More has been written about Blake Judd’s character, political leanings, legal troubles and general woe-begotten recent history than his often ground-breaking music. Of course, he is the leader of rock ‘n’ roll hellions Nachtmystium – whose transition from orthodox black metal into star-gazing sonic tricksters has been thoroughly enthralling for anyone even remotely interested in heavy metal. Their new (definitely not final) album The World We Left Behind continues the ever-elusive career trajectory that Judd and co have been mapping since 2006 masterpiece Instinct: Decay. Like that album, The World We Left Behind strays too far from the icy Scandanavian path trodden by Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Carpathian Forest et al to be considered ‘true’ black metal, and is an altogether different proposition.
If you’ve never heard any black metal and want to hear just how far from that path that Nachtmystium have strayed, seek out Darkthrone’s magnum opus Transilvanian Hunger. That record is black metal. It’s the complete summation and definition of what most listeners think of whenever those two words are uttered or written next to each other (the same could also be said of Burzum’s Det som engang var – which features “Lost Wisdom”, a song Nachtmystium have covered). The World We Left Behind, then, is something that for the purposes of brevity I would ask you to refer to as ‘Black ‘n’ Roll’.
So just what is this madness? The chiming, squalling guitars of opening instrumental “Intrusion” ride a rock-steady drum pattern – the occasional smattering of double-kick-pedal action is the only clue you’re listening to a metal record until a chugging, galloping Venom-y riff cuts in. The following track “Fireheart” is a true wonder – Judd barks, kicking off what I can only think of as a Revelations-era Killing Joke homage. Not that that is a bad thing, quite the contrary: Judd’s bilious growling fits the tight post-punk soundscape so naturally and so engagingly that the “Bang your head or move your feet” conundrum becomes positively painful. Both are completely acceptable.
“Voyager” follows, and is built upon a swaying seesaw rhythm, incorporating as it goes slashing chords and Blake’s cutting, introspective growled lyrics. It’s one of the most morose, depressing moments in Nachtmystium’s canon – and is all the more intriguing for it. “On The Other Side” is another highlight – it’s another stylistic diversion, seeing as it’s built completely upon indie-rock foundations… it sounds like someone cut and pasted some black metal growling onto an Interpol tune (yes, really). It’s a great tune, to boot: the post-punk throb and rigid drum patterns are a useful palette for Judd’s downbeat mental meanderings (they’re also perfect primers for the fiery James Williamson-esque solo histrionics.) The sub-zero outer-space journey that “Tear You Down” embarks on has to be heard to be believed – it posits Nachtmystium as the Yin to Beherit’s Yang, seeing as Beherit’s gloriously crude galactic explorations were scary in an Alien kinda way, whereas “Tear You Down” is a polished, refined take on interplanetary rock - not anywhere near as threatening and almost inviting.
“In the Absence of Existence” is rooted to a heavy, plodding beat – but the majestic flourishes of guitar melody, in combination with the string sounds, elevate it beyond the realms of filler. The endlessly frantic “Into The Endless Abyss” is the complete opposite – it strides forwards with boundless blast-beat fueled energy. Add to that the disorienting title track (think speed-metal-in-space) and the epic, supernova closer “Epitaph for a Dying Star” and you have quite the collection.
Nachtmystium have, and will always continue to have, vehement detractors and fervent supporters. If you’re in the former camp, this album will do little to prove to you that what you already think of Nachtmystium is necessarily wrong. If you’re in the latter camp – this record is finally the album that brings the band full circle. They have returned to their best style – tempered, refined heavy rock that uses the finest extracts of black metal to supplement an already engrossing sound (not the other way round.)
Who can say whether Blake will turn public opinion back in his favour – but you can say with some certainty that he does not give a shit either way. He says it’s their best ever album, it’s highly unlikely you’ll agree (I still think Addicts takes that accolade)... but it’s probably their most listenable, and that alone makes it highly recommended.