Photo: Jon Weiderhorn
Like some of the artists Nachtmystium frontman Blake Judd admires most – among them, Ministry and Pink Floyd – Judd’s songs have been strongly colored by his past drug use, from the psychedelic excursions of 2009′s Assassins: Black Meddle Pt I. to the heavier, darker post-metal trips of 2010′s Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II. Their latest, this year’s Silencing Machine, is no exception, but its messages are harsher. From a distance, it’s a creative blast furnace of fire and ash, with just enough melody to propel one song to the next. Telescope in, and it’s a sobering close study of both the scars of addiction and the struggle to remain clean.
eMusic’s Jon Wiederhorn talked with Judd about kicking drugs, how he first discovered bands like Emperor and Mayhem, his love for Chicago, and how he convinced indie icon and Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore to join the black parade.
To me, Silencing Machine feels like a brutal, uncompromised purge.
I wanted it to be fierce and unrelenting. A lot of it is about overcoming my addiction to drugs, which I finally did before we did the album. I was real, real fucked up for a long time. It wasn’t as bad when we were out on the road, but when I got home I’d get really self-destructive with substances. When I was writing Silencing Machine, I was very angry at myself for having put myself in that position. I could have died any day of the week. I wasn’t respecting myself or my music, and it wasn’t fair to my friends and the people who love me.
Lots of musicians who use drugs say they can contribute to their creativity.
That’s totally true, and it’s also the reasoning an addict will use. That was my excuse for a long time, and it got to the point where it became counterproductive. Yet I still was telling myself I needed drugs to get creative. It took my bandmates and my wife to say, “No dude, you’re not doing anything. Don’t you see? Nothing’s happening now. You’re just a drug addict and you’re gonna fuck your life up really bad if you don’t get this under control.” The thing is, there comes a point where it’s not fun anymore. It’s not that you want it, it’s that you need it, and without it you don’t function.
Was there a breaking point when you realized you needed help?
When I would buy drugs and go home and do them by myself instead of doing them in a recreational way. That’s when I knew there was a problem and I had to change. I was putting my addiction before paying bills, and I realized I was going to lose everything, or overdose, or get arrested if I didn’t stop. Fortunately, none of those things happened. And my wife and friends were super supportive in helping me get clean.
Did you go to rehab?
I got counseling to try to understand why I have this addictive personality. I went out and stayed with friends on the West Coast where that shit was nowhere to be found and I got better. Now I’m addictive about other things, like music. But I finally understand that there’s some chemical imbalance within me that causes me to become very quickly addicted to drugs. Fortunately, I’ve never been an alcoholic and I’m glad I don’t have that problem. Now, I’m finally going to take advantage of all the things I have in my life that I’ve worked really hard to get.
Did the songs on Silencing Machine come naturally or did you find it difficult to create when your mind wasn’t altered?
It was pretty easy, because I knew what I wanted to do from the start. Since we signed to Century Media [in 2008], I wanted to do a psych record and a post-rock record, then go back to the kind of black metal I did on [2006's] Instinct: Decay. So this was very premeditated. And if you ask me, the two strongest Nachtmystium albums are Instinct: Decay and Silencing Machine because that’s the style that comes most naturally to me.
How did you first discover black metal?
SPIN magazine, February, 1996. Trent Reznor was on the cover. I bought it because I was a 13-year-old, way into Nine Inch Nails. There was a huge article on Norwegian black metal with a full-page picture of [Emperor frontman] Ihsahn from the chest up, and he had this black hood on and he looked fucking terrifying. He had a Satanic ritual robe and a pentagram necklace and I was totally sucked in. I had never even heard death metal at that point. The hardest shit I had heard was Slayer. So the article [about the music, church burnings, and murders in the early Norwegian metal scene] was insane and I went, “Man, I want to know what this is all about!” I went to Tower Records and bought the Emperor and Enslaved split CD. That was the first black metal I had ever heard, and from the minute the first note rang out, I have been a different person. It completely sculpted who I was.
