Nachtmystium - Assassins: Black Meddle Part I

posted by Brian, Friday August 8, 2008 @ 05:08:33 PM

Contributed by Jeremey

Century Media, 2008

When a fan is told to expect the unexpected from a band whose past work sits in a genre obsessed with orthodoxy, he or she might be forgiven for succumbing to cynicism, even pessimism. Thus after Nachtmystium's hallucinatory, absorbing, and of course popular Instinct:Decay, when the rumors began that the next album would be ... a bit different, so too began the subterranean rumbling and grumbling. No one would fault a black metal band for experimenting; this is the twenty-first century and Transilvanian Hunger has been reheated (refrozen?) until it resembles nothing so much as a week-old microwaved burrito. But with Nachtmystium, who seemed just to be hitting their stride, news of a stylistic shift made many people, including this reviewer, nervous.

Upon the first few listens, I found Assassins to be a spotty affair. In fact my initial verdict was that four very good Nachtmystium songs had been forced into the midst of a swirling mess of paranoid prog-rock replication. Not only this, but the best song, the title track, seemed to have been ruined by an inexplicable additional two minutes of warbling, slobbering synth effects -- a misplaced coda that also managed to annihilate the album's momentum before even the third track. And at the CD's midpoint, a Pelican/Isis/pick your post-metal-band-oriented slow jam, while a nice concept, seemed once again to halt the forward motion, which had just struggled back to life after yet another synth instrumental located at track number four.

Then I realized I was going about this in exactly the wrong manner -- comparing Assassins to Instinct:Decay. Under those auspices, then yes, this new album is a disaster. Even judging this as a black metal album leads to uncertainty. For this is a modern METAL album, a diverse and inspired composition etched into the monolith of heavy, dark music. It speeds along in parts, plods predatorily in others, disintegrates then coagulates before your very eyes, over and over again, until at album's end you not only have no idea what just happened, but can't replay it fast enough.

It begins with a barely indirect quotation of Pink Floyd's "One of These Days", here transcribed into "One of These Nights", complete with a musical facsimile and a voice that growls, "One of these nights I'm going to fucking die." Interesting. Point taken. But not very promising, frankly. It is only with track number two, with its punkified chorus and absolutely mesmerizing first coda (not the synth crap), that Black Meddle begins roaring. (Incidentally, for those who found the final three minutes of last album's "A Seed for Suffering" as incendiary as did I, this particular departure will rekindle those flames -- though this time there's no soloing.) The production, deep and heavy and clear, turns the Nachtmystium sound into something newly defined and accessible, yet never makes repeated listens redundant. It's perfect, really, this presentation, and even though I'll never love Instinct:Decay any less, this new shape and format is very attractive.

For the remainder of the disc, things alternate rigidly between traditional black metal and, respectively, an atmospheric piano piece (surprisingly good and creepy, as these things go), the aforementioned metaldeadheaded jam, and, to close the album, a totally wacked out triptych entitled "Seasick," which sounds like early Genesis, King Crimson, and even more Floyd channeled through a bottle of Jack. It all works, somehow, even the saxophone that comes in during the middle section. And as a matter of fact, whatever drugs were used in the studio should've come with the CD. Also there are a few actual guitar solos, always nice to hear in metal these days.

As I said, this must be listened to as an album -- not a black metal album, not an Ajna Offensive album, and certainly not an album competing with the likes of Xasthur or Striborg. All of these other musical entities are good, having loads of value in the right places, but Assassins: Black Meddle Part One is ennervating, modern dark metal for a drowsing scene.

P.S.: I still think those two minutes of crap after the title track need to GO THE FUCK HOME.

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