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Nachtmystium Interview

A Conversation with Vocalist/Guitarist Blake Judd




Century Media Records
Updated June 07, 2010
Change is difficult in often dogmatic musical genres like black metal, where corpse paint and anti-Christian lyrics are expected staples. Little wonder that Blake Judd’s musical transformation during the past decade has elicited anger as well as praise. Nachtmystium has transitioned from underground band to the metal mainstream.

They've also dealt with controversies and setbacks. The band was kicked off the SCION festival after they were wrongly accused of being Nazi sympathizers (a white power-affiliated label distributed one of the band’s earliest demos). They were kicked off the Opeth tour and Judd was sidelined for months with a broken leg. He also struggled with drugs.

Judd used that adversity when writing Addicts: Black Meddle Part 2. The album features another crew of new contributors, including Wrest of Leviathan on drums. Just like Judd moved away from traditional black metal he’s now seemingly moved past what was called “psychedelic black metal,” to something different. The album takes Nachtmystium down unexplored musical paths like industrial and even mainstream rock, while giving a nod to their cult roots.

Justin M. Norton: Ten years you were just one of those guys who played black metal in his bedroom. Did you anticipate that the road you would go down would put you in a position where your latest album would be getting a publicity push from one of metal’s biggest labels?
Blake Judd: Not really, to be honest. I would have thought it was blasphemy to work with a label like Century Media. I’m 27 now and I started the band when I was a teenager. I was very much a purist black metal kid. I was too cult in my own mind to even be listening to bands like Emperor or Immortal (laughs) and thought all those guys were big sellouts. I basically liked the moronic underground stuff.

But I can understand where I was at that point. I connected with the whole underground. It was before the Internet was where it is today, so it was really special. You had to write letters to people and order albums from tiny distributors. I was immersed in that world and never in a million years would I imagine that Nachtmystium would have progressed past something that was a vinyl and cassette-only black metal band.

Why did you gravitate to black metal when you were young?
I’ve always seen black metal as gangster rap’s white suburban counterpart. I liked the rebellion associated with it and the fact that it was so offensive. Any teen metal kid wants to be the most extreme on the block. I listened to black metal music before I ever heard death metal.

There was an article in Spin magazine in February 1996 when I was about 13. There was a feature called “Satan’s Cheerleaders” that covered what had been happening in Norway in the previous years -- the church burnings and murders.

Back then, I was into bands like Nine Inch Nails. I remember there was a picture of Ihsahn from Emperor. He was in this black-hooded cloak from the chest up and this robe. To this day it’s one of the most haunting black metal pictures that I’ve ever seen. I was like “holy s&*t, what the f--- is that guy’s music about?” I tracked down a copy of Emperor. Prior to that the most extreme thing I’d heard was Slayer.

I just dove in. I was attracted to Satanism and the occult and the fact that these guys were burning down churches and killing each other. It was the most extreme music in the world. No one that I knew growing up was into death metal, much less black metal. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I met another person familiar with the music. There was no MySpace or Facebook. It was this cool secret thing I had to myself. It was harder to find those records, and having to hunt for them was fascinating.

As I got older, I was more involved in the underground and started tape trading. I can’t tell you how many guys I swapped cassettes with. I met one guy on AOL who was a little older. I’d go take the thirty bucks I made in a weekend and buy a box of Maxell tapes. And then I’d get a money order for $15 and send it to this guy Lance in Connecticut. He would play his favorite records and then dub them on cassettes. I remember getting those boxes in the mail and blowing my friends off and listening to records all weekend. The music was really quite haunting.

Are you an entirely self-taught guitarist?
When I was 12 I took lessons for about two weeks. I didn’t stick with it. I wasn’t into studying and school, so I didn’t get into doing scales. I tried to pick up simple stuff like Nirvana and punk rock and The Misfits. I took it from there.

Have you always felt inclined to push metal in new directions or has your desire to experiment come from years of working as a recording and touring musician?
I didn’t feel the need to make any changes until I was about 21, when we did the EP Eulogy IV. That’s when I realized I was sick of the typical black metal stuff. A lot of stuff released under the Nachtmystium banner was straightforward black metal. We recorded a wealth of the material in that style.

But I found myself listening to more stuff I started to realize there’s a lot of good music: Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. I rediscovered those records and other stuff I never listened to.

No one had brought any classic rock influences into black metal, so I decided to try it, even if was just taking a black metal song and putting a simple blues-based pentatonic scale solo over it. When we tracked Eulogy IV there were points where we were like: “There are blues licks over a black metal song and no one has done that before.” At that point I realized I was working in one of the narrowest genres that exist, but it’s really easy to experiment. I found myself liking the music I was making a lot more and wanted to run with it.

Your studio lineup has changed again for Addicts. Do you view Nachtmystium more as a musical collective than an actual band?
I think so, yeah. But I refer to it as my band. When you go to Metal Archives and you see this massive list of former players, I’d say about 85 percent of them were just hired to do tours. They were never more than that. The lineup changes so frequently because I tour so much.

And contrary to what some idiot black metal kids want to say on their forums – that we’re making a lot of money – we’re not. I live very marginally to say the least. My priority isn’t becoming wealthy or owning property. I live minimally and have the ability to travel as much as I like. It’s hard to meet other people who can get into that full-time and have any kind of normal life. Nachtmystium is not a band you want to be in if you have things like a mortgage or a kid.

Does this allow you to better work on material because there is less infighting and people working on songs?
Definitely. It’s all me. Jeff (Wilson) contributed a little bit to Assassins and Addicts.

How are you able to shift from studio players to new musicians who need to learn new songs before they go on the road?
I just bust my ass and hire people who are good and learn things quickly. I also generally tend to know people I hire. There’s a wealth of musicians in Chicago. There are plenty of people involved in music. Considering that the band is doing as well as it is, I can afford to pay people more money touring than they would get at a day of work. It’s better to have fun playing than swinging drinks at the bar.

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