So much black metal is generic. How do you separate the gold from the garbage?
Like with any kind of music, if you know what you’re listening to, you can tell what’s good. My favorite era of Norwegian black metal is ’93-97, after [Mayhem guitarist] Euronymous was already dead. Some people think that was the end of real black metal, but to me that’s when certain bands really got creative. I like Kvist; they did one album, [For Kunsten Maa Vi Evig Vike], which came out in ’95. There are no credits on it, but I found out from a friend in 1349 that it featured Urgehal guitarist Trondr Nefas, who died recently, [in May 2012, allegedly from natural casues]. It’s very symphonic and it has a really weird production and the guitars are quiet, but the keyboards and bass are loud. Also, Strid are mindblowing. And I like the Moonfog Records-era Darkthrone stuff, like Panzerfaust and Total Death. That’s where they changed up the formula and did stuff that was different than the black metal they had been doing.
What do you think of modern Norwegian black metal?
Norway is the last place that’s producing interesting black metal these days. It’s just not what it used to be. I like Watain, but they’re Swedish. They’re kind of the Cirque du Soleil of black metal because they put on this amazing live show that reeks of blood and death. Having toured with them, I know it’s gross, but it’s great because it touches on a third sense. You have sight and sound and then add this rotten, nauseating smell to it.
Your hometown Chicago has a history of great, loud bands, dating back to Ministry, Naked Raygun and Big Black.
I love that stuff, but I’m too young to have been around during the heyday of all of that. I was 13 when [Ministry's] Filth Pig came out. But I played catch-up. I heard Shellac when I was 14. I followed that back to Rapeman and Big Black. And then I got into the Touch & Go stuff, including Naked Raygun and Jesus Lizard. It has been a big influence on Nachtmystium the whole time, whether you can hear it or not – more in attitude than anything else. Chicago is known for that scene, our newer indie scene and the industrial scene. But our metal scene has generated really good, super-masculine, non-fruity groups, too. We don’t have a bunch of Dimmu Borgir-type bands that are gothy and pretentious. We have extreme bands like Scepter, Cianide and Usurper. That’s what I grew up with and I was very proud that those guys were from my city.
[The pre-album single "As Made"] is a living testimony from a Chicago band trying to sound exactly like Ministry. That’s a tribute to Al Jourgensen. Sanford and I always talked about doing something industrial, but we didn’t want to commit a whole album to that because it’s too far from what we normally do. So we went, “Fuck it, man. This is a perfect opportunity. Let’s try to make a song that sounds like Chicago industrial circa 1991.” And Ministry, Pink Floyd and Burzum are my three favorite bands of all time. Ministry’s Filth Pig is hands down my favorite album ever recorded. I absolutely adore their catalog. I even like the poppy stuff like Twitch and With Sympathy.
How did you get Thurston Moore to join your black metal supergroup Twilight?
He’s a big fan of black metal. We had talked about getting him involved on the last album, [2010's] Monument to Time End, but the logistics didn’t work out. We have a strange connection with him. [Keyboardist and guitarist] Sanford Parker [Minsk] used to run a studio called Semaphore with Jeremy Lemos, who is their longtime soundman. Naturally, they got to know Sanford through him and Thurston and Sanford get along quite well. Then Thurston had an article in Decibel about how he really liked black metal. We were like, “You know what man, we have enough of a connection to this guy that it wouldn’t seem inappropriate to ask him and he was into it.” We’re not trying to score scene points or anything. I’ve been a Sonic Youth fan since I was a kid, so I view this as a really cool opportunity. And I’m very curious as a fan to see what ideas he has for a black metal band. [Twilight also features Wrest (Leviathan), Parker, Aaron Turner (Isis), Imperial (Krieg, and Stavros Giannopoulos (The Atlas Moth). Twilight have been signed to Century Media and are currently in the studio working on their third album].