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The story of prominent metal bands drifting away from the genre is a familiar one. I've covered quite a few of them in these "pages." These bands tend to be prominent because of the risks they've taken, and their attitude toward expanding horizons. Inevitably, it seems, this leads to the abandonment of metal. Nachtmystium is one such band. With the Black Meddle albums, they consciously, openly, and defiantly toyed with the limits of black metal. In Assassins, they superbly explored psychedelia. In Addicts, they explored their industrial side. With each, they strayed further away from metal.
Now, in a move almost never seen, they've reversed course. Silencing Machine is more black metal than either of their two previous releases. Don't take that to mean they've gone "kvlt," "troo," or "necro," however, as the lessons they've learned have been carried on.
Opener "Dawn over the Ruins of Jerusalem" continues the band's habit of opening with the most straight-forward black metal track of the bunch. Beyond that, every song could still be considered black metal ("Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams" stretches that), yet not perfectly so. Industrial is a constant influence, if not in the writing then in many of the production techniques. The drumming typically remains in an industrial metal style, and "Decimation, Annihilation" sounds as much Ministry/Static-X as it does Nachtmystium. The psychedelia is also a strong presence, especially on "And I Control You," which could have appeared on Assassins.
Checking the "industrial" and "psychedelic" boxes off the list is not the only way to tell this is a Nachtmystium record. Hooks are present throughout, as in the last two records. The band is also clearly unable to fully restrain their wandering, because "Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams" is a full-on alt-rock excursion, while "I Wait in Hell" has solos that could be from fellow Illinois band Dawnbringer.
It seems as if their experiments have paid off. They've made what could be the definitive Nachtmystium album. It isn't their best (it would be tough to top Assassins), but it is their most representative. Now if only we could convince a few others to come back to metal.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Often controversial due to statements by the band leader, or divisive due to their relatively major success by comparison to the lion's share of US black metal acts, Nachtmystium nonetheless have made a name for themselves by expanding the sounds of their core genre to incorporate all manner of hypnotic grandeur. A lot of people think of Blake Judd's baby as a pioneer in psychedelic experimentation, and certainly Sanford Parker's synthesizers provide that undercurrent here on their latest album Silencing Machine; yet they've never made this the centerpiece of their composition. In truth this is largely a rather laid back, traditional brand of black metal with the usual driving series of chords, solemn and melodic tremolo picked patterns, rasped vocals, only there's that something... 'extra' which sets it apart (if not far apart).
Like a number of their prior albums, Silencing Machine is a grower. Upon my first or second spin, I had the same banal reaction I often feel when listening to other US heroes like Agalloch or Wolves in the Throne Room: dreary, well-rounded, and ultimately all-too-safe black metal which falls short due to the uninteresting rhythm guitars and a lack of real riffing capacity. This is not an album which attempts to raze or savage the listener, but to slowly draw he/she into Nachtmystium's world of barrenness and fleeting joys. But the more I sat through the record in its hour-length entirety, the more captivating its sounds became, and in the end its a solid and memorable piece of escapism. The electronic elements are rather subdued, providing a spacey subtext to the longing emptiness of the guitar progressions which occasionally reminded me of everything from Hawkwind to Voivod; mixed just at the right level so as not to drown out the drums, guitars or vocals, but still capable of a cult sci-fi 'freakout' here or there (as in "Reduced to Ashes" or the noisy industrial vacuum that intros "Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem").
I also really enjoyed the bass tone, clean and replete with drunken butterfly grooves that sizzle and pop to the riffing sequences without ever monotonously dragging along with the same precise note selection. It's not a record that really requires the most intense of drumming performances, but I think the snares and kicks are mixed lavishly for both the sullen rock grooves and the blasting. As for Judd's vocals, they've never been the most distinguished or unique in this field by a long shot, but they help draw the listener back to the inherent savagery of the group's influences, so that we don't drift off into the cloudy pastures manifest through the riffing. Speaking of which, the guitars are hands down the most curious, dynamic aspect to this album, from a varied through of dirty, crashing chords to a sheen of forceful melody that washes wavelike over the ears. Nothing too complex, nor technical, but a lot of subtleties alongside the solid rhythmic chassis, evoking the primacy of bands like Burzum and Darkthrone (early through mid 90s) into a more harmonic whole.
Silencing Machine might lack some of that immediacy of appeal that characterized the two Black Meddle albums, and it's honestly not as 'far out' or experimental as you'd expect the band to be these days, but a solid exhibition of songwriting, aesthetically consistent from fore to aft and the replay value is strong.
