When Nachtmystium signed a major publishing deal last year with Century Media Records, bandleader Blake Judd—then "Azentrius" in liner notes—could barely contain himself. "We're going to walk out of it with five figures to do exactly what we want," he boasted on the day he signed, chain-smoking at his Illinois home.
The mainstream deal marked a final departure from the black metal underground in which Nachtmystium was born in 2000. The band had already wiped off its corpse paint and attempted to clean the slate of its checkered label past in Decibel magazine. Early archives of Nachtmystium's website describe the "most depressing and hateful black metal possible," with an "ideology that black metal is fucking war and nothing else." Think differently? "May you be sent to the gas chambers."
"We're like hippies. We're totally cool with everybody," Judd clarified last year with a laugh, and new album Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1 is a testament to a mind ajar. It's neither Pink Floyd worship (as the Meddle implies), nor a black metal suicide (as one might expect), though it considers both in disarming brilliance. Dimmu Borgir touring drummer Tony Laureano sessions with the spatter of free jazz, while "One of These Nights" pulls Pink Floyd's "One of These Days" through a Burzumic vortex, exploding into one empowering space-roar of a title track.
The evolution is not without setbacks. Last month, Nachtmystium was kicked off a prestigious Opeth tour after a backstage incident in Worcester, Massachusetts. "A bunch of people were drinking in the dressing room, and some beer bottles got broken, and someone accidentally broke a window," explains Judd. "And it wasn't anything cool or that someone shouldn't have been upset about, but it should have been between us and the club." Despite finding Nachtmystium a place in the mainstream world, Judd still revolts against it: "I felt like I was out with a bunch of people that were at work, and that's cool if that's how you want to approach your band, but to me, that's not punk rock at all. That's not rock 'n' roll."