Blake Judd: New Nachtmystium and the Separation of the Artist and the Art

New Nachtmystium is finally out, and what can we expect from one of America’s most important metal bands? At this point, it is fairly obvious that many people world wide wouldn’t care regardless of the album’s turnout. Nachtmystium, a project co-founded by the band’s permanent member Blake Judd, was a black metal band that did more than just donned corpse paint and find solace within the coldest of winters. With two albums of straight up black metal, Nachtmystium tried something new with 2006’s Instinct: Decay by combining the harshest metal genre with something more open handed: Psychedelic rock. While it was a great start, this idea was perfected on the following album Assassins: Black Meddle Part I (one of the strongest metal releases of the past decade). With Addicts: Black Meddle Part II, Nachtmystium continued this theme but incorporated stranger elements (like the near-disco track No Funeral). With another stellar album, something seemed a bit too real with these lyrics. While Nachtmystium’s lines were always to-the-point and honest, there was something too specific with Addicts’ perspectives. Silencing Machine followed in 2012 and was their rawest album in a while. It was as though there was even more to be said to the world, and that was because something was being spread through social media. What were these demons Judd was facing?

If you couldn’t find out by their newest release The World We Left Behind (or by the fact that this is meant to be their last album after Judd broke up the band last year), Judd’s been going through many problems. This isn’t a sad story, however; Not in the way you’d expect. Addicts was an album that told the world of the struggles Judd faced as a drug fiend, yet he isn’t the person the most affected by the reason many have turned their backs on him and his bands (he is a part of Hate Meditation and was a part of Krieg and Twilight as well. Blake Judd has allegedly been stealing the money of purchasers for many years now. When anyone buys merchandise of his, whether it be a t-shirt or two or even a large amount of albums in bulk, the most common response was that people were left empty handed and full of broken promises. This article on Stereogum, one that goes into this issue well, presents a few testimonies that are as livid as some of the music Judd himself has made.

Many have assumed that this theft was to fund his drug addiction, however it isn’t safe to say for sure. However, Judd has openly admitted to having a heroin problem, and with some accusing his addiction for being the cause of theft, it has turned people even more bitter than they may have been already. Until Blake Judd himself opens up about these charges, however, we will never get a full story. He doesn’t seem to be  the type to open up outside of his lyrics, however (and those seem to act more as an emotional outlet rather than a podium for him to get a message out). Being someone that hasn’t bought a piece of Nachtmystium merchandise outside of their albums (although their vibrantly coloured baphomet design has completely drawn me in), I have sat on the sidelines and have avoided these controversies with my headphones on and their albums on repeat. Maybe if I had been one of the many people affected, I’d have a different outlook on this mess of a situation. He’s scammed fans, promoters and even record labels (Nuclear War Now and Hells Headbangers). Clearly, none of his actions are justifiable, because many people have been betrayed.

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So, where does that leave the music? Should Nachtmystium as a music project remain besmirched? This very band that was considered monumental within American Black Metal should now be considered a stained icon within the black metal community? Is Assassins suddenly now bad? As a lover of music, I find that, in order to continue finding a fascination within the community, one absolutely has to separate the person who made the music from the music itself. If I didn’t do this, there would be an insurmountable amount of albums and/or artists I’d have to detach myself from. We can toss smaller cases in to start these examples off: Kanye West’s controversies have suddenly made his acclaimed albums insignificant, Iggy Pop’s slip of the tongue has turned Raw Power into a joke of an album and both John Lydon and Morrissey’s bluntness has turned everything by the Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd., and The Smiths into a mockery.

This is all a personal opinion, of course. I can see why one can have their perception of an artist destroyed by the way said artist behaves. For me, however, this thought process doesn’t work. If you look at this philosophy outside of music, Michel Phelps is not a good swimmer because he has been caught with a bong, LeBron James is a garbage basketball player because of his fan-splitting choices, and there isn’t any way any Alec Baldwin movie ever be good again. Is this because we try to find a role model through these artists? Yes, Phelps’ pot smoking, James’ team hopping and Baldwin’s behavior may not be seen as acceptable to people. While some of these cases may not even be that big of a deal to many (save for Baldwin’s recent Twitter escapades) I have to ask; Why are celebrities meant to be our teachers? They were hired to do one thing: Phelps was to swim, James was to play basketball, and Baldwin was to act. Again, these are only the smaller cases of celebrities doing wrong. Even Mel Gibson, who has time and time again been caught with his pants down, is a considerably small example compared to the acts that some have committed. Yes, many people are exposed to celebrities and it may seem right to follow them by example, but, to me, that is simply not the case. They have a job: Influencing us is not one of them.

