At first I was worried about how Malefic would follow up something as mind-blowingly beautiful as Subliminal Genocide, but I shouldn’t have been at all. Defective Epitaph is even better. It’s sparser, even more ambient, but burnt and mutilated, hacked away at the edges. It’s chipped teeth and the sickly brown of dried blood on a white sink. Defective Epitaph is the sound of a lonely scream so fucking defeated, introverted, and full of self-loathing that it wasn’t even given breath, a stillborn cry echoing in a hollow chest cavity. Xasthur is all about quiet desperation, paranoia, and late-night panic attacks that you might be tempted to carve out with a knife; it is as much a scratching on your window as it is the lingering disappointment of everyone you know letting you down. Again.
How can you call this just metal? A sound that owes more to Lycia, early Skinny Puppy, freeform explorers like Charalambides, Diamanda Galas, Coil, Whitehouse, and Legendary Pink Dots than just metal? A lot of my black metal devotee associates approach Malefic’s work uneasily. Too insular. Too minimalist. Too much like footsteps across your grave. I’d put Defective Epitaph next to the Cure’s Faith and Joy Division’s Closer and… no, fuck it. The only sonic antecedents that I can hear in something this individual is like old dub plates caked in bone matter and dried blood or Swans’ bootlegs played on broken cassette decks or Hasil Adkins’ lowest-fi mental breakdowns. BUT STILL THAT DOESN’T EVEN COME FUCKING CLOSE. That’s just the recording quality. It doesn’t even describe the total fucking commitment to solitude, sociopathy, and intense inner visions that bleed out of every note on this album. This is, fucking simply, a staggering work.
Xasthur’s sound is still mutating — herein it is more atmospheric, with a noted lack of conventional distortion on the guitar and broken synth sounds being pushed more to the fore. Closer listens reveal a carefully constructed lattice-work of ugly, battered, and bluntly manipulated sound. I can make out sluggish minor-key guitar, but it’s buried beneath heavily-layered keyboard drones and oppressive ringing tones that sound like the tolling of bells, measured, controlled drumming, rarely reaching above a funeral march, and Malefic’s indecipherable vocals, delivered as androgynous, hysteric throat-shredding screams buried even further beneath all of that. And if you think that’s chilling, listen to his ultra-low murmurs, quiet threats, and incantations. For my money, he’s one of the most shit-scary vocalists in music right now, he really fucking loses it — that’s not a performance or, god forbid, a melody, those are all-out screams. You can almost feel his chest shudder at the force of it.
The songs are repetitive and droney and almost primitive, but really beautiful at times — the instrumental tracks especially. It’s a sound that it’s definitely going to take a few listens to get used to; even to the most cultured ear, a lo-fi shoegazing/white-noise symphonic hybrid with a lunatic screaming his lungs out over it might not sound like the easiest proposition. But when it finally clicks with you, fuck, it’s amazing. Best album of 2007, hands down. And fuck, man, an Alan Vega record came out that year.
Hydra Head: www.hydrahead.com