any band that has the testicular fortitude Nachtmystium have displayed in daring to be different and try out new ideas deserves credit, however good the end result. With "Assassins", Nachtmystium have improved on a sound that was clearly a work-in-progress on 2006's "Instinct: Decay" and will have a gone a long way to climbing the ladder of success that has been the undoing of many before them upon musical experimentation. Hopefully their next album will further this development to create something even more radical.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net