Addicts: Black Meddle Part II
You know that ten-foot-tall, stomping-ass swagger you get after you rip a few rails? (If you don't, that's totally cool. Don't run out and buy an eight-ball just to find out.) It's a false sense of dominance, but your mind is doing everything in its power to convince you of your own badassery. Truthfully, though, your limbs feel disconnected, your blood feels like dimly-electrified gelatin, and if any shit were to actually go down, your wild-ass haymakers would have all the stopping power of Von Kaiser's jab. But in your mind, man...you could kill a motherfucker with your bare hands.
Addicts is oozing the same mind-tricked bravado. See, Nachtmystium are hot-shit rulebreakers now, the golden gods of the post-black regime. Unfortunately, they don't have the mettle or the chops throw down in proper fisticuffs, much less claim a throne. They aren't revolutionaries, geniuses, or even--on this record--competent. The excess has gone to their heads.
This revelation isn't immediate, as Addicts starts in the same startlingly stout fashion as its predecessor, Assassins. "High on Hate" is a crackling, blackened banger, packed with satisfying lyrical delivery ('If you see us coming, step aside...") and the vicious blackpunk snarl they wreaked so savagely on Assassins tracks like "Your True Enemy." After almost three minutes of bashery, however, the band descends into apathetic post-metal jingle-jangle, and the creative rut begins to form.
The rut quickly becomes cavernous, forming a veritable canyon of what-the-fucks that only serve to prove that Nachtmystium are deliberately playing against their strengths. Addicts fails for the exact same reasons why Assassins excelled. Where Assassins was surprising and inventive, Addicts comes across as gimmicky and threadbare. "Nightfall" is a rickety, reedy rock number built around a sing-songy Clash chorus, which, ahem, clashes quite awkwardly with Blake Judd's halting rasps. The next track,"No Funeral," opens with a synth loop that is wicked cool--momentarily. This violent digression into filthfucked Sisters of Mercy territory is welcomed at first, until it becomes apparent that they're intent on repeating the same thirty-second idea for a full five minutes. By the time the song closes, the synth riff that sounded so cool initially has totally worn out its welcome.
Each song has at least one strong band of rope running through it, but the band's club-footed execution consistently wears that cord to a mere thread. There are strong ideas at play here--Nachtmystium just lack the ability to follow through with them. Legitimate riffs are in far shorter supply than half-cocked nods to Killing Joke. The post-rock/new wave hybrid dancepunches of "Addicts" and "Ruined Life Continuum" are the closest things to bright spots, but the latter of which would be much more profound if Amesoeurs hadn't already done it (and better) on multiple occassions.
Truth be told, Judd's vocal limitations grind this album into a lukewarm middle course. His range is severely limited, and absolutely must improve if Nachtmystium have any intention on spreading their wings any further into uncharted territories. As it stands, explorative indie types will be put off by Judd's black metal trappings and one-trick barking. And extreme metallers will be turned off by the wholesale lack of serious riffing, a matter exacerbated by Sanford Parker's muted, punchless production. Essentially, Addicts is an album of limited appeal: a product of a band that has fallen prey to its own hype, convincing themselves that every bullshit idea they conjure is, indeed, a fucking good one.
Of course, the band can do whatever they please. They don't owe anyone anything, and they have every right to explore whatever avenues they see fit. But that doesn't mean the finished product will be listenable in its entirety, or won't trigger an overwhelming urge to say, "Fuck it, I'm just gonna throw on Monument to Time End instead." Sure, Nachtmystium deserve a modicum credit for managing to individualize these songs while creating a relatively cohesive (albeit dull-as-fuck) whole. But none of these risks actually pay off, and they've spread themselves far too thin. Addicts is adventurism for adventurism's sake, evidenced by the fact that when all is said and done, none of these compositions are compelling in the slightest. (Some, like the campy "Blood Trance Fusion" and the rehashed "Then Fires," completely fail.) In the midst of the crazed-ass rush to anoint Nachtmystium as some kind of forerunners, maybe it's time to take a step back and ask: Of what, exactly?
“Nothing hurts more than being born.”
