Nachtmystium might be my favorite American black metal band, based purely on the strength of Instinct: Decay and Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 alone. On both records they displayed a willingness to experiment and, on Assassins especially, an aptitude for incorporating ‘70s prog influences in a way that gelled with their established sound. Addicts I can accept as mainman Blake Judd’s experimental record, since new album Silencing Machine has been hyped by the bandleader as a proper black metal release. And proper it is – Silencing Machine is Nachtmystium cutting back on the eccentricities and putting forth as straight-ahead of a black metal record as they can muster, but using the lessons they’ve picked up in recent years to garnish the traditional sound. Luckily, even when they’re staying close to the book, Judd and company has learned how to make a really good black metal record.
That opening song “Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem” is a hard-hitting slab of black metal fury isn’t surprising to me – even Addicts opened with a song like that. It’s on the second song, the title track, that the Chicago five-piece make their mission known. This record’s gonna sound evil and oppressive, and they know how to make it work. Listening to the song is like getting lost in a cloud of insects buzzing everywhere. It’s slightly painful, but this is black metal, so mission accomplished, fellas. They even channel Immortal in “The Lepers of Destitution” by throwing in one of those distorted spoken word vocal bits Demonaz does now. They follow it with a powerful yet ambient passage, the kind that this band knocks out of the park every time. It signified that even when going backwards, they’ve learned some lessons from their more far out experiments, and hearing some of these latter-day tricks prescribed to more traditional black metal keeps the music fresh and vibrant.
My favorite track is probably “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams”. It’s one of the more simple songs, but its driving drums cause it to fly by, and the jangling riffs at times root the song in both the ‘90s alternative they drew from on Addicts and the more frostbitten riffage of their Norwegian forefathers. While Nachtmystium’s Norwegian influences are usually along the lines of Mayhem and Emperor, they channel latter-day Enslaved on “Give Me the Grave”. Save Blake Judd’s distorted, distant scream, the song’s waves of chords and drum pushes evoke what Enslaved have been doing in the new millennium so well. Finally, closing track “These Rooms In Which We Weep” is a callback to the “Seasick” trilogy that closed out Assassins, saxophone and all, but those songs were totally awesome so I don’t mind it coming back here. What new it brings to the table is a sense of true urgency – while “Seasick” could meander in guitar leads, “These Rooms” pushes and pulls your ears to a conclusion. It’s a little uncomfortable but in a good way. It demonstrates that Nachtmystium have a solid handle on their songwriting and can achieve a mood they set out to capture. The noisy breakdown at the very end is a nice touch too.
If you fell out of the Nacht fold when Addicts came out, Silencing Machine seems like an attempt to win you back. It’s undeniably black metal, but the lessons the band has learned in their musical journey bolster the songwriting and prevent it from being the millionth true grim black metal record you’ll hear this year. But the real reason it’s so good? You get to just rock out to some uncomplicated Nachtmystium again, and that’s pretty nice.