Review: Nachtmystium’s "Worldfall" (Century Media)

 Chicago’s Nachtmystium first appeared on my radar with “Instinct: Decay,” an album that blended the rawness of black metal with stoned-out psychedelica, tripping rhythms and computer gurgles that warbled like Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey” mating with a Radio Shack calculator. And I mean all of that in a very good way. Even though vocalist/lead guitarist Blake Judd hadn’t dropped his black metal name (“Azentrius”) at that point, it was pretty clear from “Instinct: Decay” that Judd was leaving the winter woods of black metal behind and heading into uncharted territory.

Judd has been distancing himself from black metal (or at least saying he doesn’t intend to be fenced in by the genre’s traditional sound), and “Worldfall” shows the man is serious about pushing his musical boundaries. The title track moves with the stealthy lethargy of a boa constrictor wrapping around your torso as you sleep, without a single double-picked sixteenth guitar note to be found. Judd whispers doom and oblivion, while a backing chorus laments in harmony, like angels at a funeral. Even when the song unleashes its double kickdrum assault, it holds its creepy beauty. Harmony? Beauty? That’s right. “Worldfall” is a real breakthrough — and it’s only the first freakin’ track of the disc.

As if to bring things back to the evil center, track two, “Depravity,” is about as close to traditional black metal as “Wordfall” gets, although the midsection contains a spaced-out synth interlude before rushing back into madness. “Solitary Voyage,” a re-recording from the band’s “Demise” album, is another shift of pace: The track is a slow swan dive into a wave of late 1980s synth-guitar, as if Iron Maiden had cut “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” with a black metal rasper instead of Bruce Dickinson.

“Rose clouds of Holocaust” and “IV” are Death in June and Goatsnake covers, respectively.  “Rose Clouds” is a keyboard heavy pagan dance that owes a larger debt to Bauhaus than black metal. The final track, “IV,” is just a kick, as Judd throws black metal out the window for a blast of lumbering stoner rock. While all the previous tracks included at least some black metal vocals, Judd dumps the rasp on “IV” to sing in clean vocals — well, “clean” if you can ignore the “I’m so baked I can barely stand up, man” vibe in Judd’s delivery.

Black metal traditionalists will much to dislike here, which is fine. That copy of Emperor’s “In the Nightside Eclipse” sounds just as good today as it did when it was released last decade — so if innovation isn’t your cup of blood, stick with the black metal classics. But if you’re looking for an album that pushes the boundaries of black metal without completely severing itself from the genre’s twisted roots, “Wordfall” is worthy or your attention.

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