by Mark Hensch
Moody and esoteric, Illinois horde Nachtmystium has always been something of an enigma in the realm of modern black metal. Not unlike the sinister apparition after which their latest, "Assassins," is named, the band's newest album sees them sneaking up on traditional black metal and murdering it in cold blood. I sat down with singer/stringer Blake Judd and talked past, present, and future in regards to his otherworldly band.
Mark Hensch of Thrashpit.com: First off all, I would just like to say the new album is killer and has blown my mind every time I listen to it. As an older fan, it was definitely worth the wait.
Blake Judd: Thanks man! I'm really glad to hear that.
Thrashpit: First things first. How would you recount the genesis of Nachtmystium to readers at home who are perhaps unfamiliar with your band?
Blake: I started Nachtmystium when I was 17 with a friend of mine. Both of us were in other bands at the time, and both bands never really existed outside of the greater Chicago area. This particular friend and I started writing music our other bands didn't want to play, and that is how everything started. We both ended up getting kicked out of our original bands for trying to bring more to the equation
so here we are now (laughs).
Thrashpit: I met some poor guy who was obviously from another country earlier, and he was convinced your band's name was German. Though I'm pretty sure that's not true, where does the name 'Nachtmystium' come from anyways? What significance does it have to you?
Blake: Its funny man, I get asked this question all the time. I was driving around getting stoned with my drummer, trying to think up a name for the band, and somehow we got "Nachtmystium." "Nacht" is German for "Night," and at the time, we had no idea what "Mystium" meant. I later came to learn it is Latin for "Encompassing Darkness." It makes sense given what we do and it is cool as no one else could ever be called "Nachtmystium" as it is a made-up word.
Ironically enough, the name is my only beef with my band. If I could change the name, I would, but we're too far into the game to do that now (laughs).
Thrashpit: Let's talk about your band's latest album Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. I. What goals do you have for this album?
Blake: We just wanted to do what we wanted, same as we always do. We had a lot more money to work with so we were able to work with more people we wanted this time around and just bring them into the equation. For example, we got both the engineer and producers we wanted this time around. [Session drummer] Tony Laureano obviously doesn't work for free. He wanted in for artistic reasons of course, but he also needed to get paid as session musicians aren't part of publishing profits or royalty pay scales and all of that sh*t. He'd probably be out with us on tour now if he wasn't already in Dimmu Borgir, and they make a 150 times more money than we could ever could (laughs). He's in Europe with them right now.
Thrashpit: What would you say is the central theme or concept behind Assassins?
Blake: No, not really. No more than the previous albums. The conceptual aspect, if any, is that Nachtmystium is constantly changing. We are not about typical black metal thematics, and our lyrics are more about our lives, life in general, and our society. It is very not much not Satan, Goat, War, Necronomicon, that kind of thing.
Thrashpit: Assassins is an album which in my opinion breaks a lot of boundaries and taboos within the black metal genre, maybe even moving away from it entirely. What inspired such a drastic change and where will it take Nachtmystium in the future?
Blake: We're not so egocentric to assume that we're reinventing the wheel of black metal here. I will take credit for the fact that I marketed our previous album Instinct: Decay as psychedelic black metal. Since then I have see numerous bands marketing themselves as that. Moribund Records is an example of this trend. As soon as Instinct came out, as soon as it did what it did, it was like there was a subgenre of a subgenre I guess to some people. Hopefully, our influence will turn into something but I don't see us as being innovative at all.
If anything, Nachtmystium is basically a punk band. If you take out all the overdubs, effects, and lead guitar work, we are a power chord rock band for sure.
We just all like other kinds of music and we really like to bring those influences into our sound. No one else has the balls to do that in black metal. It seems that a lot of people in black metal have this narrow view, like they are just walking around with blinders on and they are afraid to experiment. That or maybe they are just not interested in experimenting.
