There’s an unease woven into the very fabric of Subliminal Genocide that will hit even the most seasoned metal devotee immediately. The notes feel sick and wrong, the way they’re played, the way they reverberate, leaving nauseous feelings in the pit of your stomach — your teeth start to ache and throb. Every sound drips with sensations of vertigo and the forbidden; it’s like when you first heard that metal was evil and saw a Slayer album cover and you just kind of stared at it, fearful — this is the soundtrack to that moment. Or maybe it’s the soundtrack to a suicide or long nights trying to erase what you see in the mirror or a shared crime. Who knows? But Xasthur is as much a litmus test, as a divining rod for negative emotions.
Subliminal Genocide is perhaps the most audacious and singular black metal album ever, with the most individual personal vision; total will to power. You may know Xasthur mastermind, and LA resident, Malefic as the SunnO))) vocalist who recorded his vocal parts in a coffin — that was child’s play compared to this. Xasthur is the sum total of Malefic’s sociopathic aesthetic, a sound world where suicide is the only logical reaction to modern life. The music is written, played and recorded by Malefic and Malefic alone, in a home he rarely leaves.
Okay, yeah it’s a low-fi album. Here’s my rant about people who say they want to hear black metal or extreme music recorded in a “proper studio” — so fucking what? Ooooh yay, now I can listen to something that sounds like every fucking thing else. To hear fans of extreme music complain about an instrument being muffled? What the fuck? I like dirt and blood and broken glass and the feeling of the room the record was recorded in. It’s low-fi like early Bathory and Hellhammer, but also Lou Barlow and Throbbing Gristle live tapes; where the strength of the sonics and the vision make fidelity issues another arrow in the quiver instead of a perceived weakness.
Xasthur is Frankenstein metal, stitched together haphazardly to make a shambling monstrosity; the instruments sound caked in dirt, offal, decaying cloth and bone fragments — organic and bleak. All the guitars melt into a sticky, organic whole, prodded on by electric drums and broken electronics. All the levels are off, the pedal and distortion settings are warped; the recording equipment sounds like it’s buried under a layer of ash and bone. And through it all it sounds bigger, braver and more majestic than most anything else you may hear this year. Xasthur radiates vision and genius.The vocals as well, they’re a strangely muffled roar, sounding more like field recordings of a hurricane, an exorcism or cloth being ripped violently in that way that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up. Malefic’s vocals are primal and disturbingly intimate, like his mouth is pressed against the inside of your skull and you hear his screams, feel the vibrations buzzing and rushing through your eyes, ears and throat — he’s inside you — fingers pushing through your spine.
Xasthur’s music is just as indebted to Burzum, Graveland and Bathory as it is to the candlelit reveries of Lycia and the Cocteau Twins (check out “Arcane and Misanthropic Projection” for the last three) — there’s a sense of deep mourning and gray vistas, seemingly endless funeral processions, deep gashes and razor marks on a pale arm. Can you even call “Trauma Will Always Linger” mere metal? This is something so much darker. Feral, subhuman shrieks and screams, completely submerged and buried low in the mix under slabs of choral synths and masses of tinny guitars approximating gothic grandeur. It’s almost worse when Malefic stops screaming and starts chanting in low indecipherable tones. Other songs take shape as stately instrumentals, monolithic and mournful, rudimentary chords repeated over and over again — a secret language emerges.
Songs regularly stretch out towards the 10-minute mark, reveling in their own sickness, layering more and more filth and beauty in turn, turning from a self-immolating shriek to blackened ambiance, drone and cold-wave/shoegaze as all reflections of the same mood — an unrelenting bleakness. This is a scream of disgust directed solely at the self.
I think the album of the year polls got it dead wrong last year. It’s a symphony.
Hydra Head: www.hydrahead.com