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A GOOD EXCUSE TO WRITE ABOUT NACHTMYSTIUM’S ADDICTS: BLACK MEDDLE PT. II

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I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about Nachtmystium’s latest, Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II, for awhile now. The band just announced a June 8 release date via Century and “unveiled the track list,” as the metal-news terminology goes; I don’t usually give a shit about track lists, because unless the band is Metallica and the song is “Unforgiven XIX,” titles don’t actually tell you very much about the music. But since the Nachtmystium is in the headlines, now I can write about the album and not feel like I’m being completely random.

So: it’s still early, but as of today, April 7, Addicts is the best album of 2010 so far. And there’s a lot I want to say about it, so please excuse me while I ramble a little.

Like its predecessor, Assassins, Addicts is very much NOT the album you’re expecting from Nachtmystium; in fact, it’s probably even further out there than Assassins. Blake Judd and company (only co-guitarist Jeff Wilson remains from the Assassins line-up) continue to push themselves further as artists and, better still, actually succeed in their lofty ambitions. But I’d be lying if I said I’m not really, really looking forward to seeing the tr00 kvltists get their panties in a twist about Addicts. You think they took Assassins hard? Just wait.

I sense that Judd had some awareness of this, because after a brief -but-foreboding “Cry for Help” intro, in which demonic voices spell out the phrase “NOTHING HURTS MORE THAN BEING BORN,” the band launches into “High on Hate,” which is a reasonably traditionalist (but still kick-ass) black metal song. Listeners who are reluctant to accept that Nachtmystium are evolving can consequently be eased into the experience. But besides “Blood Trance Fusion,” it’s the only song which might (and I emphasize “might”) sate the purists.

By “Nightfall,” the second proper song on Addicts, it’s clear that this is not going to a a reasonably traditionalist black metal album. For one thing, there’s a bouncy, Brit-pop beat; then there’s the harmonized vocals singing “NIGHTFALLLLLLLL.” Mayhem this ain’t.

You can dance to “No Funeral.” I’m not exaggerating: yes, Blake Judd continues to scream his throat raw, but the song has a simple, clap-your-hands-in-time-with-the-song beat, and Sanford Parker’s trippy synths are much more prominent here than they were on Assassins. This song won’t make you wanna headbang, it’ll make you wanna bop along. Ditto “Ruined Life Continuum,” which tosses in some catchy guitar licks to sweeten the deal. PEOPLE ARE GONNA GET SO PISSY! IT’S GONNA BE SO FUCKING FUNNY!!!

The eight minutes plus closing song, “Every Last Drop,” might be the new high watermark for Nachtmystium. It a slow, doomy, number, with wailing,Middle Eastern-flavored background vocals. The overall tone is elegiac; while the album concludes on an artistic high, it’s a tonal low. “It’s taking me down in the night, it’s keeping me down in the night,” Judd sings.

But it makes sense when considered a part of the whole; Judd’s lyrics elsewhere on the record are more empowering, but the surrounding music never seems to support those messages. On “Then Fires,” for example, he advises the listener to “Live your pain, love your stench” before proclaiming “I always knew there was nothing standing in my way.” Taken at face value, that sounds like the kind of inspirational speech we typically expect from someone like Jamey Jasta. But “Then Fires” doesn’t feel uplifting – exactly the opposite, in fact. The epic, soaring guitar solo (I don’t know if Judd or Wilson plays it, but whomever it is, he deserves a pat on the back) feels mournful, heartbroken – like it wouldn’t necessarily be out of place in a power ballad. It’s as though Judd – or perhaps the character he’s channeling – doesn’t actually have much self-confidence, but puts on a tough face anyway. There’s something perversely gorgeous about it, and along with that really amazing solo, it’s the reason “Then Fires” is actually my favorite song on the album (at least as of right now). This feels like the story of someone struggling with addiction, and that someone does not win in the end.

It’s a very dense, complicated album, and as you can probably tell from the disorganized nature of this write-up, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it (and this is after I’ve been listening to it on a regular basis for more than a month). I can guarantee that we’re going to continue to talk about this album a lot between now and its release, and surely for months after. In the meantime, mark June 8 in your calendars. This is a big one.

-AR

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