Blake Judd: The Needle & The Damage Done

I haven’t touched my guitar in about nine months. And once I’m done promoting that album, I’ll probably disappear into thin air and I can’t tell you when we’ll speak again, maybe in six months’ time, maybe in 10 years. I don’t even know myself…”

Blake Judd is weary. Never one to shy away from the media, the Nachtmystium frontman may remain extremely talkative and almost hard to stop once he gets started, but you can still feel it in his voice behind the flow of words. He has yet to celebrate his 32nd birthday but it feels like he’s lived several lives already. And while the new album, The World We Left Behind, allows us to catch the very last glimpses of the most exhilarating yet turbulent chapter of his existence, even he doesn’t know what the future holds for him… not that he cares for the time being. Right now, Blake Judd yearns for nothing else but ‘just’ being himself for a while, away from all the turmoil and the chaos.

A little more than a year ago, things were drastically different. After a low-key first set of albums in the 00s, Nachtmystium first turned heads with 2006’s psychedelia-splattered Instinct: Decay, and got their big break in 2008 by teaming up with producer extraordinaire Sanford Parker and releasing Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1, a unique and original take on black metal fuelled by post-punk minimalism and Pink Floyd-style experimentation. Hard touring and key moments such as their intense performance at the Roadburn festival in 2010 – immortalised by a blistering live album – had put them at the top of the black metal foodchain while generating interest on the other side of the Atlantic from the non-metal press. Still, what Blake describes today as a “solo project more than an actual band” has been continually reconfigured by its creator.

The World… is backed up by a very different lineup to the one that recorded 2012’s Silencing Machine, even if the risky yet rewarding modus operandi (“I like to capture the spirit of the moment – to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks!”) has remained the same. Being the first album since Instinct Decay entirely written by Blake, at least he knew what he wanted: “Basically not too many cooks in the kitchen. Silencing Machine was a collaborative effort and while it’s not a bad record per se, it’s a bit too scattered. It doesn’t exactly flow the way it should have. I wanted to correct that.”

The skeleton of the record was done in two separate sessions a few weeks apart in July and August – but, before it could be completed, shit hit the fan. On October 6, Blake was arrested on charges of theft in his hometown Chicago and sent to jail for 30 days. To this day, he confesses he doesn’t know what was the hardest pill to swallow: how the news spread like wildfire throughout the internet and allowed all of those who had been accusing him of being a rip-off merchant for quite some time to have a field day (an anti-Blake t-shirt was even produced and sold through various merchants), how it affected his close family, or the intense withdrawal effects he had to suffer from behind bars since, at the time of the event, he had been an heroin addict for more than four years. But today, he admits he had it coming.

“I admit fully embracing the whole ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ lifestyle from my mid-20s onwards,” says Blake, “but it finally caught up with me. I felt that the band was a catalyst of what was allowing my life to be so out of control and that I needed to make some drastic changes if I wanted to regain control. Besides, there wasn’t much else I could do while I was rotting in jail for 30 days besides facing my addiction, so I gave those issues a lot of thought. There was no way in hell I would stop making music, but I knew that it had to come second in my life for some time if I wanted to straighten myself up.”

Determined to make some changes in his life, a month after he was let go from county jail, on his 31st birthday, Blake released an official statement whose opening sentence was simply saying “Nachtmystium is R.I.P.” And according to the man himself, he meant it.

“The plan was to focus on my other band, Hate Meditation, a project I initially started off in 2003 as a tribute to the first wave of Scandinavian black metal. Basically, the music was close to what I was doing with Nachtmystium but without all the expectations and pressure that now came with it. Besides, I felt defeated about my life in general. I know I fucked up. Yes, I did rip some fans off by not sending the CDs or the t-shirts they had personally ordered from me, but it’s because I used the money for satisfying my chemical needs. OK, it’s not a good excuse, but it is the excuse. When you wake up, that was all that mattered because of the consequences you’re paying physically when you don’t have it. Heroin addiction is so horrible, it completely consumes you and all that is left is a soulless person, because if you don’t take it, you feel

so incredibly sick that you can’t even move. All you can do then is throw up, shit your pants, lay down and cry as if you had beaten by 600 men with baseball bats. At one point, you just don’t care because you can’t care anymore. It’s a wonder I’m still alive.”

Like most of his recent albums, The World We Left Behind’s lyrics are openly about drugs. Except that this time around, they deal with “addiction issues and are probably the most sincere I’ve ever written. They’re all about being me, about being in this band at this particular point in my life and all the shit I have to face by doing so.”

The song Voyager immortalises the mind of a once-fearful soul, then, on the edge yet still hanging on to his sole passion in life: ‘Trampled and crushed, this neverending journey is a constant maze/This is my calling, there is no fear/No one can ever take away my lust.’ When the track first surfaced online in November 2013, it was as a ‘thank you’ to his fans while he was about to “retreat into silence for few months” and just after he had announced that The World… would be Nachtmystium’s final album. But when he completed the mix six months later, having cleaned up his act, he changed his mind, although he didn’t make it public until July.

Blake says that he plans on doing both Hate Meditation and Nachtmystium, although his days as a touring musician are over. But as he owns the rights to all his recordings, he first wants to dedicate the next months to his past and work on reissuing all his past albums with new artwork, liner notes and bonuses. But as for what the future has in store for him exactly, he just doesn’t know yet. And for once, it feels good.

The World We Left Behind is out now via Century Media