Nachtmystium – Instinct: Decay

Chosen by No One

In the late ’90s, black metal’s sound was uncompromising and dogmatic and dictated by the European tastemakers who launched the second wave of black metal. Within a few years, that changed. A coterie of American black metal bands overlooked by the global scene began to personalize their music and draw on influences that went far beyond tradition. This is especially true of Nachtmystium, a Chicago-area band formed by a teenage Blake Judd that might have been one of America’s first bedroom black metal bands.

In 1996, Judd was one of the kids who saw a Spin magazine story on the infamous Norwegian black metal scene and decided to dive deeper. Judd’s earliest Nachtmystium material, like Reign of the Malicious, was little more than Darkthrone/Burzum worship—competent, but derivative. But Judd’s interest in a broader sound palette—and his ambition to play for a large audience—took him back to the classic rock he loved as a kid. By the time Nachtmystium broke from the pack with the Eulogy IV EP in 2004, their music was packed with hooks and recognizable songs, not to mention a catchiness that eludes most black metal entirely.

Instinct: Decay is when Judd—along with guitarist Mike Le Gros, bassist Neill Jameson of Krieg, drummer W. Obscurum and producer/fifth band member Chris Black—fully channeled influences like the Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd and arena rock into black metal to create something exceptional. Instinct: Decay was a lysergic Syd Barrett-esque madcap romp of sound and self that even touched on dark wave bands like Fields of the Nephilim and Killing Joke. It was revelatory for listeners 15 years ago and is still influential today.

Judd and his friends used smart guerilla marketing and press outreach to give Instinct: Decay an even bigger push, and Nachtmystium quickly became one of metal’s hottest commodities. Blabbermouth said that Judd “has pushed his creative and crushing brand of USBM to new heights.” Pitchfork claimed the LP’s “expansive sound is revelatory.” Decibel ranked Instinct: Decay the No. 4 album of 2006. Nachtmystium later signed with Century Media and released three widely praised albums in succession: the Black Meddle concept albums Assassins and Addicts, and Silencing Machine. The band’s ascent likely peaked around 2012 when they were asked by Vovoid to perform Instinct: Decay at Roadburn.

Instinct: Decay proved an eerily prophetic title. Judd’s fall was as rapid as his ascent was meteoric. In 2013, Judd was arrested for misdemeanor theft, and reports emerged that he scammed friends and former associates in the metal scene to fuel a drug habit. He quickly became a pariah in a movement where he’d been a fixture just a year earlier, and ended up homeless for a time. Judd resurrected Nachtmystium several times with different members over the next six-plus years and recorded new albums, but accusations and rancor followed him. He put the band to rest for good in 2020.

Despite the dysfunction, bad blood and bad decisions, you cannot look at the story of USBM without looking at Instinct: Decay. Albums are a snapshot in time, and this record is a special moment. Instinct: Decay is among a handful of records that changed the direction of black metal and opened the scene up for bands that just years before would only have reached small audiences. Without Instinct: Decay, it’s hard to see metal embracing interstellar travelers like Oranssi Pazuzu or Deafheaven. For these reasons—and for its primal power and melancholy lyricism—Decibel welcomes USBM pillar Instinct: Decay into our Hall of Fame. And as a bonus to deluxe subscribers, this issue contains a previously unreleased recording from the Instinct: Decay recording sessions called “Chemical Catharsis,” available now exclusively via the Decibel Flexi Series.

Need more Nachtmystium? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with all members who performed on Instinct: Decay, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.