For me, running a record label and a mail order distro, I hear extreme metal constantly and a lot of it is forgettable. It really takes an amazing album---Deathspell Omega for example---to do something amazing while still keeping that oldschool, harsh black metal vibe. To me, a band like theirs almost isn't even black metal anyways---it's more like Neurosis on crack (laughs).
Thrashpit: How do you feel Nachtmystium fits in with the black metal genre after an album like Assassins, if at all?
Blake: I've worked really hard and I feel like I deserve it, the rest of my band deserves it. We deserve to be on a great tour like this one and have a great room to chill with a great band like Boris after shows.
At the same time, we're fairly level-headed about things. We get thrown a lot of sh*t. People say, "Oh, you've signed to this label," or "Oh, you've toured with this band," like it's a bad thing.
We actually made sh*t tons of money as a pure black metal band, believe it or not. We were selling our own merch, marketing everything, and setting up our own tours. We were always on the packages we wanted to be on.
When you start making that kind of money, you get comfortable. That's why I chose to sign with a record label---my vision got distorted as I was making so much money off the band. When you own the label and you pay your own band---the likes of whom has had a revolving door lineup by the way---you get a couple thousand record sales going straight into your label.
It got to a point where I'd plan my year and make an annual business plan. It was so bad that eventually I'd be making the plan and be like, "Oh, it's time to make a new Nachtmystium record." That's the wrong f*cking reason to make an album. At that point, it has gotten too tied into the business aspect of things.
Everyone got really cozy from how things were going, to a point where we didn't have the stresses of everyday life. What, at that point, do you have to write music this angry about?
There was no motivation, no more bad days. I didn't have a bad day for like three years. Because of this we signed to a label, I downsized mine, and I moved. I tried to make life suck a little bit (laughs) ---and it has (huge laughs). Now we're in a better position artistically and creatively.
Thrashpit: You couldn't have set this up better (laughs). Speaking of being critical of oneself, there is an old saying that a musician is his own worst critic. What is your favorite song on Assassins and why?
Blake: I like "Code Negative." It is my favorite one and I'm not entirely sure why. I guess it's the two riffs at the beginning that just jump back and forth between each other. It reminds me of a Beatles song off White Album actually.
I also really like the last three songs, the "Seasick" trilogy. We pulled those songs out of our asses like a day before we went in the studio (laughs). The first part of the trilogy reminds me of Boris actually, just that whole spacey vibe. I am really happy with how everything turned out.
Thrashpit: As an album, Assassins is seemingly littered with subtle winks and nods to 1970s rock bands, particularly Pink Floyd. Was this intentional, and what clever references can be found in the album?
Blake: Subtle (laughs)? It is called Black Meddle (laughs)!
Besides that, there's also "One of These Nights," our tribute to "One of These Days."
Oh, and a recent interview I did made me think of something I never realized before. The Floyd album Meddle, besides inspiring this album's name, had a twenty minute song about water called "Echoes." Our last fifteen minutes of this album is called "Seasick" and is also about water.
Thrashpit: With Assassins, Nachtmystium has jumped to much bigger label distribution in Century Media Records and Candlelight Records. Will these new deals change the way you run and work with your own independent label, Battle Kommand Records?
Blake: The only impact it has on my business is that I am not selling my own band's record.
It has great things for us too as they put a lot of force behind marketing us and getting us on great tours and all that.
It's also freed me up personally. Not to sound like an assh*le, but Instinct: Decay did fairly well and it was really hard packaging and mailing everything by myself. I don't have to do that with this album and I don't think I could have done it by myself. It is a real cool situation with the label and it helps a lot.
Thrashpit: Let's talk about you personally. What bands or artists inspired you when you were growing up?
Blake: My parents took me to see the Allman Brothers when I was in 2nd grade and it blew my mind. That was it for me. From there I got into Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin.
My parents had a really great record collection and played it for me all the time when I was a little kid.