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Tim Lambesis

With this door now being opened, it is time to observe some truly awful cases that have happened. Some recent examples include Tim Lambesis, formerly of As I Lay Dying, attempting to have his ex-wife murdered by a hired hit man, and Ian Watkins of the now defunct Lostprophets committed such disgraceful acts of sexual harassment and pedophilia that I do not care to go into details here. To continue within the black metal community, a popular example is the band Mayhem which has had everything twisted imaginable, ranging from suicide shots being used as album covers, occult practices performed with said suicide victim’s remains, a murder of a band mate to allegedly prevent their own murder and more. We’ve heard the widely spread R Kelly accusations by now, and the controversies behind Michael Jackson’s allegations shall remain a mystery: These two examples are starting to affect people outside of just the rock and metal community. The most significant example is that of Phil Spector: The vicious music producer that has threatened musicians with his gun, has allegedly locked up his wife in his house and tarnished her career out of jealousy (Veronica Spector of The Ronettes), and has even killed someone and has been sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. This man– this violent, scary man– is quite easily the biggest influence in the pop music world. His creation of the wall of sound is a groundbreaking technic that is still used even to this day, and he has worked with many groups, ranging from many girl groups in the 60s, The Ramones and even The Beatles. Is all of his work suddenly awful because of his despicable personality traits? If that is the case, consider almost every contemporary song the result of a man who is disgusting.

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Phil Spector

What, I find, may separate the previous examples from musicians is that we spend a lot more time with these musicians. We may be a big fan of Alec Baldwin, but we won’t marathon everything he’s done within a week constantly. We may be fond of LeBron James, but we catch his games on a set schedule during the season and then have to wait until the next season. As for Michael Phelps, it may be hard to binge watch what he does. With musicians, however, you can definitely have phases where you listen to many albums and/or songs of an artist on repeat. You can listen to music at home, at work, in the car, at the gym, and at many more places. You can even see these songs performed live by these very people rather easily (compared to other celebrities, though). In fact, I’ve seen Tim Lambesis in the flesh in person, and it’s mind boggling that I saw this very man who thought it was okay to have his ex-wife whacked.

With athletes, we see them trying to achieve a goal. With actors, we see a performance that does not resemble who they are. With albums, however, we hear the opened spirit of the artist. Do we begin to feel lied to by these songs once an artist’s reputation has been tainted? Maybe it is the accessibility of music, especially during the internet age, that allows people to quickly hop of the ship of an artist’s onto another: We can stop caring about Nachtmystium since we have other black metal-infused bands. It is this vulnerability musicians have and this devoted time musicians beg for that allows them to be tossed to the side fairly easily once something happens that sparks questioning. This is prevalent within the film industry at times, too, however: Let’s not forget Roman Polanski and, as of late, Woody Allen’s own respective controversies. However, it doesn’t seem as common within the film industry. Maybe it is because albums are, usually, released more often? Is it because music communities are more tightly knit?

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I will end this off by saying that this article is merely a thought process. It isn’t a way of saying that people are wrong in being turned off by an artist. I’ve seen many Lostprophets albums being damaged or thrown out through photographs on Facebook, and I can honestly agree with these responses. Do I ever condone what some of my favorite artists have done? Absolutely not. Do I feel that some controversies are even overblown? Absolutely. Of course, LeBron James’ decisions are in no way comparable to the unspeakable acts Phil Spector has done nor were they ever intended to be in this article. Through this article, I have basically tried to state that celebrities have done wrong before, they will do wrong again, and there are many varying degrees of evil that have been accessed. What Blake Judd has done is unforgivable and many people are, justifiably, angry. I do not blame people for having turned their backs on both Judd and any of his projects. In the end, this article is an explanation as to why I should not have to explain myself for liking something created by a bad person. Having to split the artist from their art is something I had to teach myself to do years ago. If I didn’t learn to do this, it’d be safe to say that there would be many albums and films I like that I would no longer. As it is, however, I find that appreciation for an album, song, film or performance does not, and should not, show appreciation towards the ill-mannered acts, crimes and evils people are capable of. The refusal to support one after said actions have been performed is entirely understandable, and, again, maybe if I was ripped off by Judd as well, this article would have turned out differently. For now, with The World We Left Behind wrapping up on my headphones, I will sit and think the same thought I had the first spin around: This is a good album by a not so good man.