Before Nachtmystium became a genre-meddling torrent of psychedelic black metal,1 they were a by-the-books lo-fi act of Darkthrone worship. Ostensibly a collection of demos packaged together as a full-length album, Reign of the Malicious is a rather standard debut of new and re-recorded tracks from demos and split releases that is deeply indebted to the band’s Scandinavian predecessors. There’s the extreme under-production, the root-note bass lines, the neverending tremolo, the black-and-white cover, the ambient intro track, the wintermoon lyrical imagery, and the requisite cough-scream that leaves one’s vocal chords in tatters. It even includes a Burzum cover!2
Don’t make the mistake that I did of playing this on low volume; as with any like-minded release, ambiance is the key here, and it’s best facilitated by a loud listen on high-quality headphones. Production runs the gamut from pleasantly buzzsaw (“Hateful Descent”) to titillatingly shambolic (“Call of the Ancient”) to Ildjarn-level potato horseshit (“Under the Horns of Darkness” live track); since most of these songs were recorded at completely different times, the varied production levels make sense. Such differences enhance the appeal of full album run-throughs because each track has a distinguishing texture, even if not immediately apparent.
The growls and screams are very standard, which is a disappointment considering Judd’s idiosyncratic vocal style as heard on the rest of Nachtmystium’s discography. “Ritual Sacrifice” and “Hateful Descent” have wonderful melodic sections that will please fans of Dissection and early Deathspell Omega. “Call of the Ancient” includes a pleasantly lugubrious3 guitar introduction that suggests the slightest hint of frontman Blake Judd’s flirtations with non-black metal songwriting influences.4
Although it’s without the refined fearlessness that made Nachtmystium’s career so fascinating, Reign of the Malicious is a decent middle-of-the-pack set of lo-fi black metal. It may lack the progressive tendencies that even purists love about Instinct: Decay and Silencing Machine, but it does provide an interesting listen given the context of the rest of Nachtmystium’s discography. Sure, they might have taken themselves a bit too seriously and made music a bit too iconic of the Norwegians, but so did many of the greats before growing the beard. Reign of the Malicious is a worthy listen for whom this aesthetic is king, and it’s a curious (if minor) piece of history for fans of American black metal and Nachtmystium’s experimental offerings.
1. Intro – (2:14) – ★★★☆☆
2. Reign of the Malicious – (4:30) – ★★★★☆
3. Hateful Descent – (7:17) – ★★★★☆
4. Call of the Ancient – (4:48) – ★★★☆☆
5. Ritual Sacrifice – (6:06) – ★★★★☆
6. May Darkness Consume the Earth – (4:02) – ★★★☆☆
7. Lost Wisdom [Burzum cover] – (4:08) – ★★★☆☆
8. Under the Horns of Darkness [Live] – (5:29) – ★☆☆☆☆
[UPDATE 18 March 2016: Changed the overall rating from three-and-a-half stars to three stars.]
1… and became infamous due to creative force Blake Judd’s stealing money from fans to feed his drug addiction at the tail end of the band’s existence.
2In case you didn’t know where their influences lie.
3Only in black metal.
4It also has some of the most hilariously awful vocals in black metal. Dude sounds like a cat with a sore throat vomiting up a hairball.