MP3: Nachtmystium – Cold Tormentor (I’ve Become) from Nachtmystium (2003)
To me, “black metal” means a style of music pioneered by Norwegian bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem in the early 1990s. The (again, for me) defining elements of the genre are densely layered trebly guitars, often low-fidelity production, high screechy vocals, lyrics about darkness, despair, and evil (as opposed to dismemberment, gore and violence), and riffs that are more melodic than one finds in other extreme forms of metal like death metal. In recent years, American bands have produced some of the best music in this subgenre. Chicago’s Nachtmystium (opening for Marduk on Monday on the Club Stage at Sonar), are among my favorites of this new crop.
Marduk represents the more fast and brutal end of the black metal spectrum: no synthesizers, intense drumming, and overall a sound that is more aggressive and less ambient. They wear scary makeup and sing about evil. I have never seen them live, but they have a sound similar to 1349 who I saw play with Carcass last year; they stole the show from the other opening acts. Marduk is real black metal, a must-see especially if you missed Satyricon in September.
However, the main draw for me is Nachtmystium. Using the basic elements of black metal as a point of departure, bands like Krallice, Wolves in the Throne Room, Leviathan, and Nachtmystium, have each contributed something unique. The result is not so much one new trend or direction but a set of cool possibilities, ranging from classic-rock-tinged black metal (Nachtmystium) to experimental noise black metal (Canada’s Wold), to ambient, new age-y black metal (Wolves in the Throne Room). All of these bands maintain the darkness and depth of the Norwegian sound, drawing on the bleakest musical style in the world and producing something new and vital.
Nachtmystium’s Assassins: Black Meddle, Pt. 1 uses more sounds from seventies rock and roll than their previous albums, but the basic skeleton is still black metal. My favorite (and one of my favorite black metal records ever) is still 2006’s Instinct: Decay. Listen to “Eternal Ground” from this album to get psyched up for Nachtmystium. Instinct and parts of Assassins both have an urgency and an energy that I think is very rare in the black metal that I have heard, and downright remarkable in any music that is this dark. I am not personally energized and sustained by darkness and despair (confronted and challenged maybe) in music, and those moods are somewhat intrinsic to this style. Nachtmystium’s mixture of the energizing elements with their dark and brutal side is a rare accomplishment.