It’s not too difficult to relate with the desire to evolve as a person, a writer, or artist. Living in the Midwest, specifically Illinois, people are surprised by how slow life moves aside from Chicago/Evanston, but even life in the city is a constant struggle against staleness and boredom beyond our usual daily stresses. This is a great time in society to be creative, but I admit to getting a weird feeling in my gut when I first heard Addicts, the second in Nachtmystium’s Black Meddle duo, allegedly featured urban dance beats, clean vocals, and samples. This tingling of my spidey-sense wasn’t entirely negative, however, in fact it made me very curious as to how they were going to pull it off considering this was supposedly greatly influenced by 70’s and 80’s rock, punk, and heavy alt’ music like Ministry and Killing Joke. As such, this is far less outwardly abrasive than the comparatively violent Assassins, but their imagery and message is no friendlier than before.
Even though this album is a vast departure from a pure black metal aesthetic even more so than anything the band has ever done, their foundation still remains firmly in a more grim state of mind. After a short introduction where the quote above is spelled out with increased intensity letter by letter, the band abruptly erupts into the full-on riot of “High On Hate”, a nasty blast of withdrawn cynicism and self-preservation that concludes with a huge shout-along over wailing solos. The cold misanthropy also appears in the brooding and incensed “The End Is Eternal”, a tune that almost reminds me of Twilight’s recent monstrosity, Monument To Time End, with its layered tones and kaleidoscopic structure.
While the majority of Addicts does fall far away from Nachtmystium’s more traditional black metal sound, with mostly mid-paced, riff-heavy tracks that follow extremely vague verse/chorus formations, I can hear some Hawkwind in there, a hint of the Misfits and other late-70’s punk (“Nightfall”), and post-s/t Voivod, all of it tethered in a wired-out, turbulent yet still accessible package. When vibes begin to bring rise to a drug-ridden, careless vibe like on the askew “No Funeral”, things tend to meander slightly between wicked grooves and bland monotony, and “Blood Trance Fusion” is about as bi-polar as you can get with its interbreeding of foot-shuffling techno/trance effects and Venom-like, thrashy punk. These transitions aren't the smoothest I've heard, but I've heard a lot worse.
Blake has altered his vocal style to sound less grating than usual, but it’s more like what Chuck Schuldiner did going from Spiritual Healing to Individual Thought Patterns, where the lessening of weight in the voice is replaced with a sharper, and yes, cleaner edge, especially during the title track and “No Funeral”. The underlying theme makes itself vividly known throughout the course of the album-- wide-eyed desperation with waves of stunning clarity, denial, obsessive compulsions, and unapologetic selfishness. It’s an homage to losing it all for wanting it all, and closing catharsis of “Every Last Drop”, enhanced by stunning guest vocals by Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont, puts this beast to rest with both defiance and self-loathing.
What I find so surprising about Addicts is how it grows over time, how the hooks don’t sink in immediately, and the small details don’t emerge until well after a few listens, notably with the percussive ass kicking laid out by guest drummer, Wrest. There is a very cool simplicity to the more straightforward tracks like the purely awesome “Then Fires”, and the deeply stoned solo contributions from Pharaoh’s Matt Johnson, and former Pentagram guitarist Russ Strahan helps give this a genuinely disjointed, retro feel. In comparison to past works, this feels like a band fully molting its former shell and turning to a quieter, less obvious method of killing, but they’re finding a way to be even less politically correct without being so blatant. Their shift of sound and image isn’t the easiest to latch on to at first, and doesn’t touch the best moments of Assassins in spite of standout numbers like “High On Hate”, “Then Fires”, "The End Is Eternal", and “Every Last Drop”.
I’ve said from the start that Nachtmystium are a special kind of band, and I stand behind that even though this is a release that will definitely throw a few people off balance, and possibly out of the game entirely. In that regard, Addicts is a very bold and uncompromising release regardless of the lessening of grandiose psychedelic elements, and a mellowing of the black metal wall of sound. It’s a pivotal and vital stage in the progression of this talented outfit, and I’m very curious to see how their fan base accepts, or rejects, the new shades of their nihilistic skin.
Assassins: Black Meddle Part I