Heavy metal music is amorphous, fluid, ever-changing. One thing most metalheads love about the music is that there are no real rules to follow. Metal bands also love the “No Rules” aesthetic of heavy music1. But whether or not they’re aware of it, there is one cardinal rule that just about every metal musician out there adheres to: you never, repeat, never fuck over your fans. I don’t mean changing genres on a whim, or abandoning a tried-and-true sound for greener, greedier passages. I’m talking about taking advantage of the goodwill and adoration of your fanbase, using them for your own selfish purposes. Again, most metal musicians are very thankful for the fans they have. The fans indirectly feed them, put gas in their touring vans, allow them to put t-shirts on the table, and ultimately pursue the career [hobby – AMG] that they love the most, and they are always appreciative for that.
Sadly, Nachtmystium mainman Blake Judd is not one of those people.
But first, a few admissions. I was a fan of Nachtmystium‘s earlier records (namely the two Black Meddle albums). I converted friends of mine to them based on “Every Last Drop” and its powerful video. However, I was also aware of Blake’s history of heavy drug use and his screwing over of his family, friends, former band members, and even his fans, which led to his arrest for theft in October of 2013. Shortly after his release, he made a Facebook post (shown via Metal Injection) where he claimed to have dried up, and was looking to put Nachtmystium to rest with one final album, which ended up being The World We Left Behind. I’ll admit, knowing of Blake’s history made it a bit difficult to separate art from artist, but I also know too well about the struggles of addiction, as a member of my own family went through something similar with the non-stop lying and scheming for their next cocaine fix. Thankfully, this family member turned their life around, and we’ve never been closer. So, separating art from artist, and curious to see if Blake found focus and can claim redemption, I gave The World We Left Behind a fair shot. Sadly, I wasn’t impressed at all.
Which leads to my second admission: the review that ended up on Angry Metal Guy was not the original review. See, I keep a notepad (yes, pen and paper) with me, and I jot down thoughts and experiences from my listening to promos while riding public transit to and from work. That way, when I’m home, I can sit at my computer and bang out the review. My notes listed The World as sounding “tired,” “confused,” and of Blake “wanting (Nachtmystium) to fucking end already so he can leave it behind permanently,” and there were allusions that maybe Blake’s new band, Hate Meditation, will ignite a spark for Blake to continue on his path to sobriety with a better focus.
That was, until news hit me that Blake would continue Nachtmystium as mostly a non-touring solo project the weekend of The World‘s release, and mere hours before I was set to type up my review (it still would have been a 2.0, for the record). My reaction was a combination of shock, disbelief, and me wanting to throw my fucking keyboard through a wall. What got me, though, was the timing raised a giant red flag, which screamed to me that this was a contractual obligation with Century Media so Blake could get a better record deal elsewhere for more money. I even called him on it near the end of the review.
But despite what was going on with the record, what was happening on the outside was flat-out sad. In preparation for the review, I followed Nachtmystium‘s Facebook page (which is since deactivated… more on that later) to follow up on Blake’s decision to continue the band and his next course of action. However, instead of band activities, I was treated to a list of used vinyls for sale, with the cheapest being $50, to be sent via PayPal or wired directly. Here we fucking go again, I thought, and sadly it was accurate. More vinyls went on sale. A fire sale for the artwork of The World We Left Behind was put up to fund the album’s artist (and Blake’s fiance) Ashley Sumner, to help with her medical bills. None of these things were actually delivered. People started calling Blake out for screwing them over. Pre-orders for The World We Left Behind went unfulfilled, with angry messages from Blake himself giving bullshit excuses. People were getting deleted off the message posts and blocked from the band page. Groups of fans formed an anti-Blake/anti-Nachtmystium awareness page to get justice for being ripped off, and in its ranks are former friends and bandmates, including those who played on The World We Left Behind, and containing pics of Judd that shows that being clean is nowhere near on Blake’s agenda. And finally, one by one, the Nachtmystium band page, as well as the personal pages for Blake and Ashley, disappeared without a trace.
I can understand and empathize with metal fans in wanting people to redeem themselves. Blake Judd, however, is beyond redemption. $50-$400 a record may seem like a steal to Blake, but for the average fan, $400 is a weekly paycheck, and it went directly into Blake’s arm or crack pipe. As for his career, let’s face it, he’s fucked. No record company will want to touch him with a ten-foot pole while wearing Hazmat gear, musicians and bands are turning their backs on him, he was kicked out of the black metal supergroup Twilight due to his prior actions, and if he ever tours again, he’ll end up facing down some nasty, and possibly violent, confrontations from those he’s screwed over. There is no going back for him, and the world he and Ashley did leave behind was a major clusterfuck of epic proportions.
Century Media, as of today, confirmed my suspicions of The World We Left Behind being a contractual obligation, and is making good with the pre-orders that Blake promised on the Nachtmystium Facebook page, so the fans that got duped by him can at least get their merch that they ordered (which I’m very sure CM is quite happy to part with, given the circumstances). This is awesome of Century Media to do. Also, former Nachtmystium guitarist (now with the incredible Wolvhammer) Jeff Wilson promised to print up Nachtmystium shirts that Blake promised earlier this year, for just the cost of shipping, though I don’t know who in their right mind would want to wear one at this point, but it’s a cool gesture on Jeff’s part. So despite the drama and thievery, there are people who are trying to do right by what Blake did. And for those who are still waiting for merch or refunds, definitely contact PayPal to see if you can get your money back at some capacity. If you’ve been the victim of Blake’s BS, you can contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and file a complaint against Blake Judd for wire and mail fraud. Given his probation from last year, this will likely see him put back behind bars.
I sympathize with Century Media, for inheriting such a public relations nightmare. I feel horrible for Blake’s recent bandmates for putting their faith and trust in him. I feel like shit for even giving The World We Left Behind any publicity whatsoever, even though I stated it was a huge disappointment. But I feel horrible mostly for the fans who put their stock literally into the arms of a failed hero, just to be let down hard. One thing that I can say with all due certainty is this: if Blake somehow ends up making music again, you will not see it reviewed with my name attached, and I can assume that you won’t see it published on Angry Metal Guy.*
*OP’s Note: Upon reading my post, I realized that, in my gut reaction to what has been going on with Blake Judd, heartfelt as it was, it came across as extremely righteous and vilifying to people struggling with addiction, and that is not my intent. Addiction is very much like depression (which I suffer from), and like depression, it’s a nasty, nasty illness that can damage yourself and those around you significantly. Thankfully, it can be treated with the right help. If you know someone battling addiction, please find a way to intervene. If YOU are battling addiction, and you are sincere to kick it permanently, it’s not too late to get yourself counseling and help. There are people out there who have “put the miles in” (so to speak) who can assist you in your road to recovery. If it can change someone in my family for the better, it can change you as well. -Grymm
Angry Metal Guy Speaks: On Empathy
“Blake Judd is beyond redemption.” Empathy is hard. Empathy is really hard. Watching the Nachtmystium saga from the outside—not as a fan at all, just as a guy connected to the metal scene—empathy for Blake Judd is really, really hard. But let me try to induce a little here; to offer a different perspective. But first: I’m not an apologist. What I will write here is in no way a justification for Judd’s bad behavior, neither does it somehow make him less culpable for having been a usurous asshole who has abused the little power he had in the world in order to feed his addiction. Judd deserves whatever happens to him legally, to be frank. It’s sad that it got to this point, the man is obviously nearing rock-bottom and should have had real treatment ages ago—but he likely hasn’t hit it yet, even though Century Media has cut all ties with him, he’s screwed over pretty every musician in Chicago who could possibly join his band, and everyone knows that he’s in a huge hole.
But watching the trainwreck doesn’t make me angry, mostly it makes me sad. People landing tightly in the grips of addiction are people who are in a really bad way—often times long before they get their hands on whatever their substance of choice is. Many people use drugs, a fraction of those people struggle with addiction. But the kind of driving beast that turns one into the kind of clawing, nasty creature that would burn every bridge for another fix isn’t a person I can feel a lot of hate for. I see a person who is suffering. Having watched people struggle with addictions—including heroin, which ultimately resulted in a death—I can’t help but see the desperation of a person who for whatever reason needs escape so badly. Opiates attract manic depressives, for example, and when one forms that habit and turns it into a coping mechanism for a world that is just fucking hard to live in for these people, you can see how this problem spirals out of control.
Doubly sad, it sounds like Judd is pushing himself towards the grave. As Kim Kelly said over on Twitter:
When one’s life gets to the point where people are wondering what one’s obituary will say, worries about whether or not Angry Metal Guy will ever produce a review of one’s records again probably seems pretty trivial. If the guy is truly in a serious downward spiral, it’s likely this is the last we’ll hear from him. He’ll join a chorus of snuffed out voices taken too early because of their addictions and dealers. Unfortunately, Judd’s spiral is happening before our eyes in real time, aided by social media and blogs.
Of course, we also know that prison isn’t really what addicts need [link (abstract) | link (pdf) | link]. In fact, prison isn’t good for addicts really at all. Most don’t get treatment, and what addicts need is intervention, counseling, and long-term rehab. That Judd’s actions got him to the point where prison is where he’s likely headed is tragic, because while he’s responsible for his crimes and his victims deserve justice, the prison system he will go into isn’t made to help him with the problems that led to his illegal behavior. Instead, the system is there to punish him for committing those crimes, regardless of the individual problematic. And while he may end up in clean while he’s in (though, that’s not certain), he’ll probably come out and revert to his previous usage patterns and levels, and if he doesn’t OD, then he’ll re-offend and we’ll rinse and repeat.
Ultimately, empathy or sympathy is hard for people who have been on the receiving end of Judd’s behavior. That there is a Facebook group dedicated to revenge hating on the guy pretty much shows that. Grymm‘s rage, shows that, too. But I, from the outside, have trouble not empathizing with a guy who’s obviously just completely fucked right now, and whose life skills seem to be “doing drugs to escape” and making metal. Now that the latter is probably done for good, what’s he got left? Prison and ostracization. I can’t help but hope this experience is a catalyst for change; but I guess more immediately, I hope we don’t need to write an Angry Metal Obituary.