Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Album Review: Nachtmystium's "Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. 2"

With their Pink Floyd allusions (get it, Meddle?), Killing Joke fetishism, and penchant for three-part epics featuring saxophones, the dudes from Chicago's Nachtmystium were ripe for a record that would saddle them with the "sellout" moniker. Their two most recent records, as experimental as they could be, still situated them firmly within the kvlt black metal camp. 2006's Instinct: Decay juxtaposed traditional black metal head-smashing and symphonic synths, while 2008's masterful Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1 upped the experimental ante with squelchy computer noise and, you know, saxophones. But purists looking for a reason to hate may have found it in Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. 2. What a bunch of dumb douchebags.

I can't play the paragon of open-mindedness, however. When Stereogum's Brandon Stosuy (also the mastermind behind those amazing Show No Mercy shows in Brooklyn) premiered "No Funeral," I wasn't so eager to throw up the horns. After all, my first impression of Nachtmystium was the eight-minute behemoth of a title track from 2008's Assassins. I said at the time that "I like a bit more metal in my experimental black metal," but I also noted that the song's mad scientist synthesizers and hipster-dance-party-in-hell vibe might grow on me.

Fast-forward to today, and I couldn't have been more right about, um, myself. But the track didn't grow on me so much as it clicked when I heard it in context. Front-man Blake Judd pulls off a neat track on Addicts: rather than turning his experimental jaunts into red-headed stepchildren, he lets the unconventional elements creep in slowly and compound over time. To wit, after the obligatory atmospheric intro, "High on Hate" delivers three and a half minutes of gut-punching trad black metal right into our gullets. The band then does an abrupt about-face with "Nightfall," a clicky three-minute punk song with bluesman riffage that's recognizably Nacht only because of Judd's scorched-earth vocals. And, at this point, what is recognizably Nacht is pretty much whatever Blake Judd wants to throw our way. So when "No Funeral" arrives near the midpoint of the record, it doesn't sound the least bit out of place.

The relative comfort of these new sounds in this context lends credence to the idea that Nachtmystium are moving forward rather than selling out; on "Addicts," Judd sounds like he's been itching to write a majestic alternative rock song for his whole career, and the atmospheric Moog gurgles of "Blood Trance Fusion" suggest that he may have a future writing zombie flick soundtracks. But if Judd really wanted a radio hit, he probably wouldn't have made his vocal tracks sound like they'd been recorded by a poorly-exhumed corpse.

To me, Addicts is the sound of a band who have done all they could with one genre (black metal) and decided they wanted to do more than put out redundant material. The Hold Steady did a similar thing with their 2006 opus Boys and Girls in America; after perfecting the spoken-word-over-AC/DC thing with Separation Sunday, they decided to get Craig Finn some singing lessons and write a few Boss-worthy anthems. Assassins and Addicts follow the same pattern, and while it's hard to argue that one record is better than the other, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Nachtmystium followed the Hold Steady's path to wider acceptance and acclaim with this new monster of a record.