Black metal is a genre built on aesthetics. Lo-fi production, tremolo guitar picking, blast-beat drumming, shrieked vocals that sound like an orc being tortured, and definitely some corpse paint. The genre’s early purveyors—Burzum, Mayhem, and Darkthrone—hailed from the cold countryside of Norway and set the standard for black metal in the early ‘90s. Misanthropic outcasts, these individuals channeled their pagan ideals and perpetual angst through their amplifiers.
The genre is derided for an over-reliance on those aforementioned aesthetics and a lack of unique musical ideas. Saddled with this criticism (or pre-conceived notion, rather), contemporary acts like Chicago’s Nachtmystium must sound evil and distinct. Otherwise, what’s the point? Finnish and Norwegians artists have put out so much black metal that the genre’s nearly been exhausted. But Nachtmystium stay relevant on Silencing Machine by combining American-thrash influences with traditional black metal traits.
Opener “Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem” strikes hard and fast, hurling layers of guitar feedback while frontman Blake Judd screams from the depths. Slowly, the multitudes of chords lock together to form a satisfying groove at the song’s climax. And that’s what Nachtmystium does so well; their songs start chaotically, but there’s always direction and momentum and a devil-horns-to-the-sky groove waiting to be head-banged to—the black-metal equivalent of a hook.
Lyrically, when Judd isn’t spelling out certain doom, he looks inward. “Trapped inside myself with nowhere to hide,” he repeats during “The Lepers of Destitution”, the album’s eight-minute centerpiece. And he really sounds lost, pleading with terror in his voice. Following track “Borrowing Hope and Broken Dreams” mulls over equally downbeat subject matter, but it’s the album’s most accessible rocker, complete with a verse-chorus-verse structure and Southern-sludge riffing.
One moment you’re getting the shit scared out of you, the next you’re playing air guitar and bobbing to the beat. That’s Nachtmystium, and Silencing Machine is arguably their strongest LP yet. As a listener, even if your world isn’t as bleak as Judd’s, the music is still affecting emotionally (when it’s terrifying) and physically (when it rocks). And that’s what successful art does—it affects.
Essential Tracks: “Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem”, “Borrowing Hope and Broken Dreams”