Nachtmystium's sixth full-length record, Silencing Machine, feels in many ways like the band are coming home, full circle, completing a circuit of innovation and wildness that began with Instinct: Decay in 2006 when they first started to branch out from their foundation of raw, organic black metal into something stranger. Their last two albums in particular – Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 and Addicts: Black Meddle Part II – were complex, often experimental explorations of blackened psychedelic rock that led to the band characterizing their sound as "blackadelia." Silencing Machine is something different. This is less about hearts and guts than it is bleeding circuitry. While Nachtmystium, particularly mastermind Blake Judd, still display a ferocious intellect in their composing process, they're left the ocean of human wreckage in favour of cybernetics.
In my opinion, you've pushed against being black metal band, preferring to use black metal as the foundation from which to build much stranger and more complex musical structures. What called you back to a more active engagement with black metal on Silencing Machine?
Judd: Well, I never really resisted being labeled black metal; I just didn't think that the two Black Meddle records were really black metal. Those records were based in black metal, because that's where we are based, but they were pretty far removed from the BM scene. This record is much more traditional, in a sense. It definitely isn't bedroom black metal, but it's a black metal record that has some other sounds added for good measure.
Whereas the Black Meddle albums were much more fractured and schizophrenic, Silencing Machine sounds much more orderly. What led to you return to this sense of order?
It had been a plan all along. After we released Instinct: Decay, we had all of these people talking about how we had gotten so weird with our sound and we were really pushing the genre. We decided to do those two records as part of a series where we really went with that and made the records as experimental or weird as we could [laughs]. We decided to let all of our other interests flow through those records. At the same time, we had decided this was only going to be a two-album series and then we were going to go back to doing what we were doing previously. And it just so happens that, once we got to that point, I had this renewed interest in black metal and it made sense to go back down that direction.
In your previous releases, you are often playing with a sense of freedom or exploration. While Silencing Machine is certainly still infused with the spirit of exploration, it's much more serious, even constrained as a composition. What led to your decision to work with restraint?
Yeah, I'm glad you sense that, because we really were holding ourselves back from going out there and doing the same experimentation as the past two albums. Part of that was because I wanted a record that we could easily play live from front to back. A lot of the songs on the Black Meddle records can't be played live without any number of guest musicians on stage with us. I like the live energy of the older stuff compared to the Black Meddle records and I wanted to bring that back. The other part of restraining ourselves is that we all wanted to make a really cool black metal record. We had just come off of being the psychedelic/experimental band and we were done with that; we wanted to do black metal again.
Do you think that sometimes there are more creative possibilities in holding back than in letting loose?
Oh, definitely. I think that it really allowed us to focus on the songs this time around. On the previous two albums, we would throw in a saxophone solo or other things like that, but we made a decision not to do that this time around and that made us really focus on the songs we were writing. I think that Silencing Machine, as a whole, has better songwriting than any other Nachtmystium album yet because of it.
What called you back to the foundation or core of heavy metal? What got you excited to work more closely with that base again?
Being away from it, honestly [laughs]. I ran Battle Kommand, my label, for so long that I had begun to get burned out on working with metal all day, every day. I really took an extended break from listening to it, aside from what Nachtmystium were doing and who we were touring with. After I took that break, I was renewed and excited to go back into the underground and revisit all of that. I really got into metal again and it's a lot of fun again.
There's been a movement in heavy metal in general towards the weirder, stranger, more avant-garde. Is your return to a more basic, raw black metal aesthetic a reaction against this in any way?
Not really. For Nachtmystium, it's much more about what we want to do rather than what's going on in the metal scene at large. It just worked out that way that when we were being weirder, most bands were being more traditional and now it's the opposite.
There are still glimmers of industrial around the edges of Silencing Machine, which is many ways feels like the more robotic, mechanical or controlled foil to the wildness of your last two albums. Was this a deliberate conceptual choice? Are you seeking order through industrial influences?
No, I actually just always loved industrial music. I grew up in Chicago and was influenced by that classic Chicago industrial sound. I've wanted to experiment with that for a while and this ended up being the right forum for that exploration. I think that the industrial tinges really added a harsher vibe to the songs. When we first started recording, the songs were really crushing black metal and I think that Sanford [Parker]'s synthesizers and the industrial notes really sharpened that sound up and made an interesting sound for the record.
Whereas the Black Meddle albums projected a trapped or desperately confined energy (trapped in old habits, negative emotions, violent impulses), there is something about the aggression and negativity in Silencing Machine that strikes me as much more hopeful, as though you are exorcising or expelling that negativity.
Really? That's very interesting to hear. To me, this is one of the most negative albums we've ever done. "Borrowed Hopes and Broken Dreams" is just about as "bright" as this album gets and that song is still very dark. I actually feel totally opposite from you because the lyrics to this album are much more negative and hopeless than previous outings. Very interesting to hear that though!
How does the new material translate into your love of performance?
Very much so. As I said, this is an album that we can play live front to back without having a ton of guests out with us and that was very much intentional. I like the more black metal aspects of our music in a live setting and I think that these songs sound absolutely incredible live the few times that we've played them so far. That was a very big factor, for me!
Read a review of Silencing Machine here.