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Xasthur, "Subliminal Genocide"

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Black metal has officially disintegrated and transformed into a genre that's as deserving of the adjective "metal" as it is of "ballet." Malefic's dense, foggy, and self-abusive Xasthur project might feature guitars, unintelligible vocals, and all the drama a high school student could ask for, but it is a creature deserving of its own musical kingdom. All the Sunn O))) relationships and mentions of Darkthrone in the world won't make this a metal album.

 

Hydra Head
 
Where guitar solos may have once reigned supreme, atmospheric use of heavily distorted guitar riffs and choral keyboards now stand proud. Where the once mighty explosion of double-bass barrages declared the rhythmic brutality of many metal acts, slow and precise drum machines now plod away and leave only heavy, recognizable tracts of groove in their paths. Black metal has always been a distant cousin to death metal, heavy metal, thrash, and all the various permutations that the name "metal" has given a home to; it was intended to be that way. There was always a recognizable link between black metal and its relatives, though, especially in the early days where some bands were mistaken for thrash or death metal when said bands meant to fly that black metal flag proudly. Malefic, however, has a mind to leave all that nonsense behind. His music isn't metal, it may not even be recognizable as black metal, but it is heavy and dark and for that reason most people probably won't care what it's called.

Malefic's attitude towards composition, melody, and rhythm, however, put him at a great distance from other head-pounding numbskulls who swear allegiance to racial pride, religious absolutism, and/or misogyny. His sense of space and openness make Subliminal Genocide a pleasure to hear, much less painful than I suspect he imagines it. "Disharmonic Convergence" opens the album with a lo-fi recording of a piano layered with the sound of human voices and thick reverberation. It's a soupy, thick arrangement that serves only as an introduction to the massive "Prison of Mirrors," the album's proper opening song. It runs nearly 13 minutes and kicks off with a vicious scream that announces the pain Malefic evidently feels just as well as his song titles do (with names like "Beauty Is Only Razor Deep" and "Arcane and Misanthropic Projection" can there be any doubt what these songs are about?). The drums are buried deep in the mix, less important than the slush of guitars and keyboards that clearly move together to form a kind of wall of melody. It's powerful, loud, and demented, yet it's clearly well developed, with peaks and valleys full of quiet interludes and giant swells. If anything this is a chamber piece for guitars, keyboards, and effects, not merely metal.

Malefic's voice sounds excellent and the people who fell in love with his performance on Sunn O)))'s Black One will be doubly pleased by his efforts on Subliminal Genocide. It's rocky, completely from the throat, as though he's been gargling quicksand and concrete for hours at a time before singing. The aforementioned "Arcane and Misanthropic Projection" features one of the nastiest vocal performances I've ever heard, Malefic sounding as though he's being tortured slowly by the noise surrounding him. That song, too, completely flies over the head of black metal and soars off into it's own territory. I just can't bring myself to imagine this as metal performance; the theatrics and enormous range of ideas that the Xasthur project employs don't exactly fit well into any category I can think of. The almost acoustic interludes and classical themes that this album contains has more in common with some of Burzum's more oddly ambient tracks, but are also far more musical and less repetitive. The bleak attitude Malefic takes might, for some, place him in the same league as other long haired, corpse paint sporting, wizard obsessed wankers, but his vocal performances, melodic sensibilities, and his understated, simple, and effective arrangements place him far ahead of almost every black metal band I've ever heard. That's because Xasthur is willing to incorporate more influences into his music than any of his contemporaries are. As such he's a hell of a lot more exciting and lot more interesting to listen to.

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Last Updated on Monday, 04 September 2006 16:07  


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