There's an old family story about this one time my dad was carrying me around on his shoulders when I was about 1. He used to wear these headphones and on this particular day he gave them to me. We were walking around and went under this low archway and somehow I hit my head really hard. Ever since then, my family has joked that music was literally drilled into me (laughs).
Thrashpit: Must have been quite the hit (laughs)! How about nowadays? Are there any current bands or artists that music fans simply need to hear?
Blake: Boris is one band. I mentioned Deathspell Omega earlier.
I don't hear much of the extreme stuff right now as I am a little burned out on it. When I do, it is usually few and far between, generally older records. I have worked with it for so long it just sounds a bit repetitive after a while.
Right now my favorite group is actually a band called Woven Hand. They're a fundamentalist Christian folk band (laughs). It is f*cking amazing (laughs). Our producer for the new album, Sanford Parker, told me to go see a show of theirs and that it would blow my mind. I had no idea what I was in for. I cannot put words to how amazing it was.
Thrashpit: You were a member of United States Black Metal super group Twilight. What was it like playing with members of Xasthur, Leviathan, and Draugar? Will there be any new recordings from the band?
Blake: It was a two week demo session (laughs). I don't know how it got marketed as such a big, fancy thing. It was so funny how infatuated the press was with that album. We made the reviews section of Rolling Stone, yet we made all that music in a week and had never jammed together. We recorded it in a bedroom! It definitely wasn't this mystical meeting of the minds (laughs). It was a cool experience though as I hadn't been to the West Coast at the time. It was nice to be in San Francisco for two weeks. That was the most memorable part for me.
Thrashpit: During your earlier recordings, you performed under the stage name Azentrius. Nowadays it seems that the name has vanished a bit from use. Is there any particular reason for this shift?
Blake: That dates back to when I was like 15. As I got older and became less conscious of being in a black metal band, blah blah blah, I was like f*ck this.
We did have some band members who didn't want their real names in any of the credits. That was a big part of it---I wasn't just going to write Tom, Joe, Jim, and WARGOAT (laughs).
It was cool at first but we're really not a traditional "spikes and paint" band. When we did first start playing live, we had people come up and be like "how's it gong Azentrius?" I was like really?
Thrashpit: Nachtmystium is on tour right now with Boris and Torche. How did such a diverse lineup come about and how have the shows been so far?
Blake: It was cool even though Wolves in the Throne Room dropped off.
Our band and Lair of the Minotaur were approached to do different legs of the tour instead. It has been great ever since. Torche and Boris are the nicest f*cking people I have ever traveled with. There is no retarded rock star element anywhere in the package. I'd even say I have never gone on a tour that has gone this smoothly. We all get along and it is fun seeing each of us annihilate everyone onstage.
Thrashpit: In the fall Nachtmystium again hits the road with Opeth and High on Fire. What, if anything, can you say about that tour?
Blake: I'm actually kind of nervous. Those venues are f*cking huge. A place like tonight's---St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit---is about the largest we've done and it really doesn't intimidate me. A place like the New York City Venue with Opeth---where the finale of this year's American Idol was taped---is a bit different. I can tell you we will be bringing Sanford Parker to do all the Moog stuff live.
Thrashpit: Last question! What does the future hold for Nachtmystium?
Blake: We're just touring and hopefully doing another record over the course of next year. We're really excited for the Opeth/High on Fire tour and we're supposed to go to Japan early next year. Daymare Recordings is putting out our new record over there and wants us to tour. They've thrown a few band names around, and they're pretty big, I'll put it like that [Editor's Note: For the sake of surprise we won't name anyone but Blake is right!]. Either way it will be great, and as Daymare is run by Boris' manager we're kinda hoping we can maybe play with them again.
Thrashpit: It has been an honor to talk with you today. Keep it wicked and enjoy the shows---my guess is people are going to be blown away when they hear the new album. Cheers!
Blake: My pleasure. Have a good one!
L to R: Blake and Mark
(photo by Kayleigh Athena Sutherland)
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