There is nothing worse for a band than to release the same type of album over and over again. The best bands push their artist endeavors, explore new territory, or even just take their current style and accentuate it to the fullest effect. Nachtmystium did just this when they released "Assassins: Black Meddle, Pt. 1" and "Addicts: Black meddle Pt. 2" in 2008 and 2010 respectively. By abandoning their more traditional black metal credentials they pushed themselves artistically. A band always takes a chance when they make a move like that. They isolate their immediate fan-base if it ventures too far from what they had become known for.
What happens, though, when a band returns to their previous form? Blake Judd of Nachtmystium must be asking himself this very question. "Silencing Machine" bears many similarities to "Instinct: Decay". The atmospheric quality is almost identical ("Instinct: Decay" bears the scars of lower production, for better or worse) and the song structures, and even lengths, are very similar. Needless to say, if you were a fan of "Instinct: Decay" but ventured away from Nachtmystium during their "Black Meddle" days, it is now safe to return.
But you should return with a sort of caution. Nachtmystium are progressing musically, they are moving forward. Buying “Silencing Machine” will not take you directly back to 2006. The album has influence from both “Black Meddle” albums which helps give “Silencing Machine” a unique place among Nachtmystium’s discography. It would be too simple to say that “Silencing Machine” = “Instinct: Decay” + “Black Meddle”. The combination is more nuanced than that. This is not your traditional black metal. That fact, though, is what gives the album its unique feel.
Some established bands sometimes choose to borrow a stylistic path on which we would least expect them. This is a gamble, especially in the small conservative world of black metal. But this kind of considerations is certainly not annoying Blake Judd and his gang. Nachtmystium, Illinois-band founded twelve years ago, practiced earlier in its career a hyper orthodox Darkthrone-type black metal. However, since the Instinct: Decay album, one can see first changes. We discovered new industrial and psychedelic, which were then fully developed in the “pinkfloydish” diptych “Black Meddle”: Assassins in 2008 and Addicts in 2010. This merger between several musical universes is disconcerting and leads some fans (including your host) to believe that the band had no interest left for black metal. Well, this presumption is challenged by Silencing Machine.
The band does not return to its roots with this sixth album, but still offers a more accessible content than the schizoid delusions found on both Black Meddle. The foundations established right from Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem are revealing: electronic and industrial sounds are coating other instruments without denaturing them. There is echo on title track, sampling on I Wait in Hell and many keyboard passages but heart of the album relies more on atmospheres and moods that are not artificially produced. Music is more organic, rich, floating on anger and anguish feelings. Also note a strong Rock influence, particularly evident on IDecimation, Annihilation or the excellent IGive Me the Grave and its catchy chorus, which seem straight out of an old Mötorhead record.
Did Nachtmystium members step back, after having launched two perplexing albums? It would be odd for this band. For several years, it traced its own path, regardless of momentary trends. ISilencing Machine, without being a major work, remains a very good and accessible album. It sensitively amalgamates every ingredient the band tried so far in its career. 7/10
Originally written for Métal Obscur.
This album sees Nachtmystium returning somewhat to the sound the band established on Instinct Decay. While the previous Black Meddle albums really helped to establish the band in the wider metal scene, they left me wanting. I don’t know if it was the move away from black metal or the fact that Instinct Decay was so damn good, but for some reason those two albums just didn’t meet my expectations. Silencing Machine has several songs that break far from the black metal sound established on Instinct, but overall it is a solid return to form. The biggest difference is that the band maintained the crystal clear production the band established on the Black Meddle albums. While Instinct was really muddy, it added to the overall atmosphere and desperation expressed on that record in my personal opinion. This cleaned up production will please many fans, but it takes some of the bite off the otherwise strong songs on this record. That said, I can’t begrudge the band for wanting a clearer production to really showcase their songs.
The opening track kicks off with a sea of tremolo riffs, blast beats and grimy black metal growls indicating a return to the bands sound on Instinct Decay. “Silencing Machine” sees this sound combined with some of the more experimental elements the band toyed with on their Black Meddle Albums. The third song moves away from black metal toward a more post-rock sound, but Blake maintains his harsh blackened rasps. The rest of the album continues this trend of blending aspects of Instinct with some of the post-rock and psych elements the band utilized on the Black Meddle records. There is clear element of despair and desperation present on most of these songs, especially in the vocal department. The big unifier between the songs is the return of the stellar BM vocals the band utilized for Instinct. While not a tradition black metal album by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still a solid record.
While definitely not a complete return to the BM sounds of Instinct Decay, this is still a good record. This album should please fans of the bands previous two albums while winning back some of the fans who cherished the brilliance displayed on Instinct Decay. If you liked that album, but found the production too murky, then you will probably enjoy this record. That said, anyone looking for a traditional Darkthrone inspired black metal album should look elsewhere, as this is still quite experimental in nature.