NACHTMYSTIUM – Addicts: Black Meddle part II

Most (read: not all, but….) black metal bands worth listening to eventually reach a point wherein they evolve beyond the aesthetic constraints that their genre reveled in during the late 1980s/early 1990s: the thin, fuzzy guitars, the constant, galloping tempo, the ever-present lo-fi haze that envelopes each song like coffin. Nachtmystium are no exception to this; with their earliest albums, Reign of the Malicious and Demise, they embarked down the path that Darkthrone had laid down (and then circled back to, again and again) so many years before. With Instinct: Decay, the band’s sound opened up, becoming singed at the seams with prog and pysch rock flourishes, resulting in a sound that was as cerebral as it was violent and menacing. The band would perfect this with Assassins: Black Meddle part I; that album had more in common with, say, Sigh, than Burzum. So now we have Addicts: Black Meddle part II – that it’s a perfect spiritual successor to Assassins should come as no surprise. That it’s, in large part, more indebted to hard rock fist-pumping than anything else, is.

The one album I kept coming back to in my mind whilst listening to Addicts was Entombed’s landmark 1997 album DCLXVI: To Ride Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth, an album which nobody, not even fans of Wolverine Blues really saw coming. Entombed weren’t just crafting a stylistic anomaly with Wolverine Blues, and DCLXVI proves it. The band’s new direction, of mixing hard rock swagger and death metal’s confrontational spirit, would come to define much of their future releases. That mixture is alive and well on Addicts. And what’s more, it hasn’t sounded this good in ages. Then Fires seethes with jagged guitar riffs and Blake Judd’s visceral, tortured howling. For such an ugly, destructive song, it sure is a fun time to listen to. And I think that last part is what gives the album the bulk of its power: the songs all tie in thematically to a single idea, giving the album an authentic atmosphere that lesser black metal lacks.

I’ve listened to Addicts more than any other metal album this year so far, and it unquestionably takes you through the journey of an addict. The album begins, appropriately enough, with Cry For Help, wherein a raspy Judd intones over a sparse backdrop of delayed drums and chimes, “Nothing hurts more than being born.” It’s the sound of desperation in a lot of ways, the need to have something, anything, define you and provide you with meaning. It is, in short, part of a cycle that every addict winds up in at some point. Then, right on cue, High On Hate comes careening at you at 300mph. It’s the album’s only true black metal song, and it holds nothing back, and for good reason, too. This is the song wherein the addict’s high kicks in (the previous song, and the despair it held fast inside, brought us here, after all). It’s the rush, the instant euphoria, and the rest of the album rides out from there. No Funeral and the aforementioned Then Fires are upbeat, rollicking songs, songs that show the addict’s penchant for creating chaos in his altered state. This all culminates with the album’s centerpiece and title track, wherein the chorus unapologetically screams at you, “All I want…is more.” Addicts happens to be the song where the high starts to fade, so it’s no wonder it’s as ravenous a song as it is. The songs following it all form part of a downward spiral into withdrawl; they get moodier and slower as they progress, and Every Last Drop, the album’s final song, is an eight and a half minute death march to a place of unimaginable sorrow and desperation (hmm, much like the opening song). Thus, the album ends where it began: screaming at the agony that is now life.

Whew. Sorry for getting all analytical on you there for a second. But such thematic devotion is so rare in metal that I had to step in and make note of it. Addicts, in the realm of music in general, isn’t unique in what it does (The Velvet Underground did basically the same thing in microcosm with the song Heroin over forty years ago), but it is unique in terms of the genre in which it does it. Now, you might think I’m reading a bit too much into the album here, but frankly, the album doesn’t exactly mince words or moods or feelings while it’s playing; you’d have to do a whole lot of convincing to get me to believe that all this stuff is coincidence. Fortunately, if you’re still not buying it, let it be said that Addicts is an undeniably enjoyable metal album that switches gears on you on more than one occasion, and it doesn’t show off or compromise itself when it does so. That’s a rare thing nowadays. It’s not quite worth getting addicted to, but it’s close. Maybe too close…

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