Nachtmystium is an American Black Metal band, formed in 2000 by Azentrius and helped along by a revolving line-up. Though not one of the most interesting bands of the modern era, they began as many others in paying tribute to the early '90s sound. Their 2002 demo, Reign of the Malicious, is one of the better works to come from Nachtmystium. Note that I refer to this as a demo, because that is exactly what it was considered when I first had contact with Azentrius and was provided with a copy of this recording. Only some time later was this retconned and considered as the band's debut full-length.
The production and overall recording style backs this up, as well. The sound is really poor, almost as if they were playing in the basement while the tape recorder was running upstairs. The way some of the songs begin with feedback and whatnot also seems to lend an air of informality to the whole thing. That is not necessarily negative, as the primitive approach really suits the musical style and overall presentation. There is sort of an LLN vibe on display here. Despite the fuzzy and distant quality, the guitars are able to stand out amongst the rest, rather than being buried by the percussion. Even the vocals are just high enough to play a role in creating a grim and ugly atmosphere.
Musically, Reign of the Malicious is completely derivative of bands like Darkthrone, Mütiilation and Burzum. There are a lot of cold and mournful tremolo riffs throughout the demo and they are actually rather memorable. Being unoriginal is not always a bad thing, so long as the music maintains some decent level of quality. Three of the five studio tracks on here are rather enjoyable, if you are a fan of the aforementioned bands. Listening to songs like the title track and "Hateful Descent", one is taken back in time about ten years, when this style was being spawned. The guitars possess a sharp edge that cuts you like a knife and the drumming is fast but primitive and even a little sloppy. Nonetheless, it all works. The songs are fast-paced, for the most part, but there are slower sections that come along and add to the melancholic atmosphere. "May Darkness Consume the Earth" is another example of this, beginning in the pure northern style of fast tremolo melodies and then slowing down to unleash pure misery. Azentrius does a good job with the vocals, sounding like a being in pure torment, occasionally venturing into Count Grishnackh territory with the tortured shrieks, especially during some of the more sombre moments when the music slows down to a morbid crawl. Thanks to the poor sound quality, he doesn't come across as being too over-the-top with this. His sound is hardly decipherable at all and, without lyrics, it's pretty much impossible to tell what he is saying. Judging by the song titles and the nature of the music, it's all likely got something to do with dark and misanthropic themes. At least there is no pretentious, pseudo-intellectual theistic Satanism going on, largely because this recording predates that trend by some years. Unfortunately, Reign of the Malicious is hindered by some rather bland and mediocre tracks, such as "Call of the Ancient" and "Ritual Sacrifice". Worse yet is the cover of Burzum's "Lost Wisdom". This is one of those bands that no one should ever attempt to cover, as there is absolutely no way to do justice to the originals and the only outcome is disappointment. This version falls flat, as expected, and exposes Nachtmystium's weaknesses even more. The addition of a live track, at the end, is rather pointless as well.
In the end, this demo is a mixed bag. Three exceptional, though unoriginal, songs and a bunch of filler. For those into the early '90s Black Metal sound, this is worth checking out. Nachtmystium, at their best, managed to come closer to honouring the spirit of the Second Wave better than their American peers Judas Iscariot ever could, for example. Problem is, Azentrius was rather inconsistent and failed to put the proper amount of time and effort into making sure all of the songs were strong and worthwhile. This is not essential, by any definition of the word. However, if you like grim and primitive Black Metal influenced by Darkthrone, Burzum and the LLN, you may want to give